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PBIS or SEL?...What do we do NOW?

Leaving the classroom was one of the hardest things I've done. Teaching those littles filled my soul. But I knew that there was more out there, more for me to do, more people to work with, and more that needed to be done to support ALL our students...forever.

Looking at ALL our students, their diverse backgrounds, needs, strengths, and lagging skills can be overwhelming. I have seen, and I continue to witness, administrators and teachers go back to "what they've always done" because it's easy. It's familiar. And they're afraid of putting too much pressure or "newness" on their staff or themselves. But my friends, THIS is the good stuff. THIS is the change you want. THIS is how you support ALL your students and children no matter what social, emotional, or academic competencies they come walking through your halls with.

Taking a systematic approach to teaching social-emotional learning, and integrating it into EVERYTHING you do can sound daunting. It can sound scary, overwhelming, and's EASIER for you to say, "Nope, we'll stick to our PBIS, our Thinksheets, and our Check In/Check Out system. That's what we've always done. And it works."

But does it work? Is it effective for ALL your students?

In the words of Dr. Ross Greene (and from his book, Lost At School), PBIS only works for the kids that don't even need it. Your kids that already HAVE the social and emotional skills to be successful in your classrooms and schools will continue to thrive with PBIS, and golden tickets, and shopping for goodies because they "deserve it". And your students who come from trauma, anxious minds, lagging and lacking skills, ACEs, Autism, ADD, ADHD, the list goes on and on...I guarantee you that THOSE kids will not be the kids that are thriving. Those are the kids that WISH that they could be rewarded. Those are the kids that no matter how hard they try, their brains simply will not allow them to be successful...Unless you TEACH them HOW.

So what do you do now? Do you punish them? Send them up to the principal's office?

Are you filled with strategies and supports that will TEACH these kids HOW to show the expected behavior? How to make responsible decisions? Have you taught them WHY? Have you given them supports so that they are continuously building on their competencies, their working memory, and their executive functioning skills? What about their situational intelligence? How about their emotional intelligence? Do they even know HOW to interact and become part of a group?

If you're familiar with UDL (Universal Design for Learning), then you'll love this next little story. I remember sitting in a workshop with my fellow teaching staff years ago. And our presenter was talking about UDL. She spoke about looking at all your outliers, all the kiddos that might find whatever task, activity, concept you were working on or teaching difficult or tricky for them, and then figure out how you were going to make it work. Were there going to be modifications, accommodations, etc.? Would you allow choice and voice? What do you think their reactions might be to the task at hand, and how could you ensure that they were going to be successful?

She then had us think of a task that we would be working on in the next few days with our students, and we were to write down a list of some of the "outliers" in our classroom that might find this task challenging. Then we were supposed to write down what we were going to do about that. (I call this FUTURE THINKING...but that's for another post!)

I remember I ended up writing down about 15 names out of the 28 students that I had in my class. And then she walked over to me.

In front of the entire staff, she laughed and gawked, and said, "Kim, I told you to write down your outliers, not your entire class list!" Of course there were laughs from my peers, and I'm pretty sure my face turned bright red. And then I covered my list with my hand so no one could see what I had written.

I had a plan. I had mapped out who was going to be in each group, I wrote down the WHY behind my choices, I knew that some would find it challenging because they weren't going to be able to come up with ideas on their own. I knew that small groups were challenging for some of them. I knew that one of my students just got in a huge fight with a couple other kids in my class, and that they probably wouldn't want to participate in small groups. I knew that speaking to others would be tricky for a few because of language barriers. I had a blind child who would need assistance. A little girl's parents were getting divorced, and she was only motivated when there was an adult nearby. A few of them were natural leaders, but could take leadership to a whole different level if they were with kids that they could walk all over. I mean, the list went on and on.

And did anyone else know about all of this? No. And did anyone care? No. They laughed.

I was literally planning, and thinking, about how I was going to SUPPORT every single one of these children, and instead of opening up THEIR eyes as to what I was doing, my thoughts were shut down and laughed at.

Fast forward to NOW. How do we continue to support ALL our kids? How do we create a common language? How do we support families at home and infuse the systems that we use in our classrooms to support the social and emotional learning of every child?

The answer is not PBIS.

The answer is not golden tickets.

The answer is not picture books.

The answer is not a boxed curriculum or a program.

The answer is not picking and choosing things that you LIKE, or that are BUZZ WORDS now.

The answer IS SYSTEMS. It's things that our teachers are already doing. It's teaching THEM how to integrate social justice and restorative practices INTO their Morning Meetings. It's having our TEACHERS teach our students about coping strategies and identifying their emotions. It's using the same executive functioning strategies to help support our students with lagging skills as well as EVERY single other child in your classroom.

We're not sending kids to someone else because we don't feel we're equipped to do the job. This IS your job. You signed up for it. And our kids are coming to us with trauma, and lacking skills, and Autism, and ADHD, and anxiety, and we must help support them no matter where they are academically, socially, and emotionally.

Below is one INCREDIBLE school district that has proven that a systematic approach to teaching social and emotional learning WORKS. It supports all teachers. It supports all students. And it supports their families by bringing them a common language and strategies that they can use at home.

If you're looking to be inspired, then THIS is a video that you most definitely will want to watch. And if you're ready, willing, and up for truly seeing magic and a transformation in your school or district, contact me. Let's make this happen.


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This is so true. As always, you have drawn me in with your real world examples. I have so much to learn from you and appreciate your willingness to share. You are such a gift to us all!

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Kim Gameroz is a change agent for schools and districts who seek to revolutionize classrooms by taking on a systematic approach to teaching social and emotional skills.

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