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Leading the Way: A Successful Start

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Aliza Kadish, one of the school leaders who has contributed all year long to our Leading the Way feature, reflects on her school’s SEL journey during the 2021–2022 school year.

Beacon Hill Preparatory School is a small, traditional, tuition-based private school in the heart of Miami Gardens, Florida, that currently serves 230 students from preschool to eighth grade. The school was established in 1959, and many of our students are second or third generation whose parents and/or grandparents attended BHPS. A rigorous academic program within a welcoming atmosphere is what we feel sets us apart from other schools, and we have a reputation for graduating students with strong academics and positive character. The BHPS family consists of our faculty, staff, students, and their families.

I have always believed that teaching social and emotional skills to children is just as important as teaching them math and reading. When the pandemic hit, however, we knew that we would need to take a different approach to social and emotional support and intentional instruction regarding social skills. My faculty team and I had been discussing the need for a concrete program, but the programs I reviewed were not the right fit for BHPS.

After discovering Fly Five and reviewing its curriculum, structures, and goals, we found the program that aligned with our goals and needs. From the five core competencies to the ability to grow with characters, to the mindfulness aspect and the age-appropriate journals, I was confident students would benefit from it and that teachers would feel confident in coming to the program in their own way.

As a new administrator many years ago, there was one piece of advice given to me that has always stuck with me: The most successful programs, experiences, and curriculum come with the support of the teachers. And in addition to the support from teachers, the successful programs also had the ideas themselves come from the teachers. Having taught elementary and middle grades for more than 15 years, this advice made sense.

As a new administrator many years ago, there was one piece of advice given to me that has always stuck with me: The most successful programs, experiences, and curriculum come with the support of the teachers.

With this in mind, I restructured our professional development for the next several weeks, using Fly Five with the teachers in the same way I would if they were the students in my class. We used mindfulness and experience cards, journal prompts, and lessons from a variety of grades. After each session, several teachers would come to my office and tell me that they wanted to use this or that lesson with their students, or they could see the benefit of common language or would like to see schoolwide expectations regarding behavior. With teacher buy-in, I knew we were ready to hit the ground running with implementation.

After the asynchronous training, our teachers felt confident using Fly Five in ways that were most comfortable for them personally and that met the needs of their students. Teachers felt assured that regardless of how they approached Fly Five, the students would meet the same goals by the end of the school year. Teachers understood that they were not being measured by how much they covered but rather would be supported while trying new ways to help students grow. Knowing how personal social-emotional learning can be, this gave teachers permission to start in their comfort zone and then expand out, taking off the pressure of doing it “right” and placing the focus on having fidelity.

Looking back, there is one significant change I would make regarding implementation. I had opted to introduce Fly Five to grades K–8 all at once. My goal was to have all of our teachers in a position to support one another and share what worked or didn’t work. In retrospect, we may have served students better had we begun implementation in grades K–2 and then added an additional grade each year. What we found is that the middle school students were not as invested in the program as they would have been if they had grown with it from an earlier grade.

I can say that we did many things well. Allowing teachers to start from their comfort zone and supporting each one individually. Giving ourselves permission to move slowly, with the notion that it might take longer to reach our goals. Beginning to educate parents on the five core competencies and helping them understand how Fly Five would help their children. Managing our expectations in order to minimize disappointment or frustration. Integrating mindfulness into our yoga program and helping students see how beneficial the yoga program is for other parts of their life. We celebrated these and other successes, large and small, throughout the year.

BHPS has only just started our social-emotional learning journey. We know there is much work to do in order to truly benefit from what Fly Five has to offer, and we are ready to continue on the journey. We are on the BHPS bus, moving forward as we learn and grow as educators and as humans.

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