We know the correlations between behavior and social-emotional learning (SEL); students with higher SEL skills, such as self-management and social awareness, tend to have fewer behavioral incidents at school and greater capacity to focus on their education.
Pandemic-era disruptions to teaching and learning, however, have created unforeseen challenges to the social-emotional health of our student body, with schools across the country experiencing surges in student misbehavior from disruptions in the classroom to fights in the hallway. Overwhelmed teachers and staff are often falling back on punitive measures.
District SEL Coaches Crystal Hooper, LPC-S, and Amy R. Fairchild, LCSW, Tangipahoa Parish School System, shared with us how they’re addressing student behavior through an SEL lens and using Panorama data to help staff make the connection.
Pandemic Changes: Increased Behavior Incidents and Decreased Adult Capacity
Before the pandemic, Tangipahoa Parish School System was engaged in robust systems change through trauma-informed practices and a focus on social-emotional learning. “Policies were rewritten to move us away from punitive discipline to more restorative practices,” Fairchild said.
However, when students returned to the physical buildings following pandemic disruptions, behavior incidents increased. Students were fighting and skipping classes.
At the same time, adults had less capacity to handle these behaviors. A combination of staff turnover, time away from the buildings, and burnout weakened the understanding of PBIS they’d worked to build. So teachers and staff fell back on old habits.
“Unfortunately, even though PBIS has some amazing concepts and it engages students, staff and families, it has been diminished to the concept of ‘you be good, you get a snack,’ and not the actual concept of teaching behavior,” Hooper said.
They needed to address student behavior and teacher burnout. So they implemented new tactics to rebuild their PBIS and integrate SEL into the district-wide approach to behavior.
Five Approaches To Build the Connection Between Behavior and SEL
Fairchild and Hooper used several tactics to educate and empower everyone in their district. Watch the video or read below to learn from them about five approaches to building the connection between behavior and SEL.
1. Build adult relationship skills
The team realized if they wanted to ask teachers to focus on building positive relationships they needed to back that up by providing teachers with instruction.
“We're not asking our teachers to be mental health professionals. We're asking them to have connections with their kids and to build relationships. For too long I've been saying, ‘build relationships, build relationships!’ but we weren't teaching them how. For some people it becomes innate and they're doing it, but not everyone knows how to do that. So it's teaching them the soft skills as Crystal always points out, teaching them the importance of eye contact, teaching the importance of proximity.” - Amy R. Fairchild, LCSW
"For too long I've been saying, ‘build relationships, build relationships!’ but we weren't teaching them how."
–Amy R. Fairchild, LCSW
2. Cultivate shared SEL vocabulary
They created a weekly structure which they called “Icebreakers” to develop a shared vocabulary around SEL for students, teachers, and staff—as well as connecting SEL lessons to home.
“We implemented what we call icebreakers, which are character traits. Each week our schools across the parish are speaking this language. We called it ‘the word of the week.’ This week it's integrity. When the kids open their Chromebooks, they're seeing the word integrity and what it means. A teacher comes in and says, ‘Hey, let's talk about integrity for a couple of minutes.’ When they're going home at night, they can talk with their parents about integrity. If the parents look on the website, they're talking about integrity.” - Crystal Hooper, LPC-S
"We implemented what we call icebreakers, which are character traits. Each week our schools across the parish are speaking this language."
–Crystal Hooper, LPC-S
3. Model adult SEL in meetings
To help adults experience firsthand what SEL can do, they’ve brought SEL practices explicitly into meetings with staff.
“When we're running a meeting, we try to model some SEL practices. We do tapping exercises on their pressure points. We do breathing exercises to teach them skills so that they're experiencing it. They see, ‘Oh, I feel calm now.’ And then they hopefully can bring that back—do it at staff meetings, do it in their classrooms. We show them how easily and how quickly it can happen.” - Amy R. Fairchild, LCSW
"When we're running a meeting, we try to model some SEL practices."
Amy R. Fairchild, LCSW
4. Leverage learning walks
Amy and Crystal conduct classroom walk-throughs to support teachers in creating the physical environments that enable positive behavior and SEL skill development.
“What we are looking for as SEL coaches is the environment—is it inviting? We're looking for SEL traits in the room. Do they have characteristics posted for the kids? Does the classroom feel like a classroom? Is it inviting for the student? We get to give feedback—not from an educational standpoint, but from a social-emotional learning standpoint. From the moment that kid steps in the room, self-efficacy is going to kick in. Do I believe I can learn in this room? Or can I not?” -Crystal Hooper, LPC-S
"From the moment that kid steps in the room, self-efficacy is going to kick in. Do I believe I can learn in this room? Or can I not?"
Crystal Hooper, LPC-S
5. Include more staff in data sharing
To engage more staff they shifted away from sharing behavior and SEL data primarily with principals. Instead, they began to share it with members of the wellbeing team, including assistant principals and curriculum coaches.
“One of the curriculum coaches was very skeptical about the whole SEL piece. She started looking at the individual students' data and she's like, ‘These are my frequent flyers. These are my kids that have interventions. These are my kids! And look, they're struggling in self-efficacy. Look, they're struggling with emotional regulation.’ They have that kind of aha moment when they were given the tools to piece it together.” - Amy R. Fairchild, LCSW
"'Look, they're struggling in self-efficacy. Look, they're struggling with emotional regulation.’ They have that kind of aha moment when they were given the tools to piece it together."
–Amy R. Fairchild, LCSW
Panorama Survey Data Connects the Dots Between Behavior and SEL Competencies
Panorama SEL survey data helped to shed light on behavior incidents at Tangipahoa Parish School System.
The return-to-building increase in behavior incidents differed across grade levels. “With the elementary students we've seen an increase in fighting. And with our older students, we've seen leaving class without permission, skipping class, skipping school together,” said Fairchild.
“This was the first year that our district did the Panorama SEL individual surveys, where we could look at our students' individual competencies. With our older students, self-efficacy was the greatest need. They didn't believe in themselves. They're just avoiding the setting all together, because they've had such a huge gap in time of having that consistent education. For our younger students, emotional regulation was the area of need. We're seeing that they are not able to regulate their emotions that they're engaging in these fights.” - Amy R. Fairchild, LCSW
Based on the data, they could see different student cohorts needed help building or rebuilding different SEL competencies. And the information has helped them to begin to restore their PBIS.
It’s a work in progress. Community members have pushed for punitive measures to remove students who engage in fighting. But the advocates for strengthening SEL competencies remain undeterred. Fairchild acknowledged, “It's disheartening to have been doing this work, but I just wanted to let you all know that despite our policy changes, despite the work that we've done, there's still a lot more work that needs to happen!”
Holding the best interests of the students in heart and and in mind, they are rolling up their sleeves and doing the work.
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