At Round Lake Area Schools (IL), we are committed to academic excellence for every student. Just 50 miles northwest of Chicago, we serve a diverse group of 7,300 students in their academic, social, and emotional learning, from pre-K all the way to 12th grade.
In my role as SEL and Student Development Coordinator at Round Lake, I’ve worked to implement social-emotional learning (SEL) as part of our district’s strategic plan, including updating the board monthly on how we are bringing SEL into our classrooms through curriculum-aligned lessons, family newsletters, and professional development.
Changes in state legislation over the last several years have pushed us to rethink the ways in which we are supporting the whole child. We’ve done a lot of work to create a positive school climate in Round Lake, especially around student belonging and relationships. Here are some of the steps we’ve taken to improve those areas—and the measurable impact we’ve seen on our students.
Why We Partnered With Panorama to Elevate Student Voice
In 2015, Illinois introduced State Senate Bill 100, which required school boards to review and revise disciplinary policies. It led us to rethink how we were addressing and supporting our students. Instead of suspending students for being tardy, how can we keep our students in class and learning? What other tools can we use to help our students?
As we started reflecting, we decided to do more with academics, behavior, and social-emotional learning (SEL) in our schools.
- Academics: We’ve become a mastery learning and standards-based grading district, which are best practices for high-poverty areas.
- Behavior: We realized that we have a lot of punitive practices, and made the choice to move towards restorative practices instead.
- SEL: We wanted to build better relationships with our students and let them know that they matter.
In order to address these topics, we needed to better understand what our students are thinking and feeling. We wanted a tool that could help us in all of these aspects, and that's why we came to Panorama in the spring of 2019.
Our Panorama surveys are the student voice; students are letting us know what they like and what's helpful for them. We chose the following five topics from the Panorama survey to measure: Self-Management, Social Awareness, Emotional Regulation, Teacher-Student Relationships, and Sense of Belonging. By choosing just five areas, we got data that we could actually digest and analyze.
Since partnering with Panorama, we’ve been able to use the data to drive our strategic planning around district and school improvement. Our SEL survey results have allowed us to do work in three main areas:
- District: Focus on the whole child and equity as two of the six main components of our strategic plan.
- School: Create a School Improvement Plan goal revolving around SEL/Behavior, informed by data from Panorama surveys.
- Staffing: Use data to demonstrate the need for extra support staffing in our schools. With our ESSER funds, we hired two curriculum specialists and 10 behavior interventionists across 11 school buildings.
Panorama has become a term we use in our schools when we discuss our plans. We’ll ask “Where are you getting your data from?” And the answer is “Panorama.”
—Jennifer Wells, SEL and Student Development Coordinator,
Round Lake Area School District (IL)
Elementary and Secondary Students Report Higher Levels of Belonging and Relationships at School
As part of our strategic planning, we evaluate our Panorama survey data to see where we are as a district and what we can do moving forward to reach our goals. When reviewing our October 2019 survey results, we noticed the numbers were a bit low for Teacher-Student Relationships and Sense of Belonging. We wanted our students to feel more connected.
In response to this data, we implemented the practice of Community Circle questions in preschool through high school. These were simple get-to-know-you questions, like “Would you rather go to the movies or play video games?” or “What's your favorite animal?” We wanted students to connect and build empathy with their peers and adults at school.
We were fully remote in August of 2020, and teachers would come to me and say, “Jen, I can't do this. There is no way that I'm going to be able to connect with my kids and get them to learn. This year is a waste.” I said, “Focus on the Community Circles. Focus on taking time to build those relationships, establish your routines, and let the students know that you care about them.”
If you look at the data between October 2019 and October 2020, you can see the gains we’ve made in one year by spending the time on relationship-building as a district. Students feel that they have an adult that they are connected to and that cares about them. For example:
- For Teacher-Student Relationships, we saw a 13% increase at the secondary level and an 8% increase at the elementary level, which is an estimated 300 additional students feeling connected to their teachers.
- For Sense of Belonging, we saw a 7% increase at the secondary level and a 9% increase at the elementary level—which is an estimated 200 additional students feeling like they belong at school.
Below, you can see our full set of results for Teacher-Student Relationships and Sense of Belonging across grade bands from October 2019 through April 2021.
In Sense of Belonging, we saw a 9% increase with our 3rd-5th graders and a 7% increase with our 6th-12th graders from 2019-2020. We were able to sustain these numbers through April 2021. (Courtesy of Round Lake Area School District)
In Teacher-Student Relationships, we saw an 8% increase with our 3rd-5th graders and a 13% increase with our 6th-12th graders from 2019-2020. We were able to sustain these numbers through April 2021. (Courtesy of Round Lake Area School District)
Panorama has become a term we use in our schools when we discuss our plans. We’ll ask “Where are you getting your data from?” And the answer is “Panorama.” These survey tools have helped us determine whether our initiatives are working for our students. The student voice data is something tangible we can point to and say, “This is how our students are benefitting. This is why this is important.”
Jennifer Cooper-Wells is the SEL and Student Development Coordinator at Round Lake Area School District in Illinois.