A Changed Perspective

Chicago Public Schools fifth-grade teacher Julie Van Fleet has been using Second Step, one of the evidence-based social and emotional learning programs reviewed in the 2013 CASEL Guide. Our thanks to Julie for submitting the following success story.

One year I had a student who had difficulty getting along with his peers. He would react quickly and intensely, causing most seemingly small moments to escalate at a rapid pace. Unfortunately, it got to a point where other students found it amusing to witness one of these reactions from him, which of course made things even worse. About halfway through the year, we started implementing Second Step and embedding social emotional learning strategies throughout the school day. We practiced a lot of calm-down strategies and problem-solving skills, as well as community-building and empathy activities.

From my point of view as their teacher, I began to see small moments of success when students implemented these strategies or used the language learned from our lessons. However, I also had a firm grasp on reality and thought to myself that even though these lessons were being taught, still, kids will be kids. It wasn't until the following school year that I had a wonderful reality check that proved to me the power of SEL.

This one student who had such trouble with his peers was asked to join a meeting at the beginning of the year with his new teachers, parents, and myself to discuss ways to be proactive and successfully participate in the school year with his classmates. When asked about some ways he could make it a successful year, he began sharing all of his calm-down strategies, like deep breathing and self-talk, as well as how he needs to remember to consider other people's perspectives. He then discussed various problem-solving skills and ways he can use those in any given situation. I found myself getting teary-eyed as I witnessed this grown-up version of the student who once made it difficult for everyone to make it through a school day share his numerous takeaways from Second Step. By the end of it, all the adults in the room were staring at him in awe, and I told him how impressed I was with his ability to recall and articulate so many strategies. He just smiled, looked me in the eye, and stated, "I'm just being assertive, Ms. Van Fleet!"

I continue to check in with this student to make sure he is staying focused on his emotional strength. Although he still has his moments, he is able to take control and move forward, rather than getting lost in the strong feelings. This, more than anything, has shown me the power of embedding SEL into the curriculum, and teaching Second Step has given me these incredibly powerful tools as a teacher.