Inside the Classroom

How to Implement SEL: Example from Jefferson Parish

school whiteboard with heart and cursorIn recognition of the critical role that social and emotional learning (SEL) plays in promoting student success and well-being, Governor John Bel Edwards provided all of Louisiana’s middle- and high-school students access to online SEL courses through Edgenuity and Purpose Prep earlier this year. “We must support our students through the uncertainty of today’s environment. Their ability to learn well depends not only on instruction, but also on a sense of belonging, positive relationships and the feedback they receive,” said Governor Edwards. “As students have been disrupted from their school routine and disconnected from their teachers, social and emotional support and skills are more essential than ever.” 

Jefferson Parish, the largest in Louisiana, was quick to recognize the value of adding SEL curriculum to assist their diverse population of students through the trauma of the pandemic. Starting with the students in the alternative schools and programs as well as schools with high suspension rates, also identified as Urgent Intervention Required-Discipline (UIR-D) schools, the parish is empowering teachers with SEL curriculum as an additional tool to develop or improve relationships with students. Executive Director of Special Programs Darvell Edwards is crafting an SEL program in the parish that focuses on building relationships and flexible implementations that can vary from school to school. Edwards works closely with the teams to utilize Restorative Approaches, Conscious Discipline, and other programs to develop strong relationships with the students and their families. She says that SEL “adds another level of depth to that process.” 

How to Implement SEL Throughout the Parish 

mouse and gear iconEdwards is quick to say that all students can benefit from this curriculum, and she is making it available to every school throughout the parish with her SEL implementation rollout. By hosting professional development with intervention specialists, lead teachers, and social workers positioned in schools throughout the parish, Edwards is building a culture of SEL throughout the district and making tools available to everyone. “We don’t want to look at this as just intervention for students with challenges, but also as a means to help as many students and families as we can.” 

“We can’t assume that kids come to school with these skills. When a student is disrespectful, we have to go back and teach them how to show respect. What does that look like? What does disrespect look like? And we have to understand that some kids just don’t have an appropriate means to express their frustrations in a way to feel heard. We have to build that environment for them,” Edwards explains. Some educators are naturally better at helping students in these areas, but a standardized SEL curriculum like Purpose Prep’s enables Jefferson Parish to reach as many students as possible. 

Jefferson Parish has a mix of in-school, online, and hybrid offerings as a result of the pandemic, and with reduced class sizes, in-school behavior issues have declined. But, “we are also asking teachers to think holistically during this time,” since the pandemic has affected families differently. When considering how to implement SELit’s important to consider it another tool in the educator’s pocket, and “if this is the tool that makes it click for one student, then it’s a good investment.” Edwards also highlighted the power of the student videos included in the curriculum, saying, “This could help students open up and talk because they see that other people are going through something similar.” 

Implementation Ideas 

A line drawing of a person speaking at a podiumEducators are often on board with SEL curriculum in theory, but wonder how to implement SEL throughout a district successfully. In Jefferson Parish, Edwards is allowing educators at each school to implement the SEL curriculum in a way that meets their needs. During professional development sessions, some educators mentioned that they will assign curriculum by topic to address specific student needs, while others mentioned group work. Particularly around anger management, some small-group work might be helpful. 

Even in the advanced academy, Edwards sees a place for SEL. “Just because you go to an advanced school doesn’t mean you are exempt from issues like bullying,” Edwards said as she explained a recent intervention that took place with these students. Teaching students to “solve problems in a different manner” can greatly impact peer-to-peer and teacher-to-student relationships throughout the parish, said Edwards. 

Eventually, Edwards would like to offer students credit for completing these SEL courses, and considers this an important factor for others to consider when determining how to implement SEL in their school or district. “This is something students can think about on their own time, and earning credit could be a nice incentive,” Edwards said. She is also empowering teachers to think of creative and different ways to use the program to help their students. 

Getting Started 

laptop with speech bubbles on screenWhen administrators think about how to implement SEL, Edwards suggests starting small. By focusing on professional development for the key players throughout the parish, she hopes the program will grow. 

     1. Work with social workers throughout the district.

    • Set up training so they can start working with the most at-risk students first.

     2. Form teams in the schools.

    • These teams will focus on incorporating SEL into existing structures to help build relationships. 

     3. Identify students who need additional support.

    • Work with teachers who have behavioral issues in their class. 

     4. Set goals that work for each school.

    • The teams may use different criteria to identify students, and may implement the curriculum differently. For some, it could be 30 minutes once a week for a student who was recently disciplined. For others, it could be the whole class receives an hour of instruction weekly. At the alternative schools, all students are required to do SEL, and across the parish, this curriculum can be used to empower educators to have one-on-one conversations on difficult topics. 

     5. Set teams up for success

    • Provide space and time for planning to ensure the curriculum is implemented effectively. Continue to emphasize the importance of SEL, so schools see it as an asset and want to build their programs. 

As Purpose Prep founder Daniel Budzinski said, “Schools have long been sources of support, community, socialization, and security for their students, and have provided resources that go far beyond academics. It is a critical time to provide access to social and emotional learning programs.” And at Jefferson Parish, Darvell Edwards is eager to see how the new SEL curriculum will bring these critical social and emotional lessons to all students. 

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