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Implementing SEL & PBIS in Middle School

Helping Students Build Positive Behavioral Skills in Middle Grades

Teaching middle schoolers can be a dynamic journey, filled with joys and challenges as you guide them toward their high school and adult years. The middle school years, typically spanning sixth to eighth grade, encompass a critical developmental stage in which students undergo significant cognitive, emotional, and social transformations. Implementing SEL & PBIS in middle school can help students to build on the behavioral and social-emotional skills they began to develop in elementary school.

Middle School SEL & PBIS

Students in middle grades are beginning to develop a deeper understanding of complex concepts and forming their own opinions. This intellectual growth can sometimes outpace social and emotional development, leading to challenging behaviors. It’s important to provide interventions and supports, like those common to PBIS, as well as a robust social-emotional learning curriculum to help students develop beyond academics.

This holistic approach helps produce well-rounded students, precisely as the neural pathways of adulthood begin to form. Schools that pair a PBIS initiative with social-emotional learning (SEL) help create positive outcomes for students and staff. Through Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS), students develop positive behavioral habits via instruction, modeling, and acknowledgement by staff. PBIS can be the foundation of positive school climate and provide teachers with increased instructional time.

Additionally, social-emotional learning (SEL) is a powerful complement to PBIS. SEL includes intentional instruction in self-management, emotional regulation, and social awareness, all of which are essential for the development of core social and emotional skills. The pre-adolescent years are a time of profound growth and refinement in the evolution of these skills.

Implementing SEL & PBIS in Middle School

It’s important to understand that middle schoolers, regardless of their growing maturity and independence, still communicate their needs through behavior. Their actions and responses often serve to express a need for safety, belonging, and feeling valued within their relationships. Just like their elementary-age counterparts, behavior is a form of communication, and educators must help them develop the tools to communicate effectively. Intentional, age-appropriate instruction can build positive behavioral skills and encourage social-emotional development. Incorporate these tips and suggestions to boost SEL in the middle grades:

Create a Calm Space

Calming spaces are increasingly popular in the educational world. Educators everywhere recognize the benefits of emotional regulation using a calming atmosphere. Providing a calming space for students should come with a few guidelines, however. First and foremost, there should be schoolwide instruction on how to use the calming space, so that everyone has the same expectations for the experience. Designated calm spaces should be furnished with comfortable seating like upholstered furniture and/or bean bags and include items like manipulatives, fidgets, and coloring pages. Students using the space should follow a check-in process and expect a 10-minute limit for using the space, after which they will check out and return to class. Students who need more than 10 minutes in the space should check in with the school counselor for additional assistance. The school counselor will track data to determine which students would benefit from additional help.

Incorporate SEL Practices in The Classroom

A supportive classroom environment is key in helping students to develop core SEL skills. Explicit instruction in SEL, particularly with a dedicated curriculum, allows students to build valuable skills that will serve them well, not only at this stage of their lives, but also as they grow into adults. Integrating SEL principles into academics can be as simple as teaching students how to break a large project into smaller tasks, no matter what subject(s) you teach. This will allow students to develop important skills relating to time and task management, which are crucial elements in core social-emotional competencies such as self-management and responsible decision-making.

Provide Student-Centered Coaching

Cognitive development at the middle school level varies, and this will result in differences in SEL skill development. Students who lag behind their peers may benefit from SEL coaching. This coaching can help foster self-awareness, social skills, and responsible decision-making by tailoring interventions to individual student needs. Coaches collaborate with students to set personalized SEL goals, empowering them to navigate challenging situations and cultivate emotional intelligence. This goal-setting enables students to have reflective conversations with their coach, solidifying their progress. Coaches and counselors can work with small groups, such as a lunch group, to target specific skills. For students who need more intensive guidance, one-to-one coaching allows students to work on individual skills.

Develop a Peer Counseling Process

Students in middle school can benefit from learning to work together to solve problems, particularly since this is a valuable skill for adult life. In working with the school’s counselor, peer mediation groups can establish boundaries, protocols, and processes for working through real-life problems within the school community. This mediation process provides students with the opportunity to explain their side of events or experiences and teaches them to work toward resolution with empathy.

Don’t Forget Staff

Teaching at the middle school level is quite a different experience when compared to elementary and high school teaching. Educators at this level are witness to rapid, and often challenging, changes as students develop physically, emotionally, and cognitively. While it’s certainly appropriate to focus on student development during these years, it’s also important to provide educators with tools to help them navigate the experience. Encouraging SEL and PBIS strategies in the classroom, particularly Tier 1 interventions, can improve classroom management. Additionally, educators can benefit from continuing Professional Development in both SEL (for trauma-informed instruction) and PBIS (for data-informed decisions). Finally, encourage self-care for middle school educators!

Better SEL & PBIS in Middle School with Navigate360 

Taken individually, both SEL and PBIS can produce powerful impacts in middle school culture. However, it can be a complex process that places additional burden on staff, unless you are able to somehow manage both processes together. Fortunately, Navigate360 has it covered!  

Combine and track both SEL and a PBIS initiative with Navigate360’s PBIS Rewards and Suite360. As part of a holistic, layered approach to positive school climate and culture, PBIS Rewards allows schools to digitally manage every aspect of their PBIS initiative. The development of positive behavioral habits is a natural fit for social-emotional learning. The robust, scaffolded curriculum found in Suite360 enables schools to teach students SEL skills in a developmentally appropriate way. Together, PBIS Rewards and Suite360 help students learn, grow, and thrive – socially, emotionally, and academically!  

We’d love to tell you more about SEL & PBIS in middle school and show you how Navigate360 can make the process easier to manage. Contact us today!  

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