It was during that summer that I got a phone call from the Teacher on Special Assignment who had come in to observe my classroom. I was in Wisconsin with my family on vacation, and I remember my heart beating oh so fast when i saw her number pop up on my phone. She wanted me to make a movie. “Just a short little movie about your experience with social-emotional learning,” is what she said. And I remember thinking, “Social-Emotional Learning? Is that what I’ve been doing? Is that what this is? Call it whatever you want, because this is magic.”
I don’t think I have ever been more excited to do MORE work for FREE in my entire life. I poured my heart and soul into that movie. I wanted teachers to connect to me, and I wanted them to feel like they could DO THIS on their own. That it would change them, and empower them, and change the lives of not only their students, but their OWN.
Well it sure did get a lot of buzz. The movie was shown to each one of our elementary school sites at the beginning of the school year, and there was more. They wanted to have Social-Emotional Learning Master Classes throughout the year for teachers, and they wanted ME to lead them.
Along with my amazing SLP, the two of us took these systems and strategies and we presented a multiple Master Classes throughout the school year. We had teachers from all across our district packed into my classroom in these after school classes, and they were happy, they were excited, and they wanted MORE.
Pretty soon is was like we were starring in our own little Road Show. I was getting emails from principals that I’d never met asking if I would come to THEIR schools, and work with THEIR teachers. And teachers were creating. They were making visuals and activities to go along with all the things we were teaching them. And there were leaders at their school sites who wanted to share all of their stuff and their new knowledge WITH me. It was absolutely incredible. The connectedness I felt when I was working WITH these teachers was something that I knew was missing from teaching for me. I loved working with kids, but being able to create leaders and teachers who were focused on being the best versions of themselves FOR their students was filling me in an entirely new way. And I loved it.
That school year, I was blessed with yet another challenging group of students, lots and lots of big behaviors, special needs, AND a student teacher. That poor girl had no clue what she was walking into.
Having a student teacher was incredible because it gave me the opportunity to really support the teachers that were at my school site. While she was taking over longer periods of the day, I was able to go into classrooms, model our new phrases and systems, work with groups of kids, and support my colleagues. And you could feel the climate of our school start to shift.
Everyone started to speak the same language. We used key phrases to support and TEACH students the expected behavior, and we were talking openly with our kiddos about their feelings, and our OWN. My colleagues with challenging groups of kids? They were getting through the day less anxious, less stressed, and feeling more equipped than ever before. Kids that probably would have made some teachers want to take a leave of absence or forget the profession altogether were now able to support their students and THEMSELVES.
But what about the students who leave our schools and move to another school in our district? What about our teachers who move to different schools? Don’t they need these systems to be strong over there too? It couldn’t just be OUR school that was the center for all social and emotional learning. It needed to be strong and supportive at ALL schools?
I knew it needed to be bigger. It needed to go everywhere. And in order to have it everywhere, I needed to BE everywhere.
So how does one person get to BE everywhere? Well, I knew that I had to leave my little piece of pineapple paradise. My pineapple classroom was going to end, BUT an exciting new beginning was about to start.
I started reaching out to more people in my district. You know, the people who ARE THE DISTRICT. I had a meeting with our Assistant Superintendent one day after school to discuss how our district was going to move forward with social-emotional learning. We decided to put out not one, but two exclusive professional learning opportunities that I would lead at the end of the school year. You know, when no one wants to learn one more thing, or try out one more strategy, or add anything else onto their plate! But I knew people would come. I had started my Instagram account, I was documenting all my successes in my classroom, and I the momentum was there.
Planning for these was going to be tricky. It had to be catchy, it had to be good, it had to be the biggest bang for their buck. So we added prizes, and freebies, AND we paid them. I mean, if you’re going to get PAID to come at the end of the day, get free stuff, and laugh a little with me, you can’t go wrong!
And it was a HIT. I showed our teachers two incredible systems that they could implement in their classrooms right away, they laughed, some cried, and I’m telling you, I left those two sessions feeling like I was on top of the world. It was clear that they needed to be heard. Our teachers needed support. They needed to feel SEEN. And I needed to do more of that for THEM.
I remember talking to my principal at the time about wanting more. I needed to support more of our district’s teachers and leaders, and I needed there to be a position in our district that would do that.
The title started as Behavior Support Teacher on Special Assignment. I knew that it didn’t matter WHAT they called it, I was going to be able to create and mold, and make it whatever we needed it to be. The role was created, and by the end of the school year, I had interviewed for it, got the position, and I was packing up my classroom indefinitely.
Going to THE DISTRICT was tough. I was working with big people now. I wasn’t playing GoNoodle and dressing up as old lady on the 100th day of school. I wasn’t wearing pineapple sunglasses, and collecting drawings from kids. It was different. All of it was different.
And now I was leading people, and coaching people, and creating things ALL THE TIME.
So here’s the deal. Getting this stuff out there is tough. And when you get outside of your own little bubble and start seeing what is REALLY going on inside classrooms, THAT’s tough too. But you need your champions. You need leaders at every single school site. Because the reality is that you cannot do it all. You cannot be everywhere all the time. And everyone needs you ALL THE TIME.
We created an Academy of SEL Teachers. Representatives from across our school district elected to join the Academy, and I worked with these teachers after school throughout the school year.
I also created a Social-Emotional Learning roadmap. These systems were brought to life on a website where I attached the What and Why, the How, and Resources for teachers. Having access to this website gave me the freedom to walk into any classroom, pull up activities, presentations, slides, and resources immediately and then leave it behind so the teacher could support themselves in their next steps.
Coaching was done a few different ways, and before COVID, I was able to go into a school site on a Wednesday after school, talk about the SEL roadmap, figure out each teacher’s next steps, and then go in the following week to support them. Walking through classrooms, giving strategies to support behaviors, adding in a system, or working out the kinks in a system that they had already started was a game changer. And hearing kids start to use the strategies on their own was incredible.
We also had a team of Behavior Support aides. After figuring out what sites needed behavior support with students, and what teachers needed more attention and guidance, I was able to create a schedule for each of these aides. They offered consistent support across all schools, had a flexible schedule at their school sites, and supported teachers and students throughout the day. I was also able to coach and work alongside them as well. We would meet, walk through classrooms, and learn new strategies from eachother. They created videos to guide new aides in their systems and tools, and we created Classified Employee Training modules for the website.
These Behavior Support aides are gold. Not only are they supporting our kids, but they’re supporting our TEACHERS. They team up with our teachers, and work alongside them, in order to ease transitions, guide new systems, and model vocabulary and phrases. They also worked with me to create visuals and supports to put on the website for teachers to access, choose, print, and use at any time.
Then COVID hit.
Without being able to work in classrooms and directly with students, we shifted towards supporting our new teachers...the PARENTS. I created a series on my Instagram account, Back To Behavior, where I would give parents tips, tricks, and strategies that they could use to support their kids at home. Tools like the Working Clock and Get Ready, Do, Done were now becoming household names, and parents wanted even more.
I started doing webinars with families from multiple school sites. Principals would put out an email detailing the time and date of the session, a link would go out, and then their eager faces would start filling up my computer screen. I would walk them through some of our systems and strategies and then give them time to ask questions. And I’m telling you, the amount of connectedness and vulnerability they had was amazing.
So COVID isn’t gone...YET...and our kids are now back at school, in masks, and there’s new behaviors, diagnoses, and trauma...lots and lots of trauma. And now where do we go from here? How do we support our teachers? How do we shift and mold our systems? And how do we ensure that these systems last? That’s next.