When I accepted the position as principal at Langley Elementary in Washington, D.C., I had two objectives in mind: one, to empower teachers who truly care about supporting the whole child, and two, to inspire a schoolwide culture shift.

Langley Elementary has historically struggled with dropping student enrollment numbers, a rise in suspension rates, and an unimpressive student satisfaction rate—all factors linked to an incohesive school culture. A rise in charter schools in the area has resulted in a competition between public and private education, and the gentrification of area neighborhoods has tension at an all-time high. With behavioral challenges and no defined philosophy of how to interact with students, Langley Elementary didn’t feel safe.

There was a disconnect between teachers, students, and parents that was impeding on the learning process. My answer to this was to ingrain social-emotional learning (SEL) in every aspect of the curriculum.

Getting started
The main appeal of SEL is that it gets at the core of considering how we can instill the knowledge, attitudes, and skills that students need to understand and manage emotions, and how to use these skills to achieve positive goals.

How #SEL inspired a transformation in my school

Our school chose Conscious Discipline as our SEL program. Conscious Discipline is a research-backed, brain-based method of managing classrooms and building skills through SEL.

Prior to implementing, it was important to connect with teachers and introduce the concept and reasoning behind the idea. We had a trainer come in to work through strategies with teachers, and invested in a professional development program so that teachers felt both supported and familiar with Conscious Discipline before using it with students. The immediate feedback was positive, with many of our teachers bringing the things that they were learning home to use with their own children.

One of the key elements to a nurturing, successful classroom is having teachers who enjoy being there and feel that they are being supported. Since implementing the SEL program, educators at Langley Elementary have noted that the classroom environment has become nurturing, allowing optimal learning to happen.

About the Author:

Vanessa Drumm-Canepa is principal at Langley Elementary in Washington, D.C. She graduated from Duke University in 2004 with a major in history and minor in English, and during her senior year took an education class and volunteered at a local community center where she fell in love with teaching and found her calling. She works closely with teachers to identify best practices for the classroom and teaching the whole child, always considering emotional development as much as academics.


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