When I became principal of Brookwood Elementary School five years ago, I came with a deep understanding of the value of social-emotional learning (SEL) for K-5 students. Having used the 7 Mindsets SEL curriculum for roughly six years at my prior school, I knew right away that I could help my new school optimize its SEL curriculum, which had been in place for about a year.
I didn’t have to convince them that they had a great SEL curriculum in place because they had already adopted it and were using it. We just needed to put some more systems in place for the teachers to really buy into it.
Here are six steps we took to make that happen:
1. Put a well-defined structure in place. First, we created a dedicated time in the master schedule every Monday and Friday and allocated that time for a class meeting and an SEL lesson.
2. Form a committee. We also created a Positive Learning Environment Committee focused on taking our school’s SEL curriculum implementation to a deeper level. The committee works with the curriculum team to make sure we’re weaving the 7 Mindsets into our classroom language and lessons. For example, if students are studying immigration and learning about empathy, the writing project may focus on the perspective of someone who is coming to the US for the first time from a foreign country, or the person who is admitting those individuals into the country.
3. Consider the bigger picture. In Forsyth County, we follow the Learner Profile, which incorporates five different elements. We put much emphasis on the Engage and Contribute element. Specifically, we look at what a Forsyth County graduate needs when he or she walks across that stage to engage and contribute to society. Do they know how to interact effectively (whether that’s in a job, a family or in the community), and how can our SEL curriculum support that?
4. Use consistent SEL language. When a child comes into your office, the conversation should focus on how he or she is feeling. I ask them to show me on the SEL chart, where things went wonky. Was it that you weren’t embracing everyone? That you did not overcome your own limiting belief? You didn’t focus your energy? You weren’t stretching yourself? They know the language and know that it’s never just a scolding or “you’re bad” speech. It’s about looking at how they can take this situation, flip the switch, and learn and grow from it.
5. Start with your staff. If you implement your SEL curriculum with your staff for about 6-12 months before you ever roll it out with your students, the rollout with the students will be seamless, because teachers will have already started laying the groundwork for it in their classrooms. Our SEL staff component centers on our teacher’s strengths and potential growth areas.
6. Encourage teachers to follow their own passions. We want them to take a stand and explore their own interests. In fact, we’ve had several teachers switch to different subjects and even leave the educational field to explore other career opportunities. Currently, we have a special education teacher whose passion is behavior support. She works with a group of teachers to make sure that they have behavior-managed strategies to support their kids. She’s excited to come to work every day because she knows that she’s going to get to work with teachers, helping them become better at working and tapping into the strengths of some of our most high-potential kids.
As a longtime 7 Mindsets user, I’m now interacting with students who are in college and who reflect back on their experiences with the SEL curriculum they used in elementary school. In fact, a guidance counselor from one of our former student’s high schools recently invited me to that student’s graduation, knowing what an impact his elementary SEL education had made on him. This is just one of many reasons why I think schools should be placing a bigger emphasis on SEL at an early age.
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