Two years ago, my teaching partner and I set out to get our Master’s in Education in Leadership through a shared partnership between NDSU and BPS. One of the key assignments was an action research project and paper to be submitted at the end of our program. We brainstormed many different topics and possibilities of what we would like to spend time researching. We both came to the realization that we wanted something that had to do with the increased behavior we were seeing in our classrooms. We wanted a way to not only be proactive within our own rooms, but we wanted something that would also be a benefit to all staff and students in our school building.
We settled on reviewing the effectiveness of a social-emotion program that our district adopted a few years prior-Second Step. Second Step is a social-emotional curriculum that is endorsed by the Department of Education and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). It targets four categories: skills for learning, empathy, emotional management, and problem solving. As stated on the Second Step website, “Second Step’s holistic approach helps create a more empathetic society by providing education professionals, families, and the larger community with tools to enable them to take an active role in the social-emotional growth and safety of today’s children” (2012-2019).
Our hypothesis was that if we offered school wide support for the Second Step curriculum, staff members would commit to providing continuous opportunities for students to practice social-emotional learning (SEL) skills after teachers had given explicit instruction in the classrooms. This will, in turn, enhance students’ understanding of and their abilities to use social-emotional skills. The schoolwide number of minors and majors reported in an academic year would decrease.
The study focused on implementing Second Step building-wide through various methods, ultimately targeting as many school staff members as possible. Our building principal incorporated Second Step into morning announcements. Monthly assemblies revolved around a Second Step component carried out by staff members; groups of classroom teachers and specialists would focus on a Second Step skill and present a skit, activity, or game to the rest of the school. Teachers in grades 3-5 received training for Second Step’s online curriculum, and students were given access to individual lessons and review activities. Instructional aides were trained in the problem-solving process as laid out by Second Step. Pioneer’s school leadership team created a handout for staff members that is meant to serve as a guide to help determine what type of behavior warrants a minor versus a major. In order to promote home involvement, we printed off worksheets that talked about the weekly lesson and gave an opportunity for the students to practice their skills at home. In addition, staff members received Second Step support materials: lanyards that display the problem-solving process and posters for all specialists.
In one year’s time, we saw our majors and minors drop by 76 infractions from the year prior, even with more students enrolled at Pioneer. It may not sound like a lot, but Pioneer Elementary is comparatively a smaller school in the district. We were able to conclude that since social-emotional learning helps students regulate their behaviors, ultimately enhancing their focus and attention in school, SEL should be an integral part of the school day.
Since our study, our school has added many positive behavioral supports for our students. We have adopted the PBIS framework that has complimented the SEL curriculum. Our staff has also been educated in Trauma-Informed Practices & Teaching. Because of our found-passion while conducting our research, my teaching-partner and myself have become Trauma-Sensitive School trainers where we can train other districts and teachers in trauma-informed practices. This opportunity has been such a positive experience for us both. We look forward to leading our district in positive behavioral support as well as sharing our experience of the importance of social-emotional curriculums within all aspects of a classroom and school.
by: Lindsay Mock & Arlene Wolf
Q1: What are some practices that you've implemented in your classroom/school that support social-emotional learning?
Q2: How do you encourage families to support the social-emotional learning of our students at home?
Q3: The overall health of educators is equally as important as the overall health of our students. What do you do to maintain/enhance your own social-emotional health?