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How SEL Transformed My Classroom

Trust. Respect. Smiling Faces. Impactful Relationships.

These words don’t need to be reserved to describe some Utopian, Pinterest-ready, photographable classroom. These words are all indicators of a positive learning environment that you can have with your students. You might be thinking, “Not my kids….you don’t know the kids at MY school…” But what I’m about to share with you has been researched and proven to work in the 20 largest urban school districts in the United States. No matter how badly behaved you think your students are, you have the control to turn it around. So are you ready to transform your classroom in a positive way? I’m really excited to show you some SEL strategies that have been game-changers for my teaching environment and will be for yours. I’ll also show you some telling data from my own experience, and share some practical tips for integrating SEL into your classroom.

To give you a little bit of background, I teach at a Title I, public elementary school in Dallas, which is one of the largest school districts in the nation. I teach close to 700 students, and see Pre-K through 5th grades for 45 minutes once each week. My first couple of years, I found it challenging to build meaningful relationships with all 700 of my students. I was in survival mode, just figuring out how to fit in all of the music standards. I felt I barely had enough time with each class.

At the end of my 2nd year of teaching, the district implemented a student survey, in which students from 3rd-5th grades were randomly picked to rate their teachers in certain categories including Classroom Environment Expectations and Rigor, Pedagogical Effectiveness, Student Engagement, and Supportive Relationships.

I was absolutely devastated when I received my scores back from that first year. My overall score combined was 71% with the Supportive Relationships category being the lowest average at 63%. After seeing these results, I knew I needed to focus more on building rapport with my students.

But how was I going to fit in a more robust relational component with 700 students?!?!?!? What I have learned, and what research has shown, is that students learn much more from the teachers they believe truly care about them and their life. And I gathered, through the student survey, that even though my intentions were good, not all of my students were perceiving it the same way.

This is where Social and Emotional Learning came in.

At the time I had heard a lot about SEL, but could not comprehend how I would have time to add the practices into my classroom. I thought of it as yet another thing they were asking teachers to do. Since then I have found effective and practical ways to implement SEL into my music classroom, and I’m telling you that it has been the #1 game-changer for Classroom Management and Academic Achievement. With SEL strategies and tools comes growing respect for one another.

Perception is reality. If people perceive you the wrong way, it doesn’t matter what your intentions are.

What is SEL?

According to the leading Social and Emotional Learning resource, Casel.org, the definition of SEL is “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Research on SEL

Casel.org’s research shows that SEL interventions increase students’ academic performance by 11 percentile points, drastically improves classroom behavior, increases the ability to manage stress and depression, while helping them have better attitudes about themselves, others, and school in general. The impact of SEL is long term and global, with a positive impact of up to 18 years later on academics, conduct problems, emotional distress and drug use. There is a whole world of research behind the positive outcomes of an SEL program. You can read more about this on Casel.org or Edutopia.org.

5 Core Competencies

The Survey

As I described before, the lowest category from the student survey responses was “Supportive Relationships.” I am going to walk you through the specific questions that my students rated me on, and then I will reveal my personal data throughout the last 3 years. This is extremely vulnerable for me since I was not proud of my score for the first couple of years. But I’m showing you my personal results so that you know how impactful SEL can be. These results will show you how beneficial incorporating SEL can be for you and your students.

For the first couple years of teaching, I was so focused on survival that I wasn’t able to convey the care that I truly had for my students. Not only was I hyper-focused on survival, but I did not have the tools and training I needed. Each year, I would try sprinkling in one or two SEL strategies here and there. But it wasn’t until I consistently implemented SEL strategies, every day, that I started to see drastic results in my relationships with students and in the survey results. Let’s dive in a bit.

Supportive Relationships questions include:

Question 1: When your teacher asks, “how are you?”, how often do you feel that your teacher really wants to know your answer?

Question 2: How much does this teacher want to learn about what you do when you are not in school?

Question 3: How interested is this teacher in what you want to be when you grow up?

Question 4: If you had something on your mind, how carefully would this teacher listen to you?

In 2017, the lowest category for “Supportive Relationships” was “How much does this teacher want to learn about what you do when you are not in school?” It absolutely broke my heart that only 24% felt that I wanted to learn about their life outside of school, and there was only a 45% favorable response! My intentions were there, but not the action. I was also below district average and school average overall, with my score being 63%, school average 72% and district being 76%.

2018 was the year I started hearing about SEL strategies and started to sporadically implement small things, such as asking them more questions about their lives outside of school or what they wanted to be when they grew up. The survey question “If you had something on your mind, how carefully would this teacher listen to you?” went up significantly to 90% favorable responses, from last year’s 79% favorable responses. But the question regarding “How much does this teacher want to learn about what you do when you are not in school?” was still my lowest category.

Now get ready for a life-changing, eye-opening, drastic SHIFT IN PERCEPTION!!! 2019 is the year I started CONSISTENTLY implementing SEL into my classroom with EVERY CLASS, EVERY DAY.

2019 Survey Results

Question 1: ”When your teacher asks, “how are you?”, how often do you feel that your teacher really wants to know your answer?”

The results skyrocketed from 78% to 94% favorable responses.

Question 2: “How much does this teacher want to learn about what you do when you are not in school?”

The results went drastically up from 58% to 81% favorable responses.

Question 3: *How interested is this teacher in what you want to be when you grow up?”

The results went up from 72% to 82% favorable responses.

Question 4: “If you had something on your mind, how carefully would this teacher listen to you?”

The results went up from 90% to 94% in one year’s time!!!!!

AND my overall average for the “Supportive Relationships” category was 88% favorable responses, which meant I was above school average (82%) AND above district average (79%).

In Conclusion

As you can see, SEL strategies have drastically changed my classroom environment and allowed me to form more supportive relationships with students. I’ve also had to focus a lot less on classroom management, because students feel more respected and heard in an SEL classroom, and therefore want to respect you as the teacher. I noticed that students had more of a growth mindset once I started having more conversations about managing emotions. And the best part is that this all leads to higher academic achievement! As I mentioned earlier, extensive research from CASEL has found that students who were part of SEL programs showed 11 percentile-point gains in academic achievement over those who were not a part of such programs.

Maybe after hearing about the research, data, and personal experiences, you are onboard the SEL train! That’s great!! But now what??!? For the next few weeks, we’ll have a SEL blog series that will include the easiest, most practical and effective ways that you can implement SEL into your classroom. So stay tuned for the next 3 blog posts that focus on practical and transformative SEL strategies!!!

Thanks for reading and have a fantastic start to the school year.

-Paige-

Narwhals & Waterfalls

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