Moving Forward with Social Emotional Learning: One School’s Continuing Journey
Our School’s Continuing Journey
In May of 2018 my home state of Wisconsin put out social and emotional learning competencies in collaboration with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). These competencies were created and provided as resources to schools to support social and emotional learning opportunities to students. As a school psychologist, I was encouraged that our state was putting their focus on helping our teachers provide the skills necessary to our students to understand and manage emotions, make positive decisions, learn how to be empathetic towards others and ultimately build and maintain positive relationships. The importance of this cannot be overstated and it is something I have been working to achieve in our small rural district for some time.
Rewind to the 2016-17 School Year…
At the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, I embarked on a journey with a small team of fellow staff members in our small rural elementary school to provide our staff with the tools to teach social emotional skills to all of our students. We wrote and received a grant to purchase a self-regulation and emotional control curriculum called The Zones of Regulation. (This curriculum was created and written by Leah M. Kuypers, and more information on Zones is here. )
The Zones align well with the competencies that Wisconsin has provided and can easily be integrated into academic instruction. Our grant writing and implementation team consisted of myself (the district school psychologist), a kindergarten teacher and special education teacher. With our grant money, we were able to purchase curriculum for all our classroom teachers that teach kindergarten through fifth grade, special education teachers, support staff such as myself and the counselor, our principal, and our specialist teachers that teach music, physical education and art. We distributed them to our staff and led a book study each month for the remainder of the school year. With this being done, the staff would then be well prepared to begin teaching the curriculum the 2017-18 school year. Or so we thought.
The Journey into the 2017-18 School Year
When you take a journey you need to make sure you have brought the right people, packed the right things and have a plan of where you are going. My little group worked hard to enlist the leadership needed for this project. However, our administrator was more the relaxed back seat passenger than the navigator for our trip into SEL-land. We “packed” some things for our journey but in this case packing light did not provide our staff with everything they needed to implement The Zones of Regulation confidently and successfully. Therefore, we didn’t have a clear direction of where we were headed or where we wanted to be with our implementation of SEL. But… we continued on our journey. Some staff continued on the journey with us and some felt they just were not prepared enough to take the journey. Some ditched us.
Despite the various degrees of interest and commitment, over the next two years students were exposed to the self-regulation curriculum in a hit or miss fashion in our building. It was starting to be used and students started learning the language. The counselor and I were able to provide more in depth exposure for students at a tier II and tier III level of intervention. Places it was being used weekly in the building included our kindergarten classrooms, and our special education classroom. It was observed that other classrooms dabbled in the lessons but did not seem to be teaching it consistently. Our counselor began to teach this as classroom guidance and so all classrooms were exposed to it for short periods of time within the last two years on a rotating basis.
Incorporating My Loyola SMHAPP Project into The Existing Journey:
Fast Forward to 2018-19. The destination and route for the journey became more clear. As a student in the Loyola Advanced School Mental Health Practice Program (SMHAPP) certificate, I am required to produce a project that helps one move one’s district in a positive direction by identifying a problem and developing an intervention. Through this process we learn to identify data sources for a needs assessment, build key alliances and then measure the outcomes of the project. This should be something that we want to keep moving forward in our district. It didn’t become clear to me at first that this would be a great way to build and follow through on something that I had started a couple years back. I was thinking of something on a much bigger scale. However with time and input from my class cohort and instructors, it finally occurred to me that this would give me the chance to continue to move this in the direction my team and I had intended it to go. This time I had more gas in my gas tank.
First I recruited my key stakeholders. The kindergarten teacher and the special education teacher, along with the counselor and our new principal became the group that I pitched my project to. They were all on board and this time we had an active administrator who likes to be in the driver seat supporting our efforts, and being an integral part of the decision making process. In December I surveyed our staff to get some data on the current use of The Zones of Regulation in our building. I had 100% of the teachers respond. I found out that 69% of the staff use The Zones of Regulation in their classroom, but only 27% of them use it weekly. Some staff use it bi-weekly (18%) and 46% of staff use it on a monthly basis. When asked what their comfort level in teaching this was, 44% of staff responded comfortable or very comfortable, 43% responded somewhat comfortable and 12% responded not comfortable. The next question I asked the staff was if they use something different to teach SEL skills in their classroom if they do not use the zones. 75% of the staff said no. This told me that those teachers that reported not using the zones (38%) are not addressing the SEL needs of their students in their classrooms. Collecting this data provided our team with information about gaps in exposure to the curriculum as well as the comfort level that staff have interacting with the curriculum.
The Next Steps for My Project this School Year
I am very excited about continuing on this journey. Our team has met every two weeks and we are working together to create the school wide implementation plan for the Zones of Regulation as a universal, tier I intervention. Having the key stakeholders invested in the project is a critical component of moving forward as well as the administrative participation to provide the leadership for all staff. A benefit of this haphazard journey is that our staff already have this curriculum in their hands, they have been exposed to it, and have heard it being talked about at grade level team meetings and in student assistance team. Our next steps are to continue to get teacher voice and feedback from staff in terms of additional supports or resources they think they need to implement the Zone’s weekly. I have created a recommended timeline of teaching the lessons for the 2019-20 school year as well as a tip sheet. Our administrator recently presented to our elementary staff to share with them the district’s vision to build upon our current MTSS model and the importance of investing in our students’ social and emotional development. We also plan to get some testimonials from students about The Zones of Regulation to share with staff when we hold an all staff training highlighting “the big ideas” of the Zones of Regulation curriculum during our professional development in August.
The Journey Continues into the 2019-20 School Year
With all our traveling companions along, a well packed vehicle and an up to date gps, our team is ready to continue down the road. We are going to offer monthly Zones meetings next year in order for staff to come together to share ideas and resources, support implementation and integration into academic standards, and to model lessons taught with fidelity. We are going to search out grant monies to assist with the cost of some of the items needed to implement the curriculum such as calming and sensory tools as well as books. To help us determine the effectiveness of the universal implementation of the Zones we will be looking at school wide discipline data as well as universal social and emotional screening data that we conduct two times a year. We also plan to do a pre and post survey with students to measure their more immediate knowledge of the skills taught in the Zones. Inviting our parents along on our journey is important, so we will be putting together a parent component to accompany our implementation.
I am very optimistic and excited to be working in this capacity as a school psychologist on this project with my team. I am sure we will encounter some roadblocks as we continue on our journey but with our collective knowledge and experience as well as the resources and support I am gaining through the Loyola SMHAAP certificate I am confident that this project will be a success and our journey will continue. Does it ever really end?