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Lessons Learned from the Wisconsin Center for Resilient Schools

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Written by: Rachel Pufall and Stacey Starke

In October of 2020 nine educators from around Wisconsin came together with the task to create a coaching and technical assistance network that would work with public and private school and district teams to build local capacity to strengthen student and adult resilience through comprehensive school mental health (CSMH) systems and trauma-sensitive social and emotional learning (SEL). That project will come to a close in July. The Wisconsin Center for Resilient Schools (WCRS) team would like to share some of our greatest lessons learned with our time interacting with educators across the state.

  1. Wisconsin educators are committed to this work. Wisconsin educators are creative, curious, and willing to do whatever it takes to help kids. While state and nationwide data shows that we have much work to do to ensure that the needs of all students in our state are being met, we interact with educators that are committed to continually learn, implement, and refine practices and systems that change the story that data tells. They are willing to try something, reflect on whether it is doing what they had intended for it to do, make changes, and try it again. This falls in line with a process known as Plan-Do-Study-Act that many places will use to test changes they are trying to make in their systems.
  2. Key features that may help you organize your work. As we have engaged with over 100 school and district teams around the state we noticed some key areas of focus that seemed to make big changes in their comprehensive mental health systems. As you read through them you will notice they align with the Wisconsin School Mental Health Framework, the SHAPE Quality Domains, and Wisconsin’s SEL Theory of Action.
    • Collaboration: Having a team of people that represent all of the different stakeholder groups within your school district and community is essential. It is important to consider the sociopolitical identities of your students and caregivers and ensure those identities are represented in your team. Including students, caregivers, and community members that are often overlooked for team involvement is a way to ensure all perspectives are considered as you refine your systems.
    • Continuum of Supports: Think about your mental health system as part of your equitable Multilevel System of Support (eMLSS). What do you have in place that all students utilize (universal), that targeted groups of students use, and that individual students use. Examine what gaps may exist and determine what is needed to support those identified gaps within the eMLSS.
    • Data: What data are you using to make decisions about your system and to determine if your system is achieving what you intended it to achieve? Who is being served by your system? Who is not being served by your system? These questions can be answered from a number of sources. We have seen districts use both quantitative (numbers) and qualitative (stories, surveys) data to assess their system.
    • Needs Assessment and Resource Mapping: Many teams start here when doing systems level work. Conducting a needs assessment is a way to determine what everyone that interacts within your systems says they need to be successful. That data can then be used to determine how to move forward. Resource mapping is a process that allows you to see what you currently have in your system and where gaps exist.
    • Referral Pathways: As you work through your continuum of supports you will identify students that need targeted and intensive support. A referral pathway process helps all stakeholders understand how to get students the support they need when they need it.
    • Sustainability: As you create a comprehensive mental health system that works well for your community you need to identify ways to make it sustainable. Funding for mental health work is ever changing in the state and nation, and at the same time vital. Determining how your district budget and outside funding sources can be used to maintain your system will be important to keep systems that work in place.
  3. Transformational coaching will make lasting change. Through the development of our center, one of the biggest questions we asked ourselves was how directive versus how facilitative we should be in our coaching relationships. Most teams were familiar with a very technical version of coaching where we asked questions around a specific innovation or practice. There is certainly a time and place for that during the coaching process. We found, however, the most change and sustainability of systems happen when we lean into our transformational coaching skills. Getting our team members to think about their beliefs, behaviors, and ways of being and the impact that had on their systems really shifted the work from implementation to sustainability.

While this project is slated to end in June, the WCRS team is hopeful that we will find ways to continue statewide systems level coaching opportunities for districts. The feedback we have gotten from the teams we have worked with is that this is the support that they need to keep their work moving forward. If you’d like to learn more about the WCRS and our coaching model feel free to reach out to Rachel Pufall, rpufall@cesa4.org or Stacey Starke, sstarke@cesa4.org.