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Start strengthening SEL with school climate

Many different activities can help start the development of student social and emotional competencies and social and emotional learning (SEL), including:  providing professional development for faculty, growing counseling staff, funding a new administrative position, engaging parents and community members, and inclusively preparing a strategic plan.

However, we must remember that social and emotional competencies all start with school climate. Without a healthy and positive school climate, all other SEL initiatives are likely to stall or be stymied.

We know that:  
  • If students don’t feel safe and secure in their environment, particularly while they are learning, then they are unlikely to be able to take the risks necessary to consider and share their social or emotional struggles.  Equally concerning, they will be unable to fully participate in learning experiences intended to develop those skills. 
  • If students don’t feel that school leaders, teachers, and fellow students respect and appreciate them individually and recognize their unique qualities and cultural differences, then it is unlikely they will respond to the call to develop and practice SEL skills.
  • If students don’t have a sense of true connection with their teachers and the other adults in the school—a mutual respect that helps them feel “known” by those who are charged with educating them—then developing those key qualities will be seriously curtailed.

We have seen research showing that improving school climate yields many benefits, including:

Accordingly, we have updated ACT Tessera to include a school climate section. This section surveys students on roughly two dozen items to generate data reports for school leaders to use in two key domains: school safety and adult-student relations.

Adding attention to school climate is important in its own right. This is because a healthier school climate is such a foundational element for building student social and emotional competencies.

ACT Tessera is more than an assessment; it is a system that schools, districts, and other educational organizations can use to develop their programs and implement a holistic education. Tessera includes a “Teacher Playbook” that includes guidance and lesson plans for teaching social and emotional learning. With the new school climate section, we now also provide thorough explanation for school administrators on how to improve school climate and how to use Tessera climate data to do so.

Sections are devoted to:
  • Strengthening relationships
  • Improving adult morale and the faculty climate generally
  •  Engaging families and the wider community
  • Promoting inclusive and equitable school cultures 
  • Facilitating greater student voice and leadership

For example, in terms of facilitating greater student voice and leadership, administrators might pursue strategies such as inviting students to study school-wide climate data and generate their own insights about what findings are most important and what factors are influencing the results. Administrators might ask students to suggest strategies for improving climate, give feedback about strategies under consideration, and select an issue of highest priority, such as social media bullying, and take the lead in organizing students to combat the problem.

Advancing social and emotional learning at a school- or system-wide level is a valuable yet sometimes daunting proposition, and determining where to start may be challenging. Focusing on school climate is a great starting point, and ACT Tessera can help you along the way. 

To read more blogs about social and emotional learning, click here

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About ACT

ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Headquartered in Iowa City, Iowa, ACT is trusted as a leader in college and career readiness, providing high-quality assessments grounded in nearly 60 years of research. ACT offers a uniquely integrated set of solutions designed to provide personalized insights that help individuals succeed from elementary school through career.

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