Positive Results: New Education Initiative
In order to move the Lebanon School District forward in a positive direction this year, district teachers and administrators learned about an educational initiative this fall that has been embraced and implemented by schools nationwide.
Known as SEL or Social Emotional Learning, it is believed that students can be better be served with regard to their social and emotional health with the integration of critical life skills that go beyond academics, Lebanon staff agreed.
At an in-service held on October 11, 2019 at the Lebanon High School, staff members enthusiastically supported the idea of formalizing 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. “What we can do does not require us to buy a curriculum,” said Lisa Scolaro, District Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment. “SEL is not an initiative. It’s a value system.”
Tim Koumrian, Director of Student Services at LHS, agreed. “It’s a frame of mind,” said Koumrian. “If it isn’t seen as a separate piece, then we’re able to reach each other as human beings in addition to our professional roles. Ultimately, you can progress further with students when we’re more comfortable with each other as adults.”
In a structured but interactive setting, LHS staff gleaned more about SEL, reflecting on the five competencies that underscore the ability to be available to learn and available to teach including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and
responsible decision making.
“In my role of overseeing different groups of students, we forget sometimes that there are many who come from challenging situations,” said Koumrian. “If you don’t address their social-emotional needs, then a lot of what we ask them to do as educators is not going to happen or it will be really difficult or a long time coming. It is an essential part of what we do now.”
Emily Kehoe, LHS Physical Education/Health teacher, emphasized the importance of classroom culture in order to ensure those needs are met.
“I teach my students that they need to treat people like the way they want to be treated”, said Kehoe. “They learn how to laugh in front of each other or that it’s okay to make mistakes. This builds communication skills and self-confidence, and it allows them to become more comfortable with each other.”
Kehoe also teaches a ropes course at LHS (pictured here), giving students a break in the day when they can feel supported no matter what they are doing. “It gives them the opportunity to develop new or different relationships with one another,” said Kehoe. “The ropes course also helps students take responsibility in a class because they are constantly hands-on and active instead of sitting and listening.”
SEL is not a new concept and allegedly has been around in educational literature for over two decades. But recently, it has gotten a lot more airtime as schools are realizing that peace building or conflict resolution have foundations in the social-emotional learning frameworks and in that research base. “At the elementary school level, we learn how to use the time allotted to build community,” said Denise Matthews, Special Educator at Lebanon’s Hanover Street School. “As you’re introducing a lesson, for example, if it’s a new concept, you need to do so, allowing the students to feel anxious about it. I tell them that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable. I give them permission to feel that way. As a result, I find that they go with the flow, knowing they won’t be chastised or belittled if they struggle.”
Bonnie Robinson, Director of Curriculum at Lebanon High School, related that the world has changed and students now need different skills to adapt to it. “It’s not only about us teaching but their learning,” said Robinson. “They need to internalize self-awareness and self-management.”
Scolaro noted that the five key skills of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making are not innate. “You have to learn them,” said Scolaro. “You need to take turns and take risks. People learn throu
gh those experiences. It’s an intentional reminder that they are as important as other skills that make us successful.”
In other words, with regard to academic learning, if students aren’t able to regulate or down-
regulate in a given situation, they’re not able to be available to process the information of what is being taught, Matthews explained. “With younger kids, there are higher levels of anxiety so, by doing community building, it makes for a safe place to be wrong,” said Matthews. “We have to reassure them that that’s okay.”
The October in-service reminded district staff about the importance of incorporating strategies of respect and mindfulness throughout the school environment as well families and the community at large. In fact, staff members became aware last year – and requested the 2019 workshop as a result – that investing in students by teaching social and emotional learning in the classroom does more than improve academic success. In the long-term, employers seek individuals with the very traits that SEL develops: problem-solving, teamwork,
character and tenacity.
“The goal is to have students recognize their own needs so that eventually they can internalize them and the skills that meet them,” said Scolaro. “This has been one of the areas teachers have wanted to talk about. The work had already begun last year but we wanted more time. This isn’t new. It’s just a deepening of the concept to bring an awareness of how important it is.”
Scolaro noted that threading social-emotional learning throughout the district in all areas complements the mission of LHS that strives to cultivate curiosity and collaboration, achieve academic excellence, respect and value diversity, encourage responsible citizenship, and support the needs of every learner.