School has always been a place for learning math, science, history, and art, but now it’s also becoming the place for students to learn other skills that are crucial to their future success and happiness, no matter where they end up. Social-emotional learning (SEL) is not about grades, but about teaching students to solve their own problems, take pride in their efforts, and develop strong relationships within their community.
I am the principal of Chattahoochee Elementary School in Cumming, GA. When our district began the push towards SEL, each school chose a program to support it based on their needs and budget. At Chattahoochee, we chose 7 Mindsets, because it best aligns with our school’s goal to raise respectful, responsible problem-solvers.
Because the families in this area have very limited disposable income, fundraising in the community wasn’t an option, so Debbie Smith, the director of Student Support Services for Forsyth County Schools, asked our local Sheriff’s Department for help funding the program.
The department purchased the program for our district’s Northern Cluster: four elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school. The Sheriff’s Department ended up using funds from assets confiscated in local drug busts. It was a powerful thing to see that money, which was a result of something harmful to the community, being funneled back into that community for a program that will benefit it.
Changing Students’ and Teachers’ Mindsets
During the first year, our implementation was modeled after what another Forsyth County elementary school, Mashburn Elementary, had done. At Mashburn, they set up clubhouses where K–5 students get together and go to different locations in school to take part in mindset-based lessons and activities.
These clubhouses were effective, but it still didn’t feel like enough. The kids weren’t talking about living out the 7 Mindsets as much as we needed them to be.
So last year we went deeper, with teachers beginning to integrate the mindsets into their individual classes. This year we’re focusing on the teachers themselves, who are all meeting and working through the Educator’s Life Plan together. We believe that in order for our teachers to teach the mindsets to their students, they need to look at how they apply in their own lives first.
At Chattahoochee Elementary, rather than taking a punitive attitude to discipline, we focus on teaching our students life lessons from their mistakes, as well as their successes. We use discipline opportunities as teaching opportunities.
Every month teachers give awards for attendance, acts of kindness, or having an “attitude of gratitude.” These awards use the same language as the 7 Mindsets curriculum, and foster students talking about the mindsets in class, pointing out when they see an attitude of gratitude or an act of kindness, for example.
(Next page: Social-emotional learning with the Sheriff’s Department)