Working through the process
Students immediately grasped the new concepts and strategies. Every morning, I wait for students to arrive and we do a greeting ritual, where each student gets to choose how they’d like to be greeted, with options such as a handshake or fist bump. This small interaction gives a positive start to the school day and is crucial to building relationships with each and every student.

Prior to implementing SEL, students were discouraged from talking in the cafeteria. Now we encourage students to have meaningful and positive discussions and invite staff to engage with students whenever possible.

Each student participates in a “brain start smart” at the beginning of the school day, where they are able to connect, prepare for the day, and get rid of any stress that they may have entered with. In addition, we hold “brain breaks” throughout the day—purposeful, activity-based lessons—to refresh and reengage the mind.

Recess has also seen a shift since incorporating SEL. We’ve enlisted an organization called Playworks to ensure that recess activities are positive, safe, and valuable to students. Part of our culture shift was to have a student-centered, safe environment and this strategy delivers on that promise.

How #SEL inspired a transformation in my school

A notable example of seeing SEL in action was observing a student who was struggling with a math exam. In the past, this student may have gotten upset and acted out physically; instead, he used a breathing exercise to calm himself and work through the rest of the exam.

Proof in the numbers
Today, one of DC Public Schools’ (DCPS) strategic priorities outlined in its five-year strategic plan, A Capital Commitment, is educating the whole child. That includes providing SEL to ensure all students are college and career ready. I know this system-wide focus on embedding SEL into DCPS’ culture and classrooms will pay off, because the changes seen after implementing SEL at Langley were drastic. Since implementation, our suspension rate has decreased from 65 percent to 23 percent, and our student satisfaction rate has skyrocketed from 70 percent to 86 percent.

Our kids enjoy that they are learning how to navigate difficult situations with peers, how to use their voice, and how to deal with conflict in a healthy way. Equally as important, teachers are enjoying how they are now being supported with new, positive strategies to interact with students. As a testament to the success of SEL, we’re currently over-enrolled by 110 percent, a positive signal that we’ve made the right decision.

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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