The academic needs were clear, but they all connected back to the need to build relationships among students, teachers, and family members, like these happy and confident students.

Here’s why this principal started a school turnaround with SEL


The academic needs were clear, but they all connected back to the need to build relationships among students, teachers, and family members

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.

Related content: 5 benefits of SEL in classrooms

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.

SEL for students, teachers, and ‘parent partners’

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.”

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