All Hands on Deck for School Safety and Social and Emotional Learning

Fredrica Nash
Fredrica Nash
Kayla Siler
Kayla Siler

Developing SEL skills as a preventative approach to improve school safety

Developing Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) skills in children has been demonstrated to predict adult outcomes, like higher educational attainment, stronger employment outcomes, better mental health and reduced risk of criminal activity or substance use. Even with this evidence, many times SEL is not prioritized or successfully implemented in classrooms. Part of a comprehensive approach to improving school safety and promoting resilience in students and school staff involves implementing programs to create school environments that prevent, and do not merely react to, potential safety issues and behavioral problems. The All Hands on Deck Training Program was designed to develop SEL skills among teachers, principals, counselors, and school resources officers by strengthening adult-student relationships and interactions.

Recently at the All Hands on Deck: Social & Emotional Learning Summit (SEL), hosted by RTI International, principals, teachers, counselors, and other school and district administrators had the chance to learn about evidence-based practices and strengthen their approaches to SEL. This Summit was a culminating event for the All Hands on Deck Program that was implemented in three school districts in North Carolina during the 2018-2019 school year. Participating school districts included Johnston County Public Schools, New Hanover County Schools, and Surry County Schools. As participants in the All Hands on Deck program, each district chose two participating schools to receive workshops focused on cognitive debiasing and relationship building. Teachers and staff within the two schools, then received follow-up coaching supports to help them reach their defined goals related to SEL in their classrooms. The All Hands on Deck program was provided at no charge to the participating districts thanks to a School Safety Grant awarded to RTI by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI).

Dr. Anna Yaros, a program manager in Mental Health Promotions and Positive Development at RTI provided research on evidence-based whole school programs, such as MTSS, that support school safety and the building of social emotional competence in students; and evidence-based classroom and individual practices. She placed a special emphasis on the ways in which social emotional learning contributes to strengthening the whole school, the whole community and the whole child. Additionally, she shared information on how school-based mental health is related to school safety and where the research in SEL and school mental health is headed. Dr. Yaros challenged participants to engage in high quality coaching for more effective program and practice implementation related to social and emotional learning. She emphasized that research shows good coaching takes training and time but that implementers like programs more when coaching is involved.

Additional key themes that came from the day were:

  • The importance of having a focus on equity
  • Engaging the entire school community in SEL efforts
  • Identifying a focus for SEL
  • Generating creative ideas through networking to address mental health supports in districts
  • Schools and districts already have practices and programs that support SEL

Audience members had the opportunity to consider these themes during their reflections on the relationship between SEL and the needs of students in their classroom and districts, school safety and facilitating safe and positive learning environments. Action steps were categorized into four categories to help audience members process and identify action steps for strengthening social and emotional learning in their district. These categories were classroom strategies, schoolwide strategies, professional learning needed, and resources and materials needed.

The RTI Center for Education Services is passionate about SEL and how to successfully implement it in classrooms and schools. We believe that students who have opportunities to build their academic, social and emotional competence are better equipped for a successful adulthood. For more information on our SEL best practices, or to sign up for our next SEL event, contact Stacy Costello.

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