How Can School Administrators Support Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)?

I just had the opportunity to listen to Eric Gordon from the Cleveland Municipal School District discuss how the district implemented a Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) focus in their schools district wide. The team reviewed the need for a focused and a continued focus on social and emotional learning after a school shooting in 2007 in a Cleveland high school. They discussed how the teacher us union was completely on board and how the schools have district wide, in about 125 schools, have implemented the paths program and the growth they have seen.

A major part of his discussion was on how this work on SEL could not be forgotten and that students need to be able to have the competencies around social and emotional learning to get to academic learning. He discussed how they have seen students who are higher in social and emotional learning demonstrate higher achievement in reading and other academic learning. Eric also shared how social and emotional learning competencies are the second highest predictive indicator, behind the student’s past performance, for their achievement levels on standardized tests. This continues to reinforce my thinking that a student’s physical needs, social and emotional and psychological needs are paramount for us to get to learning in other realms. We can’t get to learning if they are hungry. We can’t get to learning if they are upset or worried or in distress…

A Principal’s Roundtable on the Role of Principals and Administrators in Supporting SEL enabled a group of Principals and Administrators to come together for discussion on a number of issues relating to SEL.

In a school, there needs to be the development of a school culture that recognizes, supports, and is active in this work of developing SEL competencies in students and adults. The work is not about a specific “program,” or a “curriculum,” or a specific type of “pedagogy.” SEL and PATHS need to be all of those, as they are parts of a school culture that is developed through the use of common language, common strategies, skill development, the creation of SEL competencies, and a focus on SEL.

We discussed possible Calming Strategies to help students Self-Regulate if they do end up in the Office:

  • Do they need food, as they are hungry?
  • Give them some time. Whenever I rush this process, I find it just is not effective…
  • Use of consistent resources such as Strategy posters that can guide the student’s reflection and guide discussion between kids and adults.
  • An exercise bike or an individual trampoline – I have experimented with having an exercise bike available for students (if they choose to use it) as an active way to self-regulate, rather than “Sit down and be quiet.” I have a visual timer that we set for a specific time for them to use the bike. The early results have been great, when the kids choose to use it… Often a student who was highly escalated comes off smiling!
  • The implementation of a Sensory Room – A place with mats, swings or special rocking chairs, exercise balls, individual trampoline, calming lights, etc.
  • One principal shared that she has a Velcro target board with Velcro Ping-Pong balls that the students love to use, which is also a great distractor.
  • Pulse Meters as part of Math, but to have students check their pulse rate and then have them do self-calming. It is also a distraction or diversion…
  • Another principal shared that she keeps a bin of mixed up markers that needs to be sorted by a students, and it magically keeps getting mixed up!
  • Time for Writing for students to be able to think and reflect
  • Time for Reading as a calming strategy
  • A problem-solving process that students are used to, whether it is individual and quiet or it is guided and collaborative with an adult.
  • I think probably the biggest factor and strategy is how much of a focus on SEL takes place in the classrooms in the students’ daily lives at school. This work enables administrators in the office to build on the learning that is already taking place!

I am sure there are many other strategies as well, and it would be great to hear more!

Some great discussion all! I wish I could have captured more of it here!


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