I worked in juvenile probation for eight years before becoming a teacher, so I’ve seen the potentially devastating effect of the emotional issues that kids deal with. Before I took over as principal at Bluebonnet Elementary, I was an assistant principal at the middle school, where many of our discipline issues stemmed from students not being able to problem-solve or maintain healthy relationships.
When I became principal, talking to my staff, my teachers, the families, and the community was an eye-opener for me. They pointed out areas of dire academic need, but underlying all of them was a lack of community.
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So rather than focus on, for example, increasing test scores in math, my leadership team and I decided to start by integrating social-emotional learning (SEL) into not just our curriculum but our entire community.
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In those early conversations, I found that many of our students didn’t feel a part of something big. They needed a foundation of confidence in themselves and in their school as a community, and they needed to understand why teachers were trying to build relationships with them.
On the other hand, my teachers told me that, as a result of high principal turnover, there had been a lack of consistency, leading to distrust of the administration. My immediate promise to them was: “I’m in this with you. Trust me.”