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This district took a hard look at the SEL strategies and positive behavior reinforcement needed to best help students.

Putting PBIS and SEL strategies into action

Learn how the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District is promoting positive behavior through intentional SEL strategies

An increasing number of districts and schools across the country are exploring social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies as they seek to understand the factors that influence positive student behavior.

The latest example comes from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who recently announced plans to incorporate SEL strategies into every classroom in the city to empower students to expand their growth mindset, self-efficacy, social awareness, and self-management skills.

Related content: The 14 most innovative SEL districts

Last year, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction launched a guide for incorporating social-emotional strategies into lesson plans and school culture. At West Allis-West Milwaukee School District (WAWM), we have made efforts over the last few years to strengthen our Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports in addition to our Response to Intervention processes by measuring and understanding our students’ SEL.

With a shared belief that behavior and SEL are connected to academic achievement, administrators and teachers across WAWM have worked hard to support these critical skills and mindsets in students using these four SEL strategies:

1. Connect behavior and academics

Behavior and academics are not treated in isolation at WAWM; they go hand in hand. To identify key areas of difficulty for students, we’ve found that best practice is to look at student data holistically using an integrated, unified Multi-Tiered System of Supports. This approach brings together behavior, academic, attendance and SEL data into one place so that district leaders, teachers, and administrative staff have a snapshot of the whole student.

2. Approach PBIS with an equity mindset

Wisconsin leads the nation in the black-white achievement gap. District and school leaders at WAWM are working hard to close this gap by bringing an equity lens to all of our work⁠— using data to uncover achievement and experience gaps for historically marginalized groups of students.

In WAWM’s data platform, district leaders filter based on students’ demographic, academic, attendance and behavior data to answer questions like:
• Are students receiving special education services also experiencing exclusionary discipline?
• Are females outperforming males?
• Are attendance gaps prevalent for students who are Hispanic or African-American?
• Are we making the right connections with families in order to increase attendance for specific groups of students?

If the data gathered suggests a concerning trend at a specific school, district leaders work with educators to hone in on the data point, generate potential solutions and align resources to address the problem.

3. Deeply integrate SEL instruction and measurement into PBIS

We realized a few years ago that although educators at WAWM had been teaching SEL for years, our exclusionary discipline was on the rise and educators were responding to some unusually high levels of disruptive behavior rather than preventing it. We lacked insight into lagging skills because we weren’t able to measure and look at whether our supports were preventative or reactive. We were good at waiting until something became a high-level crisis for a student or family and then jumping in to help wrap services around that student and that family to help resolve the issues.

Related content: Are educators using SEL to empower or manipulate?

We started to investigate what pieces of our SEL curriculum and PBIS we needed to focus on to make sure we were getting a clear picture of each of our students. Instead of just relying on teaching SEL strategies through our counselors who would come into classrooms one hour each week, we looked at how we could infuse it into every part of what we do.

4. Giving teachers the tools for success
The professional development opportunities at WAWM span a variety of topics related to creating a sense of belonging in the classroom so students feel connected and want to work hard. Teachers learn about everything from leveraging PBIS data, to bringing a trauma-informed lens to teaching, to using Restorative Practices and Mindfulness, to providing emotional support for students inside and outside of the classroom.

Teachers participate in seminars of their choosing in groups of 20 to 25, giving them a chance to learn, collaborate, and understand what’s going on in different schools. This focus on professional development ensures that teachers and staff are building the necessary skills and knowledge to implement social-emotional learning supports with fidelity in every classroom.

At the district level, WAWM used to have different people analyzing behavior, academic, and attendance data. Using the above strategies, our district was able to consolidate all of its data to better analyze and understand where we needed to add extra layers of support for schools. Now, we are far more consistent in our approach to PBIS, Trauma, Restorative Practice, and Mindfulness and are able to use our data to pinpoint professional development needs and look for trends that allow us to be far more proactive.

Staff, teachers, students, and families have a shared understanding of what it means to support positive behavior, and each classroom provides similar strategies and supports for its students.

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