After experiencing two student suicides within a three-year period, our small, North Dakota district of 250 students and our staff members weren’t prepared to endure another devastating trauma like that. Knowing that social-emotional learning has become an integral part of the K-12 experience, the district started looking for support in this area.
Then I came along. On the day that I interviewed for my role, I logged into the 7 Mindsets social-emotional learning platform and gave my new colleagues a crash course in what the curriculum, lessons, and different aspects of the program looked like.
We’d implemented the SEL platform at my previous school in 2019, and we saw a positive impact on our kids. I shared that with the staff at my current district in March 2021, and we started using it in August 2021.
At the time, I didn’t realize that my previous district wasn’t maximizing its use of the platform. We at Napoleon Public School have since found ways to make it even more useful for our student and teacher population.
Here’s how any district can improve its SEL.
Make it a part of everyday learning
One day every week, our daily, 25-minute intervention period is allocated to SEL in our high school. I’ve been very adamant that that day is sacred, and that Tuesday from 1:23 p.m. to 1:48 p.m., instructors are required to teach an SEL lesson.
There is no negotiation there.
The requirement is similar in our elementary school, where the teachers use the SEL program curriculum five days a week in the morning and before reading.
Take SEL to new levels
One of our third-grade teachers did a deep dive into the SEL program’s website and utilizes it as much as she possibly can.
Our school librarian has started selecting books based on what she has learned. Every month next year, she plans to create two sessions — one for elementary school and one for high school — that highlight a particular SEL focus.
Those are just a few examples.
Let students take the reins sometimes
Another teacher lets her students either make their own PowerPoints or use provided SEL lessons. Some of the kids did both, and others added their own elements to the lessons.
We’re at the point now where, if a teacher is out for the day, a student often can jump in and teach the lesson versus trying to explain it to a substitute teacher.
Make sure it’s fun
This year, Napoleon Public School began using themed bulletin boards and encouraging students and staff to send pictures of themselves doing something they’re passionate about for our “Passion Train.”
We cut train cars out of paper — one for staff, others for specific classes. We hung the trains up on our long hallway right before our parent-teacher conferences, and they attracted more attention than anything else that night.
To schools that want to do a better job with SEL, my best piece of advice is to choose a platform that allows you to make it up as you go when there aren’t enough hours in the day.
At my previous school, I taught five classes a day and was also the athletic director, so I didn’t have much time to sit down and prepare engaging and thoughtful SEL lessons.
So aim for a program that teachers can easily fit into their schedules and then customize to meet the needs of their students.