Robin Porter is the Vice President of Digital Content at Discovery Education. She started her career more than 30 years ago as a middle school language arts teacher in Maryland. After a decade in the classroom, Robin moved to USA Today’s education department where she headed up product and curriculum development, teacher training and partnerships for the newspaper’s in-school education program. After leaving USA Today, she worked with several Ed Tech companies and media networks to create instructional resources, interactives, and digital content. Robin currently leads the team responsible for Discovery Education’s collection of more than 200,000 digital content resources. She evaluates, produces, and collaborates with trusted partners to add and curate high-quality digital content resources across Discovery Education’s services. She is passionate about the power of digital content to engage students and meaningfully influence instruction.
On February 17, 2021, Larry Jacobs had an opportunity to sit down with Robin and learn about some exciting updates to the Discovery Education platform. Their conversation follows.
Robin, tell us about your background and current role.
Sure, Larry, and thanks for the opportunity to speak with you. I serve as Discovery Education’s Vice President of Digital Content. Along with my incredible team, we manage Discovery Education’s deep vault of more than 200,000 digital, multi-modal, content resources. Together, we evaluate and produce content, and work with trusted partners to add content to our digital services such as our flexible digital K-12 platform and digital textbooks, or Techbook. Then, within our services, we curate the content in creative and meaningful ways to make it easy for educators and students to integrate into instruction.
But I am an educator at heart. I began my career as a middle school language arts teacher, and it was in the classroom that I became fascinated with the power of high-quality digital content to engage students in meaningful ways. Like many of my colleagues at Discovery Education whose experience includes time as a classroom teacher, I approach my work with the teacher (and of course the student) first and foremost in my mind. Together with my team, we work to create and provide to educators high-quality content and unforgettable digital learning experiences that are inspire student engagement, curiosity, and agency,
Today Discovery Education launched a Social Emotional Learning Center. Can you tell readers about that?
Yes, happy to do so!
Today Discovery Education announced several exciting, updates to our flexible K-12 digital platform, but the update I am particularly proud of is our new Social-Emotional Learning Center. This new resource offers a carefully curated collection of hundreds of resources designed to help educators integrate Social-Emotional Learning, or SEL, into their classrooms so all students can thrive.
The new SEL Center contains some incredible resources that educators can easily integrate into classroom activities. Among those resources are videos, mindfulness exercises, podcasts, Virtual Field Trips, slideshows, microlearnings, writing prompts, reading passages, and even master class series. There are animated collections for younger students and even a whole collection where well-known athletes, artists, celebrities, and other newsmakers share their advice to their younger selves. In addition, we’ve created several ready-to-use instructional activities that make it even easier to use these resources for instruction, as well as some helpful professional development opportunities that provide educators additional support.
The resources in the Center are designed to guide students in cultivating self-confidence, managing stress, building supportive relationships, and maintaining their well-being. The Center’s content is aligned to CASEL’s five competences and organized into tabs that focus on multi-modal, student-facing digital content for all grade bands, ready-to-use instructional activities, educator professional development, and school culture.
Together, these resources provide educators content to integrate SEL into core instruction or discrete lessons, to build school and classroom culture, to support trauma-informed teaching, and and build educator capacity around SEL. We know that schools and school communities’ needs and approaches are all different so the Center has been designed as a one-stop clearinghouse where educators can find and prioritize the resources that best fit their unique school community.
Why is SEL so important for students today?
Well, I think that just as COVID-19 has highlighted many of the inequities in our education system, it has also highlighted the fact that you cannot separate students’ emotional health and well-being from their ability to be successful in school. Each day, we are hearing from our K-12 partners across the country that now, more than ever, so many of the students in their districts are struggling with self-esteem and relationship issues, anxiety, and general stress. COVID-19 has interrupted students’ continuity of learning, has left them missing friends and school, deprived them of the normalcy and connections of sports and activities, and unfortunately in some cases, forced students to deal with additional hardships including job losses in their families, sickness, and death.
The content in the SEL Center is designed to support educators as they help students better cope with what they are facing and feeling and to build school cultures that prioritize student wellness. The resources encourage students to be the best version of themselves and to develop many of the relationship skills they will need for future success. I think it is fair to say that in today’s society, all students can benefit from the ability to communicate with people from all backgrounds, practice empathy, and look at academic and interpersonal issues from a variety of perspectives. That said, we also know that every student is different, and that students’ personal and social identities also need to play an important role in the integration of SEL resources.
How did you select the content for the SEL center? Can you give some examples of the resources in the Center?
Well, like all the content we add to Discovery Education’s digital services, the selection of content comes at the end of a rigorous process in which we carefully review each resource to ensure it is high-quality and appropriate for classroom use. For the Center specifically, we ensure that the content supports educators in building social and emotional competencies for all students in a variety of different instructional settings.
In addition to content that we produce, Discovery Education has developed a strong network of trusted content partners with whom we are constantly collaborating. For the SEL Center, we have curated digital resources from the collections of well-recognized organizations like CASEL, Learning to Give, Inner Explorer, Common Sense Education, and My Mindful Music. In addition, we have produced content in collaboration with corporate and community partners who are committed to helping students build social and emotional wellness, like the Allstate Foundation, LG Foundation, RFK Foundation, and Wings for Kids.
To build the Center, our team spent months choosing which resources from our own collection to add, working with partners to choose resources from their collections, and carefully curating the resources to make them easy to choose and integrate.
Where is this content found within Discovery Education’s learning platform?
Discovery Education users can find the SEL center within our award-winning, K-12 learning platform
What’s next for Discovery Education and SEL?
Well, given the iterative nature of our work, we are never really “done” with improving our digital resources or adding additional content. So, just like we do with all our dynamic channels, the Discovery Education Content Team will continue producing and adding additional content regularly to the SEL Center. Right now, we are particularly focused on adding resources that help educators integrate SEL into core instruction and to adding more content that is equity-focused and that authentically connects social emotional learning to the identities, strengths, and experiences of all children.
In addition, in coming months, Discovery Education will launch the Coalition for Social-Emotional Learning. A unique public-private partnership, this coalition will bring even more critical SEL resources to educators and students, so be on the lookout for more news about that in April.
The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.