Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools

Student Behavior



School Discipline

Suspensions Don’t Teach

Summary:  This article reports that restorative practices, rather than suspensions, provides students with an opportunity for learning behavioral alternatives while remaining in school.  The article goes on to explain the five steps of restorative practices.

Source:  Ryan Wheeler, Edutopia, October 11, 2017

Categories:  Restorative Practices, Student Behavior, Code of Conduct, Core Values




Cyberbullying Concerns Prompt Cell Phone Restrictions at Maine Middle School

Summary: This article reports on a decision to restrict the use of cellphones at Lewiston Middle School in Maine in the hopes of reducing cyberbullying.  The decision resulted from the deaths of two students and reports that cell phones were used to bully during school hours.

Source: Linda Jacobson, Education DIVE, September 1, 2017

Categories: Anti-Bullying, Code of Conduct, Student Behavior, Mental Health




As States Seek to Reduce Suspensions, Schools Look for Ways to Handle Discipline

Summary:  This article explores strategies that can be used as alternates to suspension and expulsion.  These methods called ATS (Alternatives to Suspension) provide other means to deal with discipline issues.  A number of other approaches are also covered in this article.

Source:  Linda Jacobson, Education DIVE, August 28, 2017

Categories:  Codes of Conduct, Student Behavior, Educational Equity




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

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





Putting a Positive Spin on School Discipline

Summary:  This article advocates for taking a therapeutic approach when dealing with student discipline.  The goal is to help students think more productively when they get into trouble.

Source:  Alex Fertig and Ray W. Christner, District Administration, April 20, 2017 

Categories:  Student Behavior, Codes of Conduct, Mental Health



Teacher and Student

For Every $1 Spent on SEL, There’s An $11 Return

Summary: This article reports on a new research brief from Penn State University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which found that money spent on SEL programs brought back a significant return on the dollar.

Source:  Autumn Arnett, Education Dive, April 11, 2017

Categories:  SEL Basics. SEL Research, School Culture/Climate, Student Behavior



Empty Chairs

Researchers Calculate Real Cost of High School Suspensions

Summary:  A new study looking at the costs associated with suspending students in California finds that taxpayers are on the hook for billions of dollars each year due to the impact of suspensions, which can lower the high school graduation rate.

Source:  Stephen Noonoo, Education Dive, March 13, 2017

Categories:  Student Achievement, Student Behavior, Codes of Conduct




Language, Behavior, Moral Standards, and Leadership

Summary:  This article speaks to the importance of creating and maintaining a climate of respect and positive core values.  The authors use the example of the locker room mentality which is often used to excuse inappropriate comments or bad behavior.  Clearly, our schools need to meet a higher standard.

Source:  Jill Berkowiwicz and Ann Meyers, Education Week, January 12, 2017

Categories:  Core Values, Codes of Conduct, Student Behavior, Classroom Practice, School Culture and Climate



Happy Student

2016’s ‘Whole Child’ Issues: Growth Mindset, Transgender Rules, School Cops

Summary:  This article lists “Whole Child” issues that emerged in 2016 and provides a look at the top ten posts of 2016 relating to a variety of issues from social emotional learning, mindset, performance values, LGBTQ issues, and police presence in schools.

Source:  Evie Blad, Education Week, December 30, 2016

Categories:  Mindset, LGBTQ Issues, SEL Basics, Grit, Student Behavior




The Untapped SEL Tool: Conflict

Summary: This article talks about using discipline issues as teachable moments to promote social emotional learning.  By treating conflicts not as disciplinary incidents but as teachable moments, teachers can help students develop better ways to deal with conflict while building their SEL skills.

Source:  Kristin Stuart Valdes, Edutopia, December 21, 2016

Categories:  SEL Basics, Student Behavior, Codes of Conduct