K-6 Special Provides Strong Foundation for Success

New K-6 Special Provides Strong Foundation for Success
Posted on 08/31/2021
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collage of sel special photosStudents in grades K-2 started off the school year greeted by positive messages like these.

  • I can solve problems.

  • I can accept new challenges.

  • I can reach my goals.

  • I can keep going when things get tough.

  • I can learn new things.

They are important lessons to learn; ones that give students a strong foundation for academic achievement as well as success in life.

Teaching these skills is not new at Lakota – for years, they have been embedded in all classrooms in some way, shape, or form. They have also been a part of the health curriculum taught by the classroom teacher and by school counselors. They have been integrated into Lakota’s Portrait of a Graduate, a “north star” that clearly defines the skills, characteristics and attributes that every Lakota graduate should possess.

What is new is that skills like these have been grouped together and are now called social emotional learning (SEL) and are being taught in their entirety by dedicated SEL teachers.

In 2019, as part of its strategic plan, the Ohio Department of Education adopted Social Emotional Learning standards for K-12 schools. Three Lakota teachers were part of the team that helped develop these standards that reinforce that education’s focus needs to be on the whole child.

SEL encompasses reasoning and problem-solving, communication and interpersonal skills, self-confidence, self-motivation, coping skills, responsible decision-making and setting goals.

Decades of research studies demonstrate that SEL improves students’ social emotional skills, attitudes, relationships, academic performance, and perceptions of classroom and school climate.  Studies also show that SEL causes a decline in students’ anxiety, behavior problems, and substance abuse.

 

“So much research proves that your EQ (Emotional Quotient) is a bigger indicator for job success than your IQ,” said Lakota behavior specialist Tina Pratt, one of the educators who worked on the standards. “Knowing that, teachers have to focus on their students’ social and emotional well-being before they can tackle the academic piece.” 

Interest in building students’ social and emotional skills—especially around things like coping, responsible decision-making, and relationship-building—has only intensified with the pandemic.

“When ODE put out the SEL standards, Lakota began looking for more ways to integrate them into the student day,” said Lori Brown, Lakota’s Director of Student Services. “This led to the development of the SEL special for grades K-6, giving students more time to spend on these critical skills for future success in school and in life.”

What does the SEL special look like?

 

In grades K-2, Lakota is implementing the PAX Good Behavior Game. PAX is a set of strategies to help students learn important self-management skills while collaborating to make their classroom a peaceful and productive learning environment. 

In some K-2 buildings, the SEL teacher is coming into the homeroom classes to teach SEL lessons to understand the children better in their everyday school environment and help them connect to each other and the space they function in in a more meaningful way. Some classroom teachers are choosing to stay in the room during the SEL lesson or to come back early to observe the strategies and language being used.

“The potential impact we can have on our students’ mental well-being by introducing SEL practices intentionally into our Lakota classrooms is huge,” said K-2 SEL teacher Ledra Bugg. “Within the SEL special, students will have a chance to practice active listening skills, positive self-talk, collaboration skills, self-regulation strategies, flexible thinking skills and problem-solving skills.”

Fellow K-2 SEL teacher Leslie Herald adds, “We look forward to seeing this wonderful new SEL special come to life by giving students the confidence and strategies to be successful in both their classroom and family communities.”

For grades 3-6, the SEL special will look a little different. “We are going to focus on building a foundation to handle life’s twists and turns by discovering our strengths and using them to help us,” said SEL teacher Lynne Kolbet Szul.  She and her colleagues are using a curriculum set forth by Sources of Strength that explores the strengths of family support, positive friends, mentors, healthy activities, generosity, physical health, and mental health.

Szul continued, “When students and adults are able to explore and identify their strengths, they can discover healthy coping strategies and learn how to ask for help for both themselves and others. In the special we will build anchor points that will stand the test of time. Perhaps the greatest part of this program is that it is a natural way to personalize the student’s school experience because each student will build upon their family’s values and beliefs.” 

Homeroom teachers are excited to see a more streamlined emphasis on SEL and say that this is exactly what students need right now because there are so many pressures on students in and out of the classroom. And the SEL teachers are looking forward to building upon the foundations that parents have begun and will continue to build with their children.