SEL practices credited for big improvement in middle school’s culture and climate

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A Dallas ISD middle school that has embraced Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) practices has seen its culture and climate improve by 40 percent since last school year, according to a climate survey completed by staff.

Meanwhile, the climate and culture survey at E.D. Walker Middle School also shown a 40-percent increase in students’ good behavior as perceived by the staff. Discipline referrals have decreased thanks to the high expectations and SEL practices.

Dallas ISD has been on the forefront of implementing SEL since 2016, when the Board of Trustees adopted a policy requiring all Dallas ISD schools to implement SEL districtwide by 2025.

More than 120 Dallas ISD schools get district SEL support. Several campuses such as E.D. Walker Middle School have taken off and are making great strides in their SEL implementation. Given staff training and implementation support, campuses create their vision and plan for SEL at their campus, including outcomes that result in all students and adults feeling welcomed and valued while establishing strong, healthy relationships in an engaging environment.

“We take pride in our building and build on the little things.” Walker Middle School Principal Holly N. Wallace said.  “Our teachers have a caring nature about themselves in their approach to the students.”

One of the school-wide SEL practices that E.D. Walker has implemented is Community Meetings. Teachers build relationships with students each day during fourth period, which is considered circle time.

“Through the use of social and emotional learning, I have incorporated circle time daily with my students. It has given me and my students the opportunity to connect on a deeper level; we have a family within my classroom walls,” said seventh-grade math teacher Elizabeth Aguinaga. “Circle time will enhance student-teacher relationships on a personal level and, in turn, have a positive effect on their academics.”

“During circle time everyone gets to share their feelings. This make us feel safe,” added Lexie Moore, a seventh-grade student. “It makes this classroom feel like a home. We get to know each other, and it helps us work together better.”

E.D. Walker Counselor Veronica Fulton agreed.

“SEL circles bridge the gap of social skills and academic learning in the classroom,” Fulton said. “As a result, classroom management has improved and discipline referrals have decreased!”

Wallace attributes the improvements to building relationships with students and staff, active monitoring of systems and procedures, and an open-door policy. Parents are welcome to come and shadow students and build relationships with the teachers. Overall, the welcoming environment and clear communication has showed an increase in the social and emotional health of staff, students, and parents.

“SEL has had a tremendous impact in our school culture and climate,” Assistant Principal Casaundra L. Ensley said. “We are being proactive instead of reactive and teachers can gauge where the students are at emotionally. Therefore, discipline has decreased and communication, self-awareness, self-management, and good decision making has increased in our students.”

For more information on SEL in Dallas ISD, go here.

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