This week, teachers from welcoming schools are receiving specialized training in a curriculum known as Second Step – an approach to social/emotional learning that helps students build the kinds of skills that can broaden the definition of success.
Intended for students in pre-K through middle school, Second Step is a teacher-delivered curriculum that focuses on skills such as empathy and respect, and actions like good decision-making and problem-solving skills. Teachers present a weekly lesson focused on one of these areas, then reinforce the concept each day by having students discuss and practice that particular skill.
“For a preschool or kindergarten student, the lesson might be about how to read feelings on someone’s face, or how to approach someone and ask them to be your friend,” said Karen Van Ausdal, Director of Youth Development and Positive Behavior Supports for CPS. “By the time we reach the upper elementary grades, though, the topics are much more involved, and we’re dealing with things like cyber-bullying and making good decisions when using social media.”
During this week’s training, welcoming school teachers will receive tips on how to build the Second Step curriculum into their lesson plans. They will also receive an overview on what social/emotional learning is, and why it is an important part of the District’s mission to prepare students for college, career and life.
“Our students need academic knowledge, but that’s only one piece of what will make them successful in the future,” said Van Ausdal. “If we want them to persist in college, relate to others, and know how to work on teams, we need to build their core emotional skills as well.”
The Second Step training is part of a four-pronged approach to social/emotional learning that is being conducted at welcoming schools. Earlier this spring, schools participated in either Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) or Foundations training, which instructed teachers and clinicians on setting school-wide behavior expectations for students and staff.
“Each school establishes their own standards of behavior,” said Van Ausdal. “Our job is to help them envision what those expectations should look like in a classroom, on the playground, or in an assembly.”
Additionally, each welcoming school has also been introduced to what are known as “restorative practices (i.e., actions to address and prevent behavior-related challenges).
“We look for opportunities to move away from punitive consequences and instead see these challenges as an opportunity for learning,” said Van Ausdal.
One example would be a Peace Circle – a morning gathering of a class or grade where students and teachers have the opportunity to stand together and openly discuss feelings or concerns.
“In addition to solving problems in a collective way, this exercise is a chance for students to practice their social/emotional skills while building a sense of community within the group,” said Van Ausdal.
Finally, each welcoming school will develop a Behavior Health Services Team – a mix of teachers and clinicians who will identify climate and behavioral issues and decide on the correct approach to take with each. These training opportunities in social/emotional learning are a part of the District’s ongoing effort to ensure that all students have as smooth a transition as possible when entering welcoming schools this fall.