Guest Post by Al Kingsley, @AlKingsley_EDU
One of the largest questions schools are facing this year is how to try to improve student behavior. We all understand that one side effect of the pandemic was students were deprived of learning key social skills that can help regulate their behavior.
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that 84% of schools agree that student behavioral development has been negatively impacted and that has led to everything from student misconduct to acts of disrespect toward teachers and staff to prohibited use of electronic devices.
In reaction, many schools have used their COVID relief federal funding to start or bolster existing social-emotional learning programs. In fact, 88 of the top 100 districts in the U.S. reported spending funds on SEL – that meant more districts expanded SEL than sought additional technology, teacher training, or extended learning opportunities.
And that’s not a surprise. Many studies show that addressing and building students’ social-emotional skills can result in better academic performance, fewer disruptive behaviors, and less emotional distress.
As a quick aside, if your district is still searching for a solution, I have a detailed column that explains how to best vet a new program, considering your district’s available funds, current climate, and hoped-for outcome.
But if like so many districts, you have already purchased a program and are in the early stages of implementation, I have some advice that seeks to flatten your learning curve, enhance buy-in from staff, and start producing results quicker.
The first key lesson is that even if you have chosen the right program, simply buying something and beginning to train staff isn’t enough to guarantee success. Just as we know that students do better when they understand the relevance of the work they are completing, your staff is more likely to find success if they believe in the option you’ve chosen.
One way to accomplish this is by sharing with them the process you went through to choose your solution. You likely not only gauged your product’s effectiveness in schools in general but also studied exactly how it worked in schools that mirror your district. Let your teachers know what research went into it, and freely share any examples you have from other implementations, from successes to roadblocks.
If you completed a trial with a small group, let staff know. Allowing teachers and others to talk with multiple people about implementation will help tamp down fear of the unknown.
You should also set clear expectations for your program, even if it’s already been rolled out district-wide. Explaining that usage can deepen in coming years will offer a roadmap to staff, and help teachers see the end goal without allowing day-to-day frustrations to hamper their efforts.
The last method to improve your staff’s buy-in is to extend your SEL program to include care for their social and emotional states. During the last several years, teachers may have been working so hard to mitigate the negative effects from the pandemic on students, they ignored their own self-care. Teacher resignations and polls that show increased unhappiness in their jobs are proof that stress, extra work, and uncertainty have taken their toll on your staff.
Remind your teachers to take care of themselves and offer them programs in yoga or controlled breathing. This can not only reduce their stress, but also prove you care about their well-being. In short, take care of your staff like you hope they take care of your students.
Above all, remind staff that all of this work takes time to master, like any new skill. While you can’t expect students to absorb SEL lessons and improve behavior immediately, if staff is consistent with their lessons, progress will begin in mere weeks. This will then reinforce the importance of your SEL program.
Al Kingsley is an author, the CEO of NetSupport, Chair of a Multi-Academy Trust in the UK, Education Author and co-chair of Workstream 5 at the Foundation for Educational Development, whose mandate is to develop a framework for long-term vision and sustainable planning for education in England. He travels the world, speaking about and studying education. Al’s latest book is My School Governance Handbook. @AlKingsley_Edu.
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