Adding to the PATHS We Can Take…

As part of the PATHS (Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies) Conference I am attending, today I have the opportunity to be touring schools in the Cleveland Municipal School District. I am learning how they are utilizing the PATHS program as a whole district to create a consistent focus on implementing learning around social and emotional learning.

Memorial School and Clark School have implemented the program, and are two of 125 schools in the district that all implemented PATHS after there was a traumatic shooting incident that pushed the need for social and emotional learning to come to the forefront. One class I observed was a group of kindergarten to grade 2s who are learning about the feeling of being “proud,” which is “feeling good about yourself.” The intention is building the competences and skills kids need to be able to positively deal with the issues they face each and every day.

A grade 4/5 classroom was demonstrating how they have learned how they are able to give great complements to each other. There were 32 kids in the class and they were beaming about sharing, giving and receiving complements. They were also debriefing an incident yesterday where the police were involved. The students had a chance to think and process, discuss, and reflect on what happened and use it as a learning moment. The PATHS program is intended to help kids to be able to learn strategies to deal with issues that they face in their life.

Each and every school in Cleveland has a “Planning Centre,” which is a room staffed with a paraprofessional or education assistant who works with students to assist them in calming themselves, working through a problem-solving process, and learning or working on self-regulation strategies. Students are referred through the office and the admin team, and they schedule how the planning centre is utilized. Students can self-referred if they know they need assistance, or be teacher-referred or even parent-referred. A teacher shared that, “It is meant to be a safe place to land if you are upset.”

In Cleveland, the collective agreement has become an avenue for implementation. Planning Centres staffed with an education assistant, PATHS, Classroom Meetings, Student Support Teams (must happen once a week for one hour by contract), and a focus on social and emotional learning are strategies that were actually put into the Collective Agreement for all teachers in the Cleveland Municipal School District, and the union was supportive of the work in developing social and emotional learning.

Teacher buy-in was a big part of the early work, and here in the US they needed the approval of the union. Once they bought in and gave it their okay, many teachers bought in as they saw it was not an add-on. The school has set up specific time during the first  period on Monday mornings where all classrooms work using PATHS, and then teachers are expected that they work on PATHS at least one other time through the week. I think my own push would be tying it in on a daily basis where it is tied in to reading, writing, art, math, science, social studies, and especially the Circle of Courage.

So, what are the some of the big learnings that I have pulled out of today?

“Curriculum” vs “Program of Studies” – At Keeler, I would view our culture around the Circle of Courage is the “curriculum” or the big umbrella, and PATHS is the “Program of Studies” or specifics on how to build the culture. We, as educators, need to make professional decisions based on what are the essential understandings and competences that students need, and decide upon the best ways are to help students achieve their development those competencies.

Short-Term and Long-Term Focus – PATHS is meant to be a long-term tool to set kids up for success both in the moment and over the long-term. It is a way of thinking and language for students, staff, and parents to be able to undertake the work involved in building social and emotional competencies. The strategies would be developed in the short-term, but they would build and grow as the children move from Kindergarten on to grade 6 through Keeler School.

Our School Community Must Work Together – All stakeholders need to be involved and on the same page for this work to be effective. Students in kindergarten on up need to be involved so that it is something that builds up over time, so students gain in skills and competency over time. It will need to live both within the school as well as outside on the playground, and even as they students go home. All of our support staff, teaching staff, administration and parents will need support in being full-fledged members of the implementation and development for students.

PATHS will not get rid of all of our students’ issues, but it will help provide them with tools – There will always be issues, needs, problems, fights, and arguments… The idea of PATHS is to provide a tool for students to be able to deal with those issues and needs and problems when they happen and be able to solve the issues with the minimal amount of adult intervention, depending on the specific situation.

The Focus must be on Student Learning – We already know that many students are not automatically learning or picking up these skills or competencies. Even as adults, we don’t always know how to handle every situation every time… We must assume that these are competencies that require direct instruction and intervention, not assuming that they will just gain proficiency as they go through school. If we want to help students academically, we have to help them in the social and emotional realm.

PATHS must be everywhere in the school – Work on Social and Emotional Learning must live in the classrooms, the Learning Commons, the Lunch Room, the hallways, the field and playground, the gym, and everywhere else. As well, how do we help it to move home with parents as strategies students can use at home? All of our staff need to be able to have a good understanding in order to work with students in a positive, supportive manner that enables them to put the skills and strategies in place.

Integrating PATHS and social and emotional learning can and should be integrated into language learning, math, science, social studies, art, etc. The potential for guided inquiry learning is vast, as there is a ton of great potential questions and areas to examine and delve into. How do we do our best? How do we help others out? How do we live together as a community? How do we live peacefully with others? How do we fix our mistakes? Should we forgive others? I could go on and on, but the citizenship connections are huge, and creative teachers could connect this into the work that happens every day in the school.

In the end, we will need to look at and discuss how to make PATHS work for Keeler School, supporting the Circle of Courage, enabling our students, empowering our parents, and permitting ourselves to create the opportunities for the best long-term learning.

In the words of Adesh, who is now in grade 7, “PATHS is a lot of fun, and it has really helped me. All the students like it, and it has made our school into a more happy and safe place to be!”


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