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Leading the Way

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We have been following five school leaders as they lead their school communities through a year of rebuilding after the disruption of the past year and a half. While their schools, locations, and experiences are very different from each other, they share a strong, schoolwide commitment to social and emotional learning and to supporting student and teacher success. This month, school leader Leslie Paynter discusses areas where they have seen the positive impact of implementing SEL.

Leslie Paynter—managing director/principal of Alamance Community School (ACS), Haw River, NC

We know from research that SEL has positive impacts on student learning and behavior because of the interaction between cognitive and emotional brain centers. How do you see this play out in your school community? Have you noticed changes in student behavior as you have been implementing SEL programs and approaches?

When students have the tools to name their emotions and the tools to regulate them, they can do so more effectively and regain focus on their learning. Students are able to utilize a break in the classroom on their own before being asked by their teacher. A student can then regain their focus and come back to join the class once they have used their coping and calming strategies.

Students are learning to be more mindful of their emotions and social interactions. They are starting to make the connection that their response to emotions is separate from the emotion itself. We can see that many of our students have greater control. Students are better able to self-regulate their emotions and are requiring less staff intervention to problem-solve issues. Students are now able to recognize the difference between tattling and reporting, and they have learned how to ask a friend to use self-control to change an unwanted negative behavior.


What are some areas you’ve been focusing on this year around student behavior? What advice would you offer other school leaders who are considering implementing SEL approaches to support positive student behavior?

One area we are focusing on is helping students match their emotions with an appropriate response. We noticed a trend with some students and their ability to regulate their emotions. They often had big feelings and emotions which led to inappropriate responses. They have needed our help navigating those situations.

SEL approaches are incredibly proactive when it comes to student behavior. Teaching students the language and tools needed to be socially and emotionally adept sets them up for success now and in the future. Social-emotional learning needs to be promoted schoolwide and used by all staff members—including administrators, support staff, classroom teachers, EC teachers, specials, and school counselors. The lead administrator must hold all staff accountable for implementing effectively and practicing what we preach.


How have SEL programs and approaches impacted the adults in your community? Have educators noticed shifts in their own understanding of SEL?

The caregivers of our students appreciate the resources we have shared and they are learning our expectations for conflict resolution, even as it pertains to issues between adults. The staff members are seeing the social and emotional growth in students and are able to recognize the benefits.

As our educators use SEL resources, Responsive Classroom practices, and the Fly Five curriculum, they are seeing the benefits and are deepening their understanding of social and emotional learning. They are using positive teacher language and are intentional about implementing SEL into their daily classroom lessons and routines.

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