How One Iowa District Put SEL on Center Stage

Header - Halverson - SEL

Tina Halverson, PK-12 instructional coach in Iowa, highlights a few of her district's  techniques with social and emotional learning to help meet the needs of all of their students while keeping their emotions front and center.


f you've been in education over the last five years, you will appreciate the huge role that social and emotional learning (SEL) now plays when working with children. By spring 2020 at our schools, we had already implemented and refined systems that equipped our students with the skills to manage their own emotions. So, when we were forced to close our buildings due to the pandemic, we already had the groundwork in place to support our students remotely.

Our main goal during that time was to check in regularly with our students and provide them with a community environment while being isolated at home. Since then, promoting students' SEL has come to the forefront of their needs, pushing beyond academics. Below is a range of techniques we've found invaluable for supporting our student's social and emotional development.

Success teams

We have two success teams, one at elementary and one at secondary level, each consisting of the PK-12 administrator, the student support coordinator, counselor, instructional coach, and a teacher. The success teams' process begins with looking at student data to identify and discuss students that might need adding to the "watch list."

For students who are already on our list, we discuss if the support systems are helping and put action steps in place to make sure any necessary follow-ups are taken. Finally, we also look to see if any students need to be phased out of the watch list, which is the best measure of success for this process!

The PBIS Framework

The 3-tiered Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) methodology has been an integral instrument for promoting positive student behavior and feedback in our school for the last ten years.

At the beginning of each year, we use PBIS strategies to remind students of the school's expectations. Then, at the year midpoint, it's used to provide reteaching of specific areas where necessary and students are rewarded for their performance.

Halverson - PBIS Framework

Tina believes Maine's Department of Education portrays the PBIS framework the best. ☝️

Below are some examples of how our school district has implemented the PBIS framework at each tier level.

School-wide proactive measures: student tickets

Students are given tickets when they are "caught" doing something positive. The elementary students have names drawn each week and are provided choices like sitting with a friend at lunch, wearing a hat in school, or bringing a stuffed animal for the day. Secondary students save their tickets and have an auction at the end of the year.

Targeted interventions for at-risk groups: sensory rooms

This last year we were fortunate enough to adapt an empty classroom into a sensory room for students in PK-12. There are a few students that need a place to reset when they become anxious, frustrated, or upset. This room provides a safe and quiet space for students to calm themselves, or if a student just needs a few minutes to relax.

Halverson - Sensory rooms

What would be the first station you'd include in your own sensory room?

From hopscotch to hammocks, our sensory room everything for students to unwind. We've found these rooms very useful and great use of space.

Individualized measures for students: Check-ins and point sheets

Some students have a trusted adult that they check in with to start their day, often with "point sheets." Each sheet consists of a daily schedule broken into segments like time of day and subjects. In the morning, the student and appointed staff member reflect upon their goals for each area and provide a rating from 1-3. This personal connection helps students start their day in a positive direction.

At the end of the day, the staff member and student reflect upon what went well and what needs improvement. Finally, depending on the number of points earned, the student gets a reward that they helped decide upon when setting their daily goals.

Bonus: Here's an example point sheet you can use as inspiration when creating your own!

Zones of Regulation

While PBIS meets the needs of 80% of our students, we discovered that some students needed help recognizing their feelings, plus tools and strategies to regulate themselves.

Each classroom has a "calm down corner" and "calm down kit" that students can use to reset. Sometimes, students just need a chance to leave the classroom for a few minutes or get a drink or express their feelings to an adult.

Halverson - Zones of regulation

The color-coded tables make it easy for students to connect their feelings to a color!

Students should understand that it's okay to have feelings of anger, frustration, or sadness, and we must provide them with techniques for them to self-regulate.

Final note

Through the various SEL systems in place at Clarksville Community Schools, the staff can help support the needs of all of our students. Making connections with students promotes a sense of community and lets them know that we care for them and want them to succeed.

Students have needed more support during COVID with all of the changes that have happened both at school and home. By having all of these systems in place, we have been easily able to meet the needs of our students during an unprecedented school year, and we believe our processes will assist them moving forward, too.

If you have any of your own ways for supporting SEL, please share in the comment section below.

About our Guest Blogger

Tina Halverson is a PK-12 instructional coach at Clarksville Community Schools in Clarksville, Iowa; the district serves approximately 375 students. Prior to taking her coaching role, she taught second grade for many years.

Be sure to connect with Tina on Twitter @thalv19.

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