I. General Information
School Name: Lake Trail Community School
School District: SD#71 Comox Valley
Inquiry Team Members: Gerald Fussell: Gerald.Fussell@sd71.bc.ca, Kyle Timms: Kyle.Timms@sd71.bc.ca, Erica Black: Erica.Black@sd71.bc.ca
Inquiry Team Contact Name/Email: Gerald Fussell/Gerald.Fussell@sd71.bc.ca
II. Inquiry Project Information
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels Addressed Through Inquiry: Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Areas Addressed:
- Language Arts – Literacy
- Mathematics / Numeracy
- Differentiated instruction
- Flexible learning
- Growth mindset
- Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies
- Social and emotional learning
- Universal design for learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? What strategies in improving SEL and self-regulation skills in students will lead to improved literacy and numeracy skills in students K-9?
III. Spirals of Inquiry Details
Scanning: Over the past years, we have noticed a lot of resources being invested in literacy and numeracy with SEL and self-regulation development being done off the side of teacher desks. Much adult time each day is being spent managing behaviours.
Focus: Research is pretty clear that the waning SEL and self-regulation in students – as evidenced by EDI, MDI, Student Survey, and CHEK data, and exacerbated by the global pandemic, environmental challenges, and social awareness – is having a significant effect on student success.
Hunch: By targeting resources to developing student social-emotional learning and self-regulation skills, we think we will see improvements in student development of literacy and numeracy.
New Professional Learning: We have three very different physical sites, each with very diverse students and many with traumatic pasts. We plan to research and explore best strategies for improving SEL and self-regulation for all students based on our unique situations and how to translate those improvements to student success. A key part of this will be examining change leadership and how best to support systemic change in the face of significant investments in what’s already known and been done. For example, we can measure and report literacy and numeracy and we know how to add student supports to help in these areas, so they are the easiest to target though the results and effectiveness can be challenged.
Taking Action: Pandemic – great opportunity to focus intently on SEL – most started with class meetings, sharing circles, check ins, and then moved to gratitude acknowledgements, giving and receiving of authentic compliments following a presentation, and most enjoyed this purposeful work – sometimes cued work. Students learned that it feels good to be heard and to express how each is feeling. Sharing circles often started with students identifying how they were feeling (either with words or on a number scale from 1-5, 5 being amazing) and reasons why they were feeling as they were (validating).
Three of our teachers tried the program from Depths of Comfort with good success. Students engaged and participated in the activities. It was too short a trial to gauge potential long-term success.
We shifted from SEL as a wellness strategy, to SEL as a means to academic growth. At the same time we believe academic growth and success breeds wellness. Our monthly staff meetings and pro-d opportunities were linked to literacy assessments and strategies. Connecting with colleagues and sharing leadership approaches and ideas was essential. At school we were able to keep the conversations focused and make a difference for kids. One big factor was the sense of collective teacher efficacy that is now obvious at school, and the change in how the district team is talking about Queneesh. Through a focused approach and firm supportive leadership we have changed the conversations.
Checking: I am too new at the school to really tell. Just from recess / lunch / hallway check-ins with students, they did well at answering asked questions: How are you doing today? What are you looking forward to doing at recess today? I do believe you get better answers (richer answers) if you ask the right questions; “how’s it going?” … is a quick and easy answer “fine”. When deeper / more purposeful questions are asked, better answers are collected; and, it often stops the child from just passing by with a rote answer to even pause and offer a reciprocal question back – that is victory to me!! Students were smiley when questions were asked, and especially when an unexpected answer was given (vs. “get out”).
Another answer I was satisfied with, was instead of just kicking kids out of the hallways, washrooms, etc. at recess / lunch breaks, start with a question: Where are you going in such a big group? Do you need some help? The change in questions from the expected “get out” has been good for many to build relationships, open doors to possibilities, and give opportunities to really answer the question – “yes I need help” or “I’m bored and can’t find people to hang out with.” Our outside supervisors really stepped up with positive conversations this year (through my short-term lens) – one EA in particular impressed me when he front-loaded his zone group for further success, by asking me to come watch with him as some “well known to the office kids” were playing football at lunch – and doing so well. He was advocating for them to ensure they were not misunderstood while playing a game that “screams – problem brewing” and also to observe the usual antagonists, who were watching from afar, and the game kept moving away when they would start showing signs of sabotaging. Short answer – proactive and relational work on the part of a known supervisor sets a risky group up for success and a fun break.
Students are more available for learning when their mental health and social emotional needs are addressed. We also did pointed work on literacy – this really was not data informed. But we do have some lofty stories of work done – I am hoping that when we check again next year, if we succeed at addressing SEL needs and mental health needs of students (and staff?), we will see positive results in learning, too.
The Queneesh school earning plan summarizes the success we have felt this year, and lays a framework for continued growth. We have already set our goals and strategies for next year, and the staff is on board with continued learning. Check the Queneesh web site for the 2021 – 2022 School Learning Plan for data.
I am very satisfied with the results and the growth we have had in the first year, but will be extra satisfied when the long-term data is collected. Change takes time, but the school is on the right path.
Reflections/Advice: SEL is woven into our school goals right now — mostly around taking time to check in with students each day (by teacher) and access either Inner Explorer website (not well used) or Depths of Comfort (not well used). I will ask again how SEL can be supported by the office, and if the collective answer is that subscriptions are not what is needed and instead to keep up with the class meetings / check-in circles — then we will continue to encourage that.
We are kicking off a new code of conduct in September, based on observations that there is minimal student engagement with the existing one, minimal staff engagement and even some parent concern about the lack of structure around student conduct. PBIS (Positive Behavioural Interventions and Supports) was pitched to PAC, a staff committee, a number of frequent fliers to the office and most recently to our 2022-2023 staff. The response was positive, especially around co-constructing all of the positive teaching parameters as a staff first, then with their classes, then back to the staff as a whole – including the design of a consistent reflection process (age appropriate for the three levels we have – primary, intermediate and middle-school aged) to take the child to the place of reflection on her role, how she felt, how the teacher felt and how the rest of the class likely felt when the action was executed. I completed this process with a couple of students at the end of the year, and they were shocked at themselves while they completed the facilitated reflection process – they had never considered what their peers were thinking – and instantly became quite humbled after the reflection. I am really looking forward to continuing this work – many use reflection sheets as an indefinite activity to get the offender out of the learning space. Now teachers have said – don’t take the child away – come cover my class so I (the T) can complete the reflection process with the offender. I know this will be great for the class culture and for the relationship between the teacher and the student, too. This is familiar from our work with Ross Greene’s Proactive Problem Solving Sheet / interview with a frequent offender. When the teacher invests the time to work through the problem and hear the perspectives of the student, the relationship can only improve, and ultimately our school culture will also feel more harmonious and happy for all.
I have learned that with support and guidance of close colleagues, a school leader can make significant changes in the culture of the school. Too often we as leaders find excuses to settle for the status quo, but change is possible with support. Next, I hope to work together to build stronger middle school connections between Lake Trail and Cumberland. As an inquiry group, I hope we can share our learning with other schools and help kids across the district. My advice – connect and learn from colleagues, and when you have a crazy idea for school improvement, they will help you make it happen.