The SEL Blog
November 2017

How SEL Makes a Difference for Struggling Students

By Jeff Broome and Lisa Perreira

Some people view social and emotional learning (SEL) as about “soft” skills that aren’t connected to academics. But at Tumwater High School in Tumwater, Washington, SEL is a critical part of how we help struggling students through our academic intervention program. Research supports the idea that a close connection with an adult is a key component to school success, and we have found that doing SEL work in small groups fosters connections between students and school staff. After connections have been fostered, teachers are able to leverage increased amount of work completion and increased academic performance.

Additionally, we know that the skills are kids are learning will be helpful and necessary in the world of work.  SEL skills are a key indicator in workplace success and we are excited to see the positive changes in our students. This will help them be successful employees as soon as they enter the workforce.

Most of the students we are focusing on through our intervention model are students who struggle to have “traditional” connections to our school.  With a goal of increasing school connectedness and building strong peer and adult relationships, we meet with a targeted small group of female students weekly. Students often choose our discussion topics, which usually center on the difficulties of responsible decision-making and self-management.

But that’s not all. We have also intentionally focused discussions and activities on developing social awareness and building relationship skills. This past year we took our student group on a field trip to visit The Gates Foundation Visitor Center in an effort to gain insight on issues facing young women around the world. During this visit we had the opportunity to meet representatives from Alaffia, a local non-profit organization that produces and distributes fair-trade beauty products as well as provides bicycles for students in Togo to get to school. Through this new partnership, our girls have been provided with a small window into the lives of others and we have had rich discussions about diversity and supporting others. Our goal is to continue to provide unique and interesting experiences like this to our students that may not otherwise feel connected to school.

Our award from the NoVo Social Emotional Learning Innovation Fund has helped make this work possible. There is now increased awareness of how social emotional competencies affect academic learning and performance. Staff in our building now know how to incorporate these competencies into daily instruction, as well as how to build healthy relationships with students. Specifically, I have seen a difference in how adults view discipline procedures.We are developing a mindset at Tumwater that views discipline as a teachable moment rather than a time for punitive measures. In other words, the award has allowed us to slowly change the conversation with adults to benefit students.

But we’re not stopping there. As a district we have created a universal screen for SEL competencies that will provide our staff with more insight into how students see themselves and how we can be more strategic in our support of students. We will be giving all of our 9th and 10th grade students the screener and then using the screening data to provide interventions and supports for classroom teachers. Additionally, we will be looking closely at building wide curriculum options to support SEL competencies in every classroom in the school.

We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished so far with SEL at Tumwater, and are excited to keep pushing forward. With an increased focus on high quality SEL throughout the school, our students will be the real winners.

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.

Jeff Broome and Lisa Perreira are NoVo Social Emotional Learning Innovation Fund Awardees