How to Get the Biggest Value from Your SEL Platform
By Chad Berger
After experiencing two student suicides within a three-year period, our small district of 250 students and our staff members weren’t prepared to endure another devastating trauma like that. Knowing that social emotional learning (SEL) has become an integral part of the K-12 experience, the district started looking for support in this area.
Then I came along. On the day that I interviewed for my role, I logged into our social emotional learning (SEL) platform and gave my new colleagues a crash course in what the curriculum, lessons, and different aspects of the program looked like.
We’d implemented the SEL platform at my previous school in 2019 and it had a positive impact on our kids. I shared that with the staff at my current district in March 2021 and we started using it in August 2021.
At the time, I didn’t realize that my previous district wasn’t maximizing its use of the platform, which had even more to offer than I initially thought. We’ve since taken the platform and run with it, making it even more useful for our student and teacher population.
Here’s how we did it:
Make it a part of our everyday learning routine. One day every week our daily, 25-minute intervention period is allocated to SEL. I’ve been very adamant that that day is sacred, and that Tuesday from 1:23p.m. to 1:48 p.m., instructors are required to teach an SEL lesson; there is no negotiation there. The requirement is similar in elementary school, where the teachers teach Mindsets five days a week in the morning and before reading.
Encourage students and teachers to take SEL to new levels. One third-grade teacher did a deep dive into the website and utilizes it as much as she possibly can, and our school librarian has started selecting books based on the mindsets (which she found via a list of books on the company’s website). Every month next year, our librarian plans to do an elementary section and a high school one that fits what we’re talking about.
Let students take the reins once in a while. One teacher lets her students either make their own PowerPoints or use the lessons from the SEL platform. Some of the kids did both and others added their own elements to the lessons. We’re at the point now where, if a teacher is out for the day, a student can often jump in and teach the lesson versus trying to explain it to a substitute teacher.
Make sure it’s fun. This year, for example, Napoleon Public School began using themed bulletin boards and encouraging students and staff to send pictures of themselves doing something that that they’re passionate about (i.e., for the “Passion Train” theme). We cut train cars out of paper and hung the trains—one for staff, another for specific classes, etc.—up in our long hallway. We put the trains up right before our parent-teacher conferences, and they attracted more attention than anything else that night.
To schools that want to do a better job with SEL, my best piece of advice is to get an effective platform that allows you to “make it up as you go” when there aren’t enough hours in the day. At my previous school, I taught five classes a day and was also the athletic director, so there wasn’t much time to sit down and prepare engaging and thoughtful SEL lessons. The 7 Mindsets program is so straightforward to use that teachers can easily fit it into their schedules and then customize it to meet the needs of their students.
About the author
Chad Berger is the principal of Napoleon High School (part of Napoleon Public Schools) in Napoleon, North Dakota.