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Promoting Social-Emotional Awareness at Mickey Mantle School

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on January 15, 2014

Developing a positive school climate is a partnership effort between the entire school community of educators, administrators, mental health professionals, students, and parents. Schools and districts across the nation are speaking to this effort in a number of innovate ways. In this post, we introduce you to Mickey Mantle School, a District 75 school developing a common language supportive of academic, social and emotional needs. Read on for the first of a series of blogs highlighting schools promoting high levels of social-emotional awareness and understanding.

By: Barry Daub, Principal, P811M-The Mickey Mantle School, New York, NY

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Changing the Culture of Discipline and Punishment

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on July 18, 2013

By Jessica Savage, NSCC Legal and Policy Fellow

 

In his recent Report, NYC Comptroller Liu boldly sees the DOE’s zero-tolerance policy for what it is -- an approach to disciplining students that is shortsighted, damaging and, in a word, failed. The Report makes the forward-looking recommendation to replace the zero-tolerance policy with a restorative justice approach that encompasses whole-school climate reform. In doing so, the Report highlights strategies that, unlike suspensions, are proven to actually help students thrive and succeed in school.

As the Report emphasizes, “sustained positive school climate is associated with positive child and youth development, effective risk-prevention and health-promotion efforts, student learning and academic achievement, increased student graduation rates, and teacher retention” (p. 27, citing Thapa et al., 2013). By calling for a policy that cultivates positive school climates instead of increased suspension rates, Comptroller Liu provides a framework that, if adopted, could serve to reduce problem behaviors in middle-school students and help provide them with the supports they need to progress as happy, healthy and successful individuals. This is what these students deserve. Under the current regime of zero-tolerance, this positive trajectory is near impossible. Attention should be paid to the Comptroller’s Report and its recommendations should be given serious consideration. Comptroller Liu’s full Report can be downloaded here.

Cloudy with a Chance of Bullying: School Counselors as School Climate Meteorologists

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on July 15, 2013

By Carli Segal, M.Phil.Ed., M.S.Ed.

 

“You’re a school counselor? So what do you do, exactly?”

I get asked this question a lot, and there is not an easy answer because in any school environment, we school counselors wear many hats. Therefore, our role has been notoriously difficult to define. Elementary school counselors often function as teachers of classroom-based counseling lessons, facilitators of small group counseling, collaborators on IEP, 504, SAP and other such teams, crisis managers, and liaisons between families and community services, among other roles. Secondary school counselors often serve as career and college planners, individual and small group counselors, testing coordinators, crisis interventionists, and more. We aim to follow the ASCA National Standards, and realistically, that may look very different depending upon setting. For example, a school counselor working in an urban, emotional support program may spend the majority of his or her day focusing on crisis management, where a school counselor in an affluent suburban public school may spend most of his or her time on proactive, classroom counseling.

Though our job descriptions may vary slightly from school to school, the one thing we have in common is that we are, first and foremost, responsible for improving school climate. “Responsible for improving school climate” is not likely listed in our job descriptions, but in my opinion, that is the ultimate goal-- to make sure every student experiences school as a safe, warm, and encouraging environment. Though each student may perceive school climate differently, it is our duty to intervene at the individual, small group, classroom, or school-wide level to remove any social, emotional, and behavioral barriers to learning. Not only are we responsible for improving the school climate, it is our duty to measure and assess school climate. This is why I view my primary role as a school counselor as the “School Climate Meteorologist”.

Historically, principals and teachers have been thought of as being responsible for improving school climate. American School Counselor Association standards have, in recent years, shifted from a reactive “guidance counselor” model to a more proactive “school counselor” focus. Now, with a unique wide lens to the entire school, school counselors are fortunate to have the ability to see the “big picture” and can impact school climate in a big way. School counselors can organize and facilitate school-wide programming that can make the school environment feel safer, such as bully prevention programs, character education assemblies, and school-wide positive behavior support programming. School counselors can also “zoom in” their lenses to focus on counseling individual or small groups of students who may make school climate feel less positive for others. This does not mean that principals and teachers ought to pass the school climate torch to school counselors, it means that school counselors need to, at the very least, be included in the school climate conversations. School climates are best improved when there is a collaborative effort from all stakeholders.

PROACTIVE & REACTIVE SCHOOL CLIMATE COUNSELING

As meteorologists attempt to proactively predict weather based on patterns and analyze data to best prepare people for what’s to come, school counselors aim to anticipate challenging times and provide students with the tools they need to “weather the storms”. One personal example is that based on data from teachers, I anticipated an upcoming standardized testing month to be particularly stressful for students. In preparation for this, I launched a small counseling group for students who suffer from test anxiety. I also co-facilitated a Testing Motivation Team to attempt to keep the climate positive as possible during a strenuous time.

Additional proactive school climate improvement activities that can be run by school counselors include mentor programs, events like Teaching Tolerance’s “Mix it Up at Lunch Day”, and wellness activities for students and staff.

School counselors try to be proactive, but oftentimes we must react to surprising school climate disruptions. As an unexpected rainstorm can disrupt an umbrella-less commuter’s walk, a sudden student-related tragedy can alter the entire school climate, bringing a sudden feeling of fear or sadness over the school community. Schools must be prepared for those school climate-threatening situations in which we must intervene, and school counselors can help. Allow us to develop school crisis plans, connect with families during difficult times, and most importantly—be there for the students who need an empathetic ear and safe place to relax while they process their emotions.

DATA DRIVEN SCHOOL CLIMATE IMPROVEMENT

There are many formal and informal methods to measure school climate, and school counselors are trained researchers. We may use pre/post surveys to gather data, assemble focus groups (comprised of staff and students), or conduct exit interviews at the end of each term or school year. If our school’s positive behavior support program is well documented, behavior slips can indicate positivity of school climate. School counselors can also acquire school climate data by attending grade level meetings, reaching out to parents for feedback, and consistently collaborating with all faculty and staff.

I am proud to be a school counselor, as it allows me to be many things: a teacher, researcher, supporter, motivator, advocate, liaison, and sometimes, a lifeline. This is why it is sometimes difficult to respond when someone asks, “Oh, you’re a school counselor? So what do you do, exactly?” All of our school counseling roles serve to improve school climate to some degree. I am happy to coin “school climate meteorologist” as an umbrella term (no pun intended) to describe our seemingly countless duties, and I will wear the title with pride.

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Carli Segal, M.Phil.Ed. & M.S.Ed., is an elementary school counselor and school climate meteorologist of an inner-suburban public school of Philadelphia. She is the founder of Twitter’s Elementary School Counselor Chat (#escchat) and co-founder of School Based Mental Health Chat (#sbmhchat). Follow her @carlicounsels and join the conversations! Carli can also be reached via email at carlicounsels@gmail.com.

Breaking the Disconnect between Policy and Practice

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on June 13, 2013

By Jessica Savage, NSCC Legal and Policy Fellow

On paper, school policies that implement cooperative learning curriculums seem like an excellent opportunity for improving school climates. Cooperative learning is an approach to organizing classroom activities whereby students must listen and learn from each other in order to succeed in their lessons. There is a robust body of research to suggest that students who participate in this type of learning show significant gains in social and emotional competencies as well academic achievement. In particular, such curriculums have proven highly successful at decreasing the amount of violence and conflicts that occur between students and increasing empathy and unity within classrooms.

Given the evidence, it would seem that more schools would employ policies implementing cooperative learning curriculums, particularly those schools where bullying and violence is high, which is unfortunately a growing number. But they aren’t. The reason for this, at least in part, seems relatively simple: cooperative learning curriculums only work when you implement them correctly, and more often than not, this isn’t happening. Frequently, there is not enough time and training for the school community and practitioners implementing the curriculum to learn and/or implement it correctly. As a result, it doesn’t get practiced in a meaningful way and it doesn’t produce results. The disconnect between what implementing the curriculum means in theory and what actually happens in practice eventually results in schools failing to adopt the curriculums in the first place.

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Summer Learning Promotes Success for Social and Emotional Learning Leader

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on May 23, 2013

By Judith Nuss, CASEL Consultant, Collaborating Districts Initiative in Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Austin Independent School District

I have participated in the National School Climate (NSCC) Summer Institute several times. Each time I come away rejuvenated, educated, and inspired with enhanced skills and knowledge to activate positive change in our schools for teachers, students and parents. Probably my most memorable institute experience was my first one in the summer of 2006. At the time, I had just completed my rookie year as Director of Social and Emotional Learning in a distressed urban public school district in a state capital city. I went to the Summer Institute as a true and eager learner – wanting to know all the research and the best practices for promoting social and emotional learning.

That was the summer I first met Dr. Jonathan Cohen, a most personable professor and researcher - down to earth, advanced in social and emotional competence, and always with an appreciative voice that could sooth a raging bull. To date, Jon remains a valued mentor and colleague. I always value effective leadership.

I also first met Mary Utne O’Brien, then Executive Director of CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning.) After being mesmerized by Mary’s keynote message, I participated in a small break-out session she facilitated. In addition to meeting the learning needs of this session’s group, Mary warmly counseled me, responded enthusiastically and knowledgably to my questions, and greatly inspired me to strenuously climb the uphill challenge I was leading in my district – that of promoting district-wide and explicit social and emotional learning for all K-12 students.

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