Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools

Social-Emotional Learning as a Pathway to Student Well-being, Confidence, and Success

  • May 16, 2017
  •    BY Connie Sanchez (Contributor)
happy-students

By Connie Sanchez, Executive Director, Unity Charter School, Morristown, NJ

Building a positive climate to reinforce a student’s Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) has been part of Unity Charter School’s culture and climate since its inception in 1998. Unity Charter School is located in Morristown, New Jersey and is a K-8 school. As a Positive Discipline school, we strive to ensure all of our students thrive academically, while developing the social-emotional skill set to be successful well beyond their Unity years.

At Unity Charter School, we understand the importance of social and emotional learning for the student’s wellbeing and as an important factor in contributing to a student’s confidence and success as a learner and as an active member of the school community. We strive to create relationships that allow our students to form positive attachments with each other and with adults, and to thrive. In addition, we are equally committed to maintaining a positive climate in which all stakeholders are supported. Teachers are supported with Positive Discipline professional development throughout the year and regularly scheduled sessions in which teachers help teachers to resolve problems with individual students in the classroom, self reflect, and expand their own skills. Parents are offered free workshops and ongoing opportunities to bring SEL concepts into the home environment.

We teach self-awareness, self-regulation, conflict resolution and reflective decision making skills throughout the school day by taking the time with students to model behaviors, use self and other affirming language, and make positive choices. Experiential integration is an important factor in supporting internalization of what we teach and practice during more structured class time, and during whole school meetings. We value our students’ competencies as learners and provide instructional opportunities that reinforce self-efficacy through collaboration, exploratory learning, questioning, and discovery. This instructional approach invites teachers to facilitate the learning process while students are trusted to construct meaning independently or collectively.

Unity Charter School does have more formal, structured times for students to learn, explore and practice social-emotional skills through daily 30 minute class meetings and whole school meetings.   Younger students in the lower school begin each day with a community meeting. During this time students compliment and acknowledge each other. They are introduced to visitors in the school, and celebrate special occasions in each other’s lives (e.g., birthdays, a sports victory, or a community service project). Class meetings provide daily opportunities for students and teachers to form relationships, to be seen as individuals, to understand cultural differences and to learn and practice new social skills in a supportive environment.

At Unity, we provide students many opportunities to develop their voices and to be heard. Students participate in Democratic Governance, make suggestions for improving campus life, and have their own Climate and Culture team. The administration and faculty has an open door policy where students are ecouraged to present ideas, voice concerns, or talk about challenges they face at home or at school.

We are aware that students come through our doors with histories and life challenges that may impede their abilities to learn these skills and we have developed a system of supports to help build trust and feelings of safety. One prevalent reason children struggle seems to be exposure to childhood trauma. Trauma -related experiences (particularly in childhood), undermine attachments, thereby creating a cycle of further trauma, intra psychic distress and alienation from sources of support.

To address this, we adopted a no suspension policy. Students who are struggling with secure attachment in school don’t benefit from being home suspended. Research indicates the contrary. At Unity students receive an alternative learning space assignment. They may spend the day with the Dean of Students, the Director of Curriculum or the Executive Director. This depends on who has an established relationship with the child. The day is spent doing classwork. This prevents a child from getting further behind and provides an opportunity to have heartfelt conversations with an adult they trust in school and to reflect on what has happened. The reflection continues that evening at home with the parent. In more extreme situations, Unity Charter School has established relationships with community resources. Support outside of school is coordinated with our Dean of Students, a member of our Special Education department and our School Counselor, whose primary job is counseling students.

Mutual respect, self-advocacy, and a sense of trust in the adults that surround them instills a willingness in our students to dare to be themselves in an atmosphere of acceptance while developing empathy and awareness for others. This frees them to delve into their passions and set a course for the future that reflects who they are as individuals who also have the ability to work collaboratively with others towards a common goal.

Connie Sanchez, Executive Director

EMAIL CONTACT: Connie.Sanchez@UnityCharterSchool.org

 

    • May 16, 2017
  •    BY Connie Sanchez (Contributor)
  • 0 0