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Benway Book Club with featured ASCD Author Jeffrey Benson Leads to Transformative Engagement and Professional Partnerships

Meeting Jeffrey Benson

Benway School Director, Danielle Bourne, found the  book, Improve Every Lesson Plan with SEL by Jeffrey Benson, while looking for resources for the 2023/2024 school year on the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development website.  Bourne consequently  found her newest confidant and agent to aid in transformation after connecting on social media with the author.  Benson responded immediately offering his assistance and matching her enthusiasm when she  told him she had implemented one of his books as a book study across all of the grade levels at Benway.  Bourne describes her experience meeting Benson  as, “extremely positive.” She adds, “I’ve found his many years of  experience as an educator, administrator, author and consultant to give him powerful insight to our students.”  As a consultant Benson now works with students and schools, many who are classified as having an  emotional regulation impairment and is focused on reaching the most challenging cases with resiliency and Social Emotional Learning, SEL. Benson shared, “What has become even more apparent post-pandemic is how much an SEL perspective on learning will support the work we do in all schools, with students of all ages.”  

The DOE’s Perspective

In an effort to keep kids safe, healthy and in school the New Jersey Department of Education has been promoting Social Emotional Learning.  They offer guidance as an inclusive resource. You can read more about the DOE’s recommendations here

How the Book Club is Going:

Throughout the evolution of SEL Benway has continued to stay in the forefront of its applications for students with special needs.  

This year’s book club relies on the tried and true construct of metacognitive practices.  Offering educators an opportunity to apply their knowledge and lean on each other for support rather than simply assigning the resource without regard to implementation science.  One could imagine the excitement when Benson volunteered to join.   Many were surprised to see that Benson is so “approachable and down to earth” as described by Bourne.  A wide spectrum of conversations  have been shared from intense pedagogical theories to the lighthearted day to day stories from the classroom.  The staff all agree that inviting Benson in for future development opportunities would further this positive energizing experience as they look forward to building upon the trustworthy relationships that are developing.  

When asked why the book club is so successful, Bourne stated that “Hearing colleagues share experiences help them to stay mindful of best practices.” Bourne originally introduced the book club as an action to address common barriers involved in infusing SEL into the classroom. While scheduling can be difficult, the time spent has been quality focused and therefore has brought a sense of elevated mindfulnes to the group as a whole.  Bourne feels as though it has been  fascinating to see the different angles and perspectives from the diverse group of educators.  She has especially enjoyed hearing how our Physical Education teacher has incorporated the lessons learned into his curriculum.  .  

What Our CSTs Should Consider

Bourne believes the resource to be especially meaningful for Child Study Team members as they make informed decisions about placement.  This resource can provide a fresh lens from which to assess a school’s effectiveness. Benson’s book emphasizes person centered approaches rather than systemic approaches.  This is apparent from the exercises that prioritize the discovery of “important to the student” before addressing “important for the student” which is the foundation of the evidence based and state mandated practice.  

Examples from Improve Every Lesson Plan with SEL

Much of Bensons initial lessons on “making SEL explicit” can be likened to the adage, “participate don’t anticipate.”  A frequent catch phrase in classrooms where students are reluctant to internalize and cooperate which can be misconstrued as disobeying.  Additionally, Benson references how applicability to students lives, or what some may call the “text to home connection” where students recognize how to use information taught is paramount in mastery. However, where Benson introduces a thought provoking concept is when he begins to scratch the surface of racism in the classroom through unachievable goals that provide motivational barriers for people of color and other exploited communities. Benson writes, “Bringing students into the conversation about SWBATs and the SEL skills that matter to them is a powerful and necessary ritual of inclusion.”  So much more can be learned from Benson’s book, Improve Every Lesson Plan with SEL as this is just the beginning.  You can find Jeffrey Benson’s book here on the ASCD website.  

An Active Role in the Next Book Launch

Benson is already working on launching his next book, Hacking School Discipline Together.  Bourne is delighted to be a part of the journey as a team member responsible for previewing the book prior to its release and providing valuable feedback regarding its impact and application.  Benson describes the book itself as, ” a story of an entire school changing from reactively punishing students when they misbehave, to using restorative discipline.” Stay on the lookout come March for more resources on these topics and this author.  If interested in hearing from Benson at our next professional development for CSTs simply reply to this email and let us know!