Over the course of our ever-evolving journey in reshaping the culture at Chastain Road Elementary School (CRE), one powerful truth has emerged for us that we hope every leader and teacher will take to heart during their own transformation efforts. That is: Prioritizing the development of social and emotional skills is nonnegotiable when it comes to raising student achievement and improving the quality of young lives.
Six years ago, CRE had the highest percentage of students with discipline referrals among schools in the district—something our leadership team recognized had to change to ensure our students were developing skills for success in and beyond the classroom. John Hattie’s research states that behavior intervention programs have a positive effect size of 0.62 on student achievement. As a part of CRE’s transformation, we knew that implementing a strong behavioral and social-emotional learning program would be critical in setting our students up for success.
Early on, we identified the need for a mindset shift among stakeholders. The community we serve has a high poverty rate and faces many of the deep set and complex challenges that often accompany such a burden. Over time, unfortunately, the staff at Chastain Road had fallen back on the assumption that our students could not achieve due to their circumstances. And so, we first recognized our responsibility to shift this thinking to instill a sense of perseverance and grit, and to empower students to be unafraid to dream big.
To that end, we challenged our staff to change their mindsets and truly believe that their students could achieve at high levels. As the school with the highest percentage of students with discipline referrals, change was imperative to ensure our students developed the skills to succeed beyond elementary school.
Implementation: The Road to Change
We began by recruiting a team of staff members to serve on a School Climate committee. (We had intentionally adopted the phrase “school climate” because it comes from our state report card, and we wanted our culture improvement efforts to align with and stay focused on how we would be measured on this critical work.) The formation of the committee was not a top-down initiative from leadership but rather a staff-created, self-facilitated group of teacher leaders. They first analyzed discipline data and soon recognized the need for improved behavior instruction for students. But they also acknowledged that teachers could not “discipline” a student for a behavior or skill that he or she did not have and/or was not explicitly taught. This set in motion the group’s core work of creating a shared vocabulary and lens through which staff and students could identify and refine these behaviors.
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