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Extended Q&A from Navigate360’s “Addressing the Rise in Challenging Student Behaviors” Webinar

In our recent webinar “Addressing the Rise in Challenging Student Behaviors,” Dr. Crystal Ladwig, VP of Curriculum for Mental Health & Wellness for Navigate360 and Jeremy Tompkins, Coordinator for Student Engagement, Escambia County School District discussed how districts can address the rise in challenging behaviors through individualized SEL lessons. Below are questions from webinar attendees about SEL and behavioral intervention and answers provided by Dr. Ladwig and Mr. Tompkins. 

SEL Curriculum

Q: Integrating and prioritizing SEL within our master schedule is a challenge. The district knows it’s a need, but the implementation of it across schools is not consistent. How can we address this?

JEREMY TOMPKINS: In our county, there is a specific time set aside for SEL instruction at the elementary and middle school level. This is normally done in small group time at elementary schools and at middle school, they do a research/homeroom period in which SEL instruction is given. High school is a little different due to the curriculum demands. We have a couple of high schools that have created an excel period during lunches in which they use this time for SEL curriculum instruction. The other high schools use the SEL curriculum as interventions in ISS and ILR classrooms.

DR. CRYSTAL LADWIG: This is a common issue for schools and districts across the country. We’ve had districts address this problem in a variety of ways. Some do as Jeremy mentioned and set aside a few moments each day or during homeroom once a week to do SEL-related activities. Others have had their students complete lessons independently at school or as homework. Then teachers embed discussions and examples of SEL-related topics throughout their instruction and their interactions with students. There is a lot of research supporting the use of SEL instruction and the positive academic benefits. Often, we see teachers begin using the curriculum reluctantly only to be totally sold as they begin to have fewer behavior problems and more time and energy to focus on academics.

Q: Where are the tangible SEL activities we can work on one on one with students? 

TOMPKINS: We use Navigate360 in our schools to provide the SEL curriculum. Those tangible resources you are seeking are built into that curriculum. Those resources are user-friendly to students, parents, staff, and administrators. The other great thing is it is designed to fit the specific needs of your school or school district.

LADWIG: As a company, we do strive to provide resources for everyone involved, including students, parents, and school staff to encourage social, emotional, behavioral, and mental wellbeing. As Jeremy mentioned, there are resources available in our lessons. But if your school can’t or won’t purchase an SEL or mental health awareness product, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do. It just takes more legwork on your part to find or create things that will work for your students. In those cases, I strongly encourage teachers to research ways to embed SEL and mental health instruction into their typical interactions with students. For example, if you see two students struggling to resolve a disagreement, walk them through problem-solving steps rather than intervening with solutions of your own. Of course, you can also find a lot of good material online, but you’ll have to sift through a lot of weeds to find the flowers.

Students and SEL

Q: I understand students’ anxiety and lack of coping skills, but how do we help the students when the students are physically and mentally abusing teachers?  Teachers are leaving the profession because of the anxiety and fear that students are causing us.

TOMPKINS: In our district, we take a very strong stance on protecting our teachers. That has to be the first priority. However, that does not mean we put the needs of that student to the side, either. I think we know discipline-wise there may be a need to move a student to an alternative placement for abusing a teacher, but in our school district, we still provide resources to those students while at the alternative placement location. They receive Navigate360 SEL for Mental Health training, access to a mental health counselor, and a school social worker. These resources help us to prepare the student to return back to traditional school with the tools that they need to be successful.

LADWIG: When a student is becoming a danger to themselves or to others, the issues are obviously different. In those cases, we recommend a multi-faceted approach. It may be necessary to do a behavioral threat assessment to evaluate any potential for harm to self or others and to involve a multidisciplinary team to provide appropriate interventions. It may also be helpful to use restorative practices like those we talked about during the webinar as well as specific lessons for students about what they did, the impact it has on themselves and others, and how they can move down a healthier path in the future. There are various ways to do these things. Contact us at Navigate360 if you’d like to learn about our solutions.

Q: For many students, coping and behavioral skills have regressed since COVID-19. How can school staff address their social-emotional needs while also busy with their day-to-day schedules?

TOMPKINS: I think the greatest SEL tool that educators have is the ability to listen and have empathy for their students. I think everything starts at that point. If we are in tune with our students and the struggles they are facing, lasting relationships are built. The relationship is what will drive the student to let their guard down, and that is when the multiple SEL resources that are available can be used to make a lasting change in the student.

LADWIG: I’ve seen districts take very creative approaches to connect with students to meet their needs during this time. The teacher-student relationship is perhaps the most important aspect. If students don’t feel safe to reach out to us and share their struggles, we can’t help them. If they don’t have confidence that they will be heard or that anything will happen as a result, then we can’t help them. Teachers and school leaders who make time for students in this way often reap immense rewards. For example, spending a few moments at the beginning of class allowing students to reflect or engage in mindfulness activities can help them to calm down and refocus on the learning at hand. Providing time to meet with students before or after school or at other times just to show you care makes a huge difference.

Q: I am very concerned about the time kids were able to spend on their phones, with easy access to dangerous content.  I’ve seen kids not know how to deal with the things they’ve been exposed to. Are there any resources you would recommend for this?

TOMPKINS: I will say that phones and technology, in general, are a common problem across the country. The Navigate360 SEL curriculum does have content that deals with social media use, cell phones, and technology issues. I would encourage you to review the content.

LADWIG: There are products available for schools that help to filter content that kids have access to while at school or when using devices owned by the school. Contact us to learn more about our solution for that. As a parent, I can also say that I’ve used various tools with my own sons over the years to both monitor and limit their access to content. Most require apps or VPNs that are installed on their devices. I’ll warn you though, they hate the lag that provides for their gaming!

Educators and SEL

Q: Getting teacher “buy-in” is so challenging. How can we show that SEL and academics are connected in student success?

TOMPKINS: There are studies that show that if students feel safe in their school environment, then academic performance increases. Schools that also have a lower out-of-school suspension rate tend to do better academically. A strong SEL program will help to promote a safe school environment and will help to lower out-of-school suspension by teaching character development but also by helping to teach appropriate school behaviors to their students.

LADWIG: As Jeremy said, there are quite a few research studies (including meta-analyses) that document the positive academic gains associated with SEL. For some teachers, that’s enough. I’ve also worked with other teachers who need to see or experience it themselves. Typically, if a teacher uses a high-quality SEL program for at least a month, then they will begin to see the benefits themselves. Sometimes that will come in the form of changes in a single child. At other times, that may come in the form of fewer classroom distractions. It can also help to provide a forum for teachers to share what’s working for them. How are they using SEL lessons? How do they talk about SEL throughout the day? How do they encourage and support students to use healthy social, emotional, and mental health practices throughout the day?

Q: Some educators don’t want to shift their mindset to help with challenging behaviors. They prefer the punitive approach. How can we combat this?

TOMPKINS: I think this takes time. The best way to change a mindset is to show them by example that it works. We have been able to make major strides in this area over the past 13 years due to the vision of our current and former superintendents.

LADWIG: I have to agree again with Jeremy. If you have a teacher who is reluctant to change their practices, it often takes repeated exposure to get them on board. This may occur as they hear success stories from other teachers at the school or personal experience if a district or school requires SEL.

Q: What are some suggestions for improving teachers’ understanding of the importance of SEL, not only for students but for themselves?

TOMPKINS: I think where we showed the most growth in this area is when we added the Navigate360 SEL for Mental Health curriculum for our students to meet our governor’s Mental Health Mandate. As the teachers taught the curriculum to the students, it began to help them with some challenges they were facing. Then, as a district, we were able to provide resources to help them. This has only grown in importance as anxiety and stress have increased exponentially during the pandemic.

LADWIG: I honestly think that most teachers already understand the importance of SEL for themselves, but they fail to act on it. Teachers are natural helpers. We’re certainly not in this field for the money! We want to see children learn and thrive. We want to help them grow into healthy, happy adults. We often want to help their families, too. Unfortunately, that’s part of the reason that we see high rates of teacher burnout and compassion fatigue. I don’t think the problem is teachers not understanding that SEL is important. It’s that they don’t prioritize themselves and their own SEL and mental health care. I love hearing stories about how administrators do things to support teachers in this way to help them learn to prioritize themselves. Jeremy mentioned the candy bar during our webinar. Little notes of encouragement, support, and a few minutes to breathe during the day can go a long way.

Q: Teachers at my school are looking for classroom strategies to correct behaviors. Support staff are doing a lot to help teach skills in push in/pull out sessions. Are there strategies or supports that would help teachers in the moment? 

TOMPKINS: With Navigate360 SEL, teachers have access to the intervention curriculum. In our district, we use this curriculum in both our ISS and ILR classrooms. Students complete lessons on the behavior that placed them in the classes. Every lesson has a pre- and post-test and the teacher can set the passing score. In addition, each lesson has a reflective writing piece within it. We see decreases in repeat negative behaviors as a result of the use of the intervention curriculum and other restorative practices being used in the classes.

LADWIG: In addition to intervention lessons like those that Jeremy mentioned and traditional PBIS supports, I also encourage folks to think outside of the box. One of the most impactful teaching experiences I had was when I co-taught with a speech pathologist. We used my content as the classroom teacher and her methods. Students weren’t missing out on instruction, I learned a lot of new skills that I could reinforce throughout the school day, and students experienced consistency that helped them put new skills into practice.

While challenging behaviors are certainly quite different, those same approaches can still be used to minimize learning loss, provide consistency, and provide additional support to students who need it. Sometimes it’s also helpful for teachers to know that they can take a pause. Provide behavior-specific praise to students who are behaving appropriately. Include a whole class brain break before students begin to lose it. Look for accommodations or instructional strategies (like providing frequent opportunities to respond) that may be available with minimal effort that can help students remain engaged in learning.

Q: What’s the best way to balance teacher needs and anxiety to get through the curriculum but also give transition time for SEL needs?

TOMPKINS: I think the best way is by using the curriculum in a common research or homeroom period as not to take away from a subject-specific instructional time. This also allows for student/teacher relationship building because of the discussions that will be generated from the curriculum.

LADWIG: It’s a valid concern, especially with so many demands placed on teachers. I come back to something I said earlier. When kids are better equipped to manage their social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health, then research shows that they are better able to focus on academics. There is less time lost to dealing with disruptions and challenging behavior. It takes less time to practice SEL than it does to deal with behavior problems. As teachers see and experience this firsthand, I often see their anxiety lessen.

Parent/Home Life Collaboration

Q: Parent education is an integral part of the process in any program that we want to implement so that parents can support our efforts when the students are home. Some parents are averse to any “mental health” supports that schools and the community offer at times. How do you get parents on board?

TOMPKINS: I think fundamentally parents want to help their students be successful. Some parents just do not know how. Providing resources to them at home so that they can assist their student is valuable. Navigate360’s SEL program gives the parents access to these resources through the parent portal. The curriculum then gives parents the tools needed to open up communication with their students on these difficult topics. The school district must then be ready to provide or direct families to additional mental health resources.

LADWIG: The most effective thing I’ve seen in districts across the country is transparency. When parents have access to the lessons that their students are using, it helps to ease their fears and promotes important conversations at home, not just at school.

Q: Some of my students’ trauma stems from their home life. Can SEL help in those situations?

TOMPKINS: Yes, I think that this is what SEL is meant to do. But again, schools need to be ready to offer mental health services for these students over time to help them deal with the issues they face.

LADWIG: Yes! SEL is about self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making in all aspects of life. As students learn these skills and learn how to apply them in different contexts, including learning when and how to seek help, then it strengthens their ability to positively impact their own environments.

Q: I’m interested in parent needs assessments. What are some pros and cons?

LADWIG: I personally tend to shy away from anything formal related to parent needs assessments. I don’t want to make assumptions about what I think a particular family needs or wants. Instead, I try to ask as many open-ended questions as possible to let parents think about what they need or want. What resources would help them? How can those resources be provided to them in a way that is useful and easy to access? Ask questions about both the children and the family. Then, really take the time to listen to what they have to say.

Restorative Practices

Q: Can you speak more about specific examples of restorative practices you use?

TOMPKINS: We are Capturing Kids’ Hearts trained. We use trauma-informed care, Morning Chats, Mental Health First Aid, Navigate360 SEL for Mental Health, and Roadmap to Responsibility (Larry Thompson) to name a few.

Q: How can restorative practice be worked into the day when time is extremely limited?

TOMPKINS: Time is always going to be limited. It just has to be made a priority at all levels of your school district. As mentioned, setting aside a common research or homeroom time is very effective.

LADWIG: It depends somewhat on the types of restorative practices being used. Some can be embedded into conversations that teachers are already having with students. Sometimes, as in our Intervention lessons, they may be done individually or in small groups and then engage in follow-up with an administrator instead of suspension or detention.

Other types of restorative practices, like restorative circles, may take time out of an individual student’s day. These types are often reserved for students who need a higher intensity of intervention.

Q: What is the best way to track behavior/discipline referrals?

TOMPKINS: On this question, I can only speak for our district. We have FOCUS as our Student Information System. FOCUS built within it a system called FOCUS Analytics. This system puts live time data at the fingertips of every dean and administrator in our district. Having this information readily available helped schools to have weekly discipline discussions and see trends that they need to address at their schools quickly.

Navigate360 Social-Emotional Learning

Q: Is Navigate360 Social-Emotional Learning evidence-based? 

LADWIG: Yes, Navigate360’s SEL solution is based on a comprehensive research base. We have data indicating significant gains across CASEL competencies on our pre/post measure as well as anecdotal evidence of improvements in attendance and decreases in suspensions.

Q: Does the Navigate360 program depend on reliable internet?

LADWIG: Yes. Lessons are available via any web-enabled device. Some schools that have a large population of students without consistent internet service choose to have students do all lessons at school. Some schools have students do lessons on their own as homework and then engage in discussions and follow-up activities at school. Many of these follow-ups do not require internet access.

Q: Does Navigate360 SEL connect to Google Classroom?

LADWIG: Navigate360’s SEL solution works with many SSO platforms including Clever and Canvas. I’m not currently aware of a Google Classroom connection but will bring that up to our product team.

 

Contact us today to learn how Navigate360 Social-Emotional Learning can help your school improve student behavior, foster mental health and create a more positive school climate.

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