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FLORENCE — Students as well as teachers can benefit from Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), and a team of professionals is already at work to promote it throughout Florence Unified School District, the school board was told April 13.

SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to develop healthy identities; manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals; feel and show empathy for others; establish and maintain supportive relationships; and make responsible and caring decisions, Jim Bock told the board.

Bock is assistant principal at Skyline Ranch K-8 school and SEL coordinator for FUSD. The FUSD SEL team includes administrators, directors, the district psychologist, teachers and a parent. “I’m honored to work with these people in the important work that we’re doing,” Bock said.

He said SEL more than just character education. If students come to school with unmet needs for their physical health, basic safety and emotional security, their brains aren’t ready to learn. “Social and Emotional Learning will help them cope, and regulate, so they will be ready to learn.”

The Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has been researching since 1994, and has found SEL gives students better social-emotional skills; improved attitudes about self, others and school; positive classroom behavior; and an 11 percentile-point gain on standardized achievement tests. There are also fewer conduct problems, less emotional stress and fewer incidents of drug use and other risky behaviors, Bock told the board.

CASEL further found that 92% of executives surveyed said problem-solving and clear communication skills are equally or more important than technical skills. The top 10 skills identified by the World Economic Forum all involve social and emotional competence, such as complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management and coordinating with others.

Bock said it’s not only a benefit to students: CASEL found that teachers who have social and emotional competencies are more likely to stay in the profession longer because they’re able to work more effectively with daily challenges and avoid burnout.

Bock said as he learned about SEL he recalled a sign in his mother’s kitchen, “If Mama ain’t happy … ain’t nobody happy.” “I thought, ‘We are the mamas, we are the papas, we are the leaders in our schools, our classrooms, our communities. … If we’re not happy, if we’re not able to deal with the stress and anxiety of school and work, of whatever it may be, we’re not going to be able to model for our students and staff members.

“… We have good teachers and they work really hard, but it is not an easy job. If we focus on adult SEL along with student SEL, we’re going to slow down the burnout, and we’re going to make gains and we’re going to thrive as a district.”

The SEL team surveyed K-12 students in FUSD to find out if they feel welcome, safe and connected in school. Using that data, the team came up with some research-based intervention plans with principals and “they’re working on those plans now, as we speak,” Bock told the board.

At the end of the month, they’ll do a follow-up survey to see if these interventions resulted in any gains.

They have a four-school SEL curriculum pilot, and the district celebrated SEL Week toward the end of March. The plan for this year is foundational SEL training at all school sites, and creating a “culture of wellness” for all students and staff.

Year two will be spent implementing essential practices; building knowledge around competencies; and embedding SEL competencies into all academic areas. Year three will include creating a coaching plan to support sites and departments.

Bock also presented FUSD’s belief statement: “In FUSD we believe that social-emotional learning creates an environment that is safe, inclusive, culturally responsive, academically engaging and equitable.”

FUSD’s statement of purpose is, “The purpose of social-emotional learning is to cultivate growth in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and positive decision-making.”

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.