With drastic changes made to their education, social and home lives, children are struggling with stressors they’ve never faced, and it’s impacting their mental health. In December 2021, the U.S. Surgeon General released a public health advisory addressing the youth mental health crisis, and around the same time industry organizations declared a national emergency in children’s mental health.
With the concerns surrounding children’s and teens’ mental health, it’s not surprising that educators and school staff are seeing a rise in challenging student behavior.
We sat down with Melissa Ragan, Chief Learning Officer at Navigate360 to get her answers to educators’ and school staff’s questions about the role of social-emotional learning and behavioral intervention in tackling challenging student behaviors.
Q: Integrating and prioritizing SEL within our master schedule is a challenge. The district knows it’s a need, but the implementation of it across schools is not consistent. How can we address this?
MELISSA RAGAN: Research suggests that for students to get the maximum benefit of social-emotional learning, consistency and ongoing opportunities to practice these new skills is important. Finding time to do this is a common issue for schools and districts across the country. We’ve had districts address this challenge in a variety of ways. Some do SEL during homeroom, advisory or health. Other schools have SEL as a separate offering altogether or embed it into core classes, such as ELA. However it’s done, it’s important that schools build a common language and use the skills and strategies throughout the day in every classroom and with every interaction with students.
Q: Where are the tangible SEL activities we can work on one on one with students?
RAGAN: Using a comprehensive SEL curriculum, such as Navigate360 SEL, is an easy way to work on building students’ SEL competence. As students work through the lessons, you can look at the assessment data and identify where students need help and then work one on one with those students in those areas.
But if your school can’t purchase an SEL curriculum, there’s still hope. Good teachers are already doing SEL in their classrooms. They are building relationships with students, helping students resolve conflicts, encouraging collaboration in group activities, and checking in with students when they don’t seem like themselves. Of course, you can also find a lot of good material online, but you’ll have to sift through a lot of weeds to find the flowers. Greater Good from Berkley and UNESCO come to mind as places to get great free resources.
Students and SEL
Q: I understand students’ anxiety and lack of coping skills, but how do we help the students when the students are physically and mentally abusing teachers? Teachers are leaving the profession because of the anxiety and fear that students are causing us.
RAGAN: Using a restorative circle with all the parties who were affected by the behavior can be really healing for everyone. It puts the focus on identifying the harm that was done (how the action/abuse impacted others) and how the harm can be repaired instead of focusing on the rules or policies that were violated and which consequence/punishment is going to be utilized. Allowing the people who were affected by the behavior to speak to how it personally impacted them can be healing for them AND it can give a powerful perspective and insight to the student who engaged in the behavior that they wouldn’t have if the incident was never processed.
Educators and SEL
Q: What are some suggestions for improving teachers’ understanding of the importance of SEL, not only for students but for themselves?
RAGAN: Research shows that teachers understand the importance of SEL, but they don’t have enough training. Conversely, studies show that teachers who reported higher levels of wellbeing used SEL practices more often than those who didn’t. I honestly think that most teachers already understand the importance of SEL for themselves, but they fail to act on it.
Teachers are natural helpers – often at the expense of themselves. Unfortunately, that’s part of the reason that we see high rates of teacher burnout and the high levels that we see today of teachers leaving the classroom. I don’t think the problem is teachers not understanding that SEL is important. It’s that they don’t prioritize themselves and their own SEL and self-care.
Family/Home Life Collaboration
Q: Parent education is an integral part of the process in any program that we want to implement so that parents can support our efforts when the students are home. How do you get parents on board?
RAGAN: The most effective way to assure families and get them on board is by being transparent. When parents have access to the lessons that their students are using, it helps to ease their fears and promotes important conversations at home, not just at school.
Q: How can restorative practices be worked into the day when time is extremely limited?
RAGAN: Restorative practices can be built into the day. Teachers need to look at it as a time saver instead of a time waster. Think about how much time is spent dealing with behaviors. Restorative practices are preventive and help students build a sense of belonging and community so they won’t want to act out.
Navigate360 Social-Emotional Learning can help your school improve student behavior, foster mental health and create a more positive school climate. Learn more here.