“Journaling” the Journey: Navigating SEL Implementation
When I embark on a journey, I often bring a notebook along so that I can record and remember some of the details of my trip. I write down the places I have traveled, the important landmarks I have visited, the unexpected adventures that seem to accompany a road trip, and the interesting people that I meet along the way. In the same fashion, this proverbial journey has become my school change project and the culmination of my work in the Loyola University Chicago School Mental Health Advanced Practice Program (SMHAPP). This process has brought me to a place of ‘journaling’ the process and progress of our school’s continuing efforts to implement a universal, Tier I social and emotional learning curriculum, The Zones of Regulation (rolled out in our 4-year-old kindergarten through 6th-grade classrooms).
Earlier in the year, I wrote and shared an article on SSWN, reflecting on the journey of this project from its conception in September 2016 through May of 2019. The expedition continues and this update could be considered an entry in my travel journal.
Where We Began: 2018/2019
To understand where you are going, it’s imperative to recognize where you have been. The journey started in 2016, long before I was a member of the Loyola SMHAPP program.
That being said, when I embarked, I didn’t bring along the right people, pack the right gear or have a clear route.
Once I began the SMHAPP program (Fall 2018), the inevitable (hopeful) destination became more clear as I ‘journaled’ my steps for implementation, leading me to a clear vision and plan. Using evidence-based practices, based on implementation science, I was able to implement strategies that began to move the needle forward.
During the 2018/2019 academic year, I established a coalition by recruiting and cultivating relationships with colleagues and key stakeholders. I held monthly meetings to construct a plan for implementation in the 19/20 school year and I collected data from our staff about the current use of the curriculum in the classrooms and their comfort level with implementation. Our SEL team worked together to create supporting materials, (for example, a recommended timeline for implementing The Zones of Regulation in the coming year.) This was provided to the staff at the end of the school year so that they were aware of the timeline before returning in the Fall. Administrative participation and support provided the excitement and key leadership needed for all to feel comfortable along the way.
Continuing Forward: 2019/2020
Throughout the summer of 2019, I planned a professional development training on the key concepts and “big ideas” of the Zones of Regulation for all staff. Our team presented this content during an in-service day to all elementary teachers who would be implementing the curriculum.
We opted to break up our training into two parts, working to provide the content in appropriate doses and allow for ample processing time. The first part focused on social-emotional learning and Wisconsin’s social and emotional learning competencies. This training provided the staff with the information they needed to understand what social-emotional learning is, why it is important, and how to implement it. The second half of the training was specific to The Zones of Regulation curriculum. Our training included different modalities and methods of learning – it was interactive and dynamic, in order to meet the learning styles of all participants.
Assessing Teacher Feedback & Buy-In
After the training, we assessed teachers’ degree of readiness to implement the curriculum through a Google survey. The results were very positive overall! All teachers surveyed said that they felt like this was something they could implement in their classroom. 83% of teachers stated that they felt it would be easy to implement this curriculum as a way of helping students to self-regulate. 79% of the teachers felt that it would be easy for staff and students to learn and use the Zones language. 96% of the teachers felt that it would be useful to use the Zones curriculum in their classroom.
Our journey into SEL implementation was well underway. In September, we added our parent community to the itinerary. We sent out an informational page to families about the curriculum, which included an explanation of what students would be learning in their classrooms this year. Additionally, it was shared on our school’s social media page and in our weekly parent email newsletter. Each month we are continuing to send information home to families that describe what the students have been learning in their weekly lessons and how parents can use the language at home. Our goal, down the road, is to expand on this further and eventually hold parent training on the “big ideas” of The Zones of Regulation.
Other implementation strategies included creating and providing educational materials for the staff to support their teaching, creating a shared Google Drive full of supplemental tools and resources related to Zones. We purchased books for our school library that are used within the curriculum in order to make them easily accessible for teachers. Additionally, we developed Zones-based visuals to place around the building to reinforce skills learned in the classroom.
We made a concerted effort to capture and share our local and collective knowledge by showcasing ‘shout outs’ to staff that integrated the concepts into other content areas and/or within the day to day fabric of their spaces. Finally, (and perhaps best of all!) our elementary principal is including a weekly ‘Get into the Zone’ feature in her announcements to all students over the loudspeaker.
Onward and Upward: 2020 & Beyond
Within this ‘journal entry’ of our school’s quest to implement Tier I SEL, I continue to reflect on things not yet seen and adventures not yet taken. Strategies that we have yet to incorporate include ongoing training opportunities in the form of monthly meetings.
Bringing staff together monthly would allow us to assess for any barriers that teachers have encountered, find out more specifically what supports they could use, and to provide a time and space for teachers to share ideas and experiences.
The barriers to this have simply been planning and time. We also need to identify and discuss measuring outcomes. We had wanted to conduct student focus groups or collect pre and post student survey data as one way to look at the outcomes of implementation.
In order to determine the effectiveness of the universal implementation of the Zones curriculum, we will be looking at existing data points such as school-wide discipline data and universal screening data that we collect two times a year.
It is with great excitement that we continue on this journey with our teachers, students, and the parent community. I am hopeful that as we gain momentum in our implementation of Tier I SEL across the school, we will be able to refine our procedures, consider other implementation strategies, and assess our effectiveness. My observations tell me that our teachers and students are engaged in an array of Zones of Regulation experiences and I am confident I will continue to see and experience more adventures in the future.