We did it! We implemented an Advisory/Social-emotional Learning (SEL) program in the school! We dedicated 10 minutes every morning, read articles about social-emotional topics, and made time for study hall. Hold up, you did what?
A lot of schools and programs think just because you create a program called Advisory or implement an SEL Program, it will be great, or you can say, “At least we tried.” Save some time, if everyone is not completely invested in making this work, it won’t.
As educators, we are pulled in many directions and asked to take on multiple roles. Implementing new programs takes time and investment. I’ve seen far too many times where the administration wants something done but is not willing to provide the tools, support, and/or resources for it to happen. These are the types of Advisory and SEL programs that fail to make a positive impact. (I have also seen fantastic administrations provide support and resources. Those are the successful programs).
I’ve developed and implemented a number of successful Advisory, SEL, and Life-skills programs. I’ve also worked in a number of schools that have chosen to use the methods listed below and had these programs tank.
I’ve listed below 10 reasons that can have your Advisory/SEL program fail (and a bonus, on how they can succeed):
- Scheduling Advisory for the first 10 minutes in the morning. That’s not an Advisory or a SEL program, it’s homeroom. It only allows enough time for morning announcements to be made and attendance to be taken. Students are often late and miss that time completely. By only allotting 10 minutes, you are stating that this isn’t enough to matter to you and that you are only spending an insignificant amount of time on this. If this is true, then why should students and educators think that it matters? It’s extremely difficult to transition into the class or group, introduce information, implement an activity, and have a meaningful conversation in 10 minutes. What’s the point?
Successful Strategy: Implement a time in the schedule to have enough time to address social-emotional and life skills topics, just like you would for any other subject. There are numerous ways you can incorporate this into your schedule and have it be a success.
- Not emphasizing the importance of the class. It is important for being consistent in scheduling the program, not using it for testing or other programs. When the program’s importance is seen as having little importance, your staff and students will view it the same way.
Successful Strategy: Have it be a graded class that lets your students receive credits.This class can be based on participation and does not need to be a complex grading system.
- Not providing consequences for missing the class. When students are not required to show up or are held accountable to participate, there will be plenty of no shows and lack of participation.
Successful Strategy: You want to treat this class the same as the others. There should be assignments, grading, and credits provided.
- Using the Advisory class for study hall. Catching up on work is important, don’t get me wrong, but if your students are lacking the skills they need to focus on academics, all the time to make-up their work is not going to instill these habits.
Successful Strategy: This is a time to learn the skills that will support their overall social development and well-being. By focusing on this first, your students can then have a better chance to achieve academic success.
- Not having staff support or buy-in to the program. Having staff make negative comments and not care about its success will have your students feeling the same way. Your staff are the front lines for working with your students. You want them to be clear about the impact of the Advisory or SEL program and how it will prepare, enhance, and contribute to the students’ and school’s well being and development.
Successful Strategy: A great way to get staff buy-in is to provide them with success stories. Show them evidence-based successes where the programs have worked and how it will help them in teaching their students. You can also provide the staff a needs assessment so that they feel heard and acknowledged that they too have contributed to the development of the program.
- Not providing enough Professional Development (P.D.) time. Administration and counseling programs may have a thorough understanding of what this program entails, but it may not be so straightforward to all staff members. You want your staff to feel confident in their delivery and impact on student learning.
Successful Strategy: Ensure that there is enough professional development training at the beginning of the program. You want to use the time to demonstrate and collaborate with your staff on how everything can be organized and well thought out. You need several days to train the entire staff. Once the basics are down, then the time is used for refreshers, improvement, and planning. As new staff arrive, you can offer them time for the same trainings as part of on-boarding (Make it fun!).
- Not providing the proper prep time. On top of all the state standards, multiple subjects, grade levels they may teach, other duties, and limited prep times for their own subjects, teachers can often feel overwhelmed. They feel burdened by having to learn something new. They feel set up to fail instead of succeeding. You want to provide the proper training, materials, and resources so that teachers feel that they have success. You almost want a fool-proof program so that they can confidently implement the material.
Successful Strategy: Provide staff with the resources they need for their Advisory/ SEL curriculum and to facilitate engaging lesson plans. You can use professional development time to plan and provide these resources so that it does not take away from planning for their other classes.
- Not Providing quality lesson plans. Providing your staff resources that don’t apply to your student population is the same as providing them with no lesson plans at all.
Successful Strategy: You can have students complete a needs assessment and student survey inquiring what they would like to discuss. These along with the staff needs assessment will ensure that the lesson plans are tailored to meet the needs of your population and community. You want to ensure that the lesson plans are culturally competent, engaging, and developmentally appropriate for all of your students.
- Not integrating the program into the culture of the school or organization. Keeping the program and school culture separate doesn’t achieve the results that you want. A lack of connection to your program from your students will prohibit them from engaging, connected, and being as productive as they can be. You want to support and integrate social-emotional learning throughout your school.
Successful Strategy: This will reinforce what is learned in the classroom, decrease behavioral incidents, and increase engagement in class. You can provide school-wide activities and competitions to get students excited and invested in the programs and school culture.
- Not utilizing the strengths of your staff. If you force all the staff to conform to one way of presenting the materials, it can limit the possibilities of engaging resources for both your staff and students.
Successful Strategy: Your school counselors, speech language pathologists, social workers, and psychologists are the underutilized staff. They spend a lot of their day using SEL resources and may already have effective engaging lesson plans created. Also, use staff based on strengths! For example, Physical Education teachers may be great at incorporating physical activities for example, ropes courses, into learning about social development skills or a music teacher can incorporate music into the Advisory or SEL activities.
Now that you know what not and what to do, you can get started on creating a dynamic and engaging Advisory/SEL program! I would love to hear what has failed or succeeded in your program!
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