Social Emotional Learning and school climate and culture are directly related. But how can we work smart and not hard to improve both? One of the biggest trends in education today is Social and Emotional Learning. These concepts were labeled as character education in the past. It may have been part of the D.A.R.E. program. Over time we have seen the need to not just discuss character traits and ways to be a good citizen. It is needed to teach children to manage their emotions, build relationships, and work cooperatively. This is accomplished through direct Social Emotional Learning (SEL). To learn more about what SEL is and the research behind it, visit Why Social Emotional Learning Matters and How to Teach It.
The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) states that school culture and climate “promote students’ ability to learn”. Teachers plan lessons to teach standards that are developed by their state education department. But without an environment conducive to learning, students will not reach the depth of knowledge that their teachers expect.
First, a school’s climate is the effect that the school has on the students, faculty, and staff members who work there. Building a positive school climate begins with the school’s entrance. You can feel a school’s climate when you enter the front doors. The entrance tells you what the school cares about and what the priorities are. As the principal of an elementary school, my first goal was to make my school a place that was welcoming and warm as soon as you walked in the building. Our yearly theme is proudly displayed and a display about our faculty and staff are in a place of prominence.
ASCD describes school culture as “the way teachers and other staff members work together and the set of beliefs, values, and assumptions they share.” This can only be created by strong and effective leadership. Therefore, all stakeholders must feel ownership of their part in school culture. Those roles and expectations must be clearly communicated and the natural leaders within the school must be united in the vision.
Most importantly, in every school there are those teachers who are the natural leaders. They are the teachers that the school administrator must wrangle onto the leadership team. These teachers are the influencers and are the people who see the people on the front lines of education. Navigating the social and emotional needs of the faculty, staff, and students of a building will be made easier by a close connection with the natural leaders in the building. Ultimately, this leadership team can give the administrators a different perspective and will ensure that everyone’s voice is heard when making decisions.
Although everyone in a school may not have the same job, everyone in the school should share the same goals, values, and expectations for themselves and the students. Teachers, assistants, custodians, and cafeteria workers must all be on the same team. The mutual respect is palpable and the students feed on the loving relationship between the adults in the building. Those relationships are fostered by the school administrator and how those professional relationships are supported.
Source of Inspiration
This view of school culture was influenced by the Jostens Renaissance program that promotes the 5 Rs of their Jostens Renaissance Formula:
Respect + Recognize + Reward + Reinforce = Results.
Jostens Renaissance is a program that focuses on school climate and culture improvement to improve Social Emotional Learning and therefore, student behavior and achievement. Using the teachings of this program, the positive reinforcement had to become an integral part of all of the workings of our school.
An additional resource in improving the school climate and culture is the use of quality software. FUNecole® is an invaluable tool that our teachers use to provide direct SEL instruction by incorporating it in daily lessons in multiple subjects. FUNecole® is a project-based interdisciplinary program, that incorporates components of STREAMS (Science, Technology, Reading/Writing, Engineering, Arts, Math, and Social sciences), Digital Literacy, Computer Science / Coding, 21st Century Skills, and Social Emotional Learning.
As a teaching tool, FUNecole® allows the teacher to plan lessons that teach the standards that are required by their state along with positive Social Emotional Lessons.
(Click the image for your 6 week free trial)
And finally, yearly themes allow for the entire school to have a focus. It is a great way to have fun with your school mascot and to have a “school language”. Just like inside jokes between friends, a school language unites the students, teachers, and staff. A yearly theme also allows for a focus in decorations, t-shirts, and bulletin boards. Each summer there can be a fun amount of hype built up about the theme for the next year and it builds an excitement that kicks the school year off in a positive way. The theme for the year is fun and exciting, but it’s true purpose is to focus on what is important to the school. I must be chosen with this in mind and it is the first opportunity each year to give your leadership team ownership.
In the end, all of these changes in the building were simple and minimal on their own. The key was that collectively they let each individual know that they are seen and that positive interaction should be acknowledged. The teachers and students all have positive role models in each other. Students and teachers alike, begin to feel that the struggle itself will be acknowledged along with the final accomplishment.
As time goes on, the mutual respect between everyone builds, comfort allows for vulnerability, experimentation, and growth. This IS Social Emotional Learning. Conversations with students who have setbacks with their behavior are very different when that child knows the expectations and sees the error of their ways. It allows the school administrators to hold the child accountable for their actions without judgement but, instead, it is through reflection on the child’s part.
For the adults in the building it is the same, ultimately. Teaching is no longer completely autonomous. Everyone is involved in the progression of your lessons and units. The teachers’ support of each other in planning allows them to ask for help when they are faced with challenges without the feelings of inadequacy. This is a win-win situation for the teacher and the students. Social Emotional Learning does not stop with the students. It is a process for an entire school to go through when improving School Climate and Culture.