The Role of SEL in Reducing Behavioral Issues

Tori Rokicki, Director of Social Emotional Learning at East End Prep

At East End Prep, SEL is more than just a formal curriculum. Our teachers and staff work hard to create long lasting and meaningful relationships with students and families, in order to further facilitate the skills taught in our classrooms. We teach students problem-solving strategies, and then weave those strategies into conversations during conferences, celebrations, and suspension re-entry meetings. We encourage children to be critical thinkers through explicit lessons, and exploratory opportunities.

Our key to successful SEL education is the focus on social and emotional skills gaps that our children may have. While we recognize and treat the symptoms of those skills gaps, which can sometimes result in suspensions or other behavioral consequences, we also make plans to treat the root problem that is causing the behaviors. For example, we had a wonderful kindergarten student (we will call him Mark) was displaying many reactive behaviors, including defiance. After many problem-solving conversations with Mark’s mother and teachers, we came to the conclusion that Mark could benefit from more intensive SEL interventions.

At East End Prep, we have a tiered behavior system in order to address all student behaviors and needs. This system involves our Dean of Social Emotional Learning, our Deans of Culture, teachers and other administration members. Tier one SEL includes pre-planned lessons facilitated in classrooms daily. The Dean of SEL creates these lessons in response to teacher and student needs. Mark was receiving these lessons in morning meeting and in explicit SEL times. However, he lacked skills to self-soothe and had trouble expressing his needs. He would respond to teacher requests with emotional outbursts, which led to more disruptions for him and other students. When we were able to apply the tiered behavioral system, coupled with SEL supports, we were able to diagnose the underlying problem.

Mark has participated in a counseling small group to help him (and others!) learn to identify feelings, needs and wants. Mark can now verbalize his feelings and needs to that teachers so that staff can proactively intervene before Mark reacts in frustration. Furthermore, Mark is currently participating in individual counseling sessions to address other skill gaps that tier one and tier two SEL and behavior interventions did not address. Individual counseling has addressed Mark’s skills gaps in self-soothing and relating to peers. All of these interventions began to take place in early September. Since these interventions have been in place, Mark has not had any major disruptive incidents and has not been referred to the office for behavior.

There are several important pieces that contributed to Mark (and everyone else’s) success. The SEL curriculum is intentionally woven into the academic curriculum to reach all students from the very beginning. Parents and teachers are invested in the SEL curriculum and interventions. Additionally, teachers and parents are devoted to the social and emotional growth of all students. There are various professional development seminar opportunities centered on SEL for teachers and staff to attend all year, so that the initiative does not get lost or taper out.  Most importantly, children take ownership of their actions and behaviors as a result of the explicit curriculum and tiered SEL and behavior supports. Children can usually name their skills gaps and create SEL goals for themselves. At East End Prep, we know that behavioral issues are a direct result of choices and skill gaps, not a reflection of the person a child is.

Tori Rokicki teaches a whole-group social-emotional learning lesson to a kindergarten class.

Tori Rokicki teaches a whole-group social-emotional learning lesson to a kindergarten class.