Pleasant Valley Elementary SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

I. General Information

School Name: Pleasant Valley Elementary

School District: SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

Inquiry Team Members: Diane McGonigle:, Ruth Sharun:, Wenda Allan:, Krista Endrizzi:, Kim Davie:, Tamara Kanachowski:, Jennifer MacGregor:, Sophia Francescutti:, Sara Tyson:

Inquiry Team Contact Name/Email: Diane McGonigle/

II. Inquiry Project Information

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels Addressed Through Inquiry: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)

Curricular Areas Addressed:

  • Career Education
  • Physical & Health Education
  • Other: Social Emotional

Focus Addressed:

  • Social and emotional learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Developing social-emotional well- being by increasing sense of belonging/school connectedness for disconnected students.

III. Spirals of Inquiry Details

Scanning: In the 2018-2019 school year, our school-based team looked at school connectedness. This year, our school SEAL (Social Emotional and Academic Learning) team expanded beyond our School-Based Team to include classroom teachers and a Fine Arts teacher. The team had been discussing different ways to support our students who we notice are struggling in social-emotional ways, and were wondering if we are aware of all of our students who may be struggling. Students have been through a lot with the pandemic and different global warming events (e.g. fires and smoke, extreme heat, floods). In addition, our school has moved sites for one year due to a seismic upgrade of our school. We wondered about their feelings of connectedness in general and how this would compare to the survey done previously, and how feelings of connectedness relate to social-emotional well-being and how these results would compare to the survey done previously. We also wondered how students are feeling outside of school, as well. We wondered if we were ‘missing’ supporting any students.

We focused on these two First Peoples Principles of Learning:

  • Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors. – focus on well-being of the self within school
  • Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place). – focus on the relational aspect

Focus: We determined our focus based on information shared at class reviews, results of our sense of belonging survey, and observations of different students who are struggling in social-emotional ways, as well as our awareness of the significant events happening which may impact social-emotional well-being. Our goal is to increase sense of belonging as a means of increasing social-emotional well-being for those students who identified as disconnected based on the answers to the survey statements/questions – especially about being an important member of the classroom and school and adults at PV who care about you and believe in you, as those results were significantly lower this year than three years ago. We are hoping that all of our learners will have a sense of well-being and feel connected to our staff and school.

Hunch: When looking at the individual students who have reported like they are not an important member of their classroom and/or not an important member of the school, many have social and emotional challenges at school. For these students, we see a connection between feeling valued and social and emotional well-being. As well, some students who demonstrate moderate to strong social/emotional characteristics may be impacted in the school environment by those who are struggling socially and emotionally. This impact may reflect in their feelings of importance in a classroom, where a lot of energy goes into students needing extra support.

Staff may not realize that some students do not feel a sense of belonging in the classroom and/or school, and/or do not feel connected to adults in the school. Staff may not realize the short-term and long-term impacts of recent traumas, as well as past trauma – including residential schools – on students’ social-emotional learning.

We also had a hunch that if we could add more practices that focused on the social emotional well-being of our learners, that would lead to more focus, happiness, and sense of belonging and then, in turn, academic gains. Not all classrooms have a focus on social emotional learning (i.e. not doing a soft start or daily physical activity).

New Professional Learning: Our school team had a professional learner morning with Julie Anne Richard, Clinical Counsellor and Professional Speaker/Trainer, that was pivotal to shifting some of our staff members’ thinking about the importance of a focus on social-emotional learning and how to incorporate it into their classroom. Following the presentation, staff focused on building resiliency, managing anxiety and focusing on ways for students to manage their worries in the following ways:

  • Explicit in class instruction around building resiliency and managing anxiety and worry – all classes focused on the ‘size of the problem’ and asking themselves three key questions: What is the worst that can happen? What is the best that can happen? What is most likely to happen?
  • Counsellors and a Child and Youth Family Support Worker came in to some classrooms to team teach, thereby expanding the classroom teachers’ repertoire.
  • Explored picture books and short videos that addressed these topics.
  • Some intermediate grades listened to read aloud: Outsmarting Worry: An Older Kid’s Guide to Managing Anxiety by Dawn Heubner.
  • We looked at ways to increase social emotional regulation. One of the specific designs we used was to model some of the successful practices in some of our classrooms; we also shared about what we were trying at staff meetings, and even sent out a challenge to staff to try one thing new in this area (i.e. adding a soft start, daily physical activity, social emotional weekly check ins through a survey, etc.).

Taking Action: The principal, vice-principal, and Fine Arts teacher surveyed our Grade 1 to 7 students and had them reflect on the following statements:

Questions Percentage as 3-5 Percentage as 3-5
in 2018-2019 in 2021-2022

  • I am happy at school. (same as in 2018-2019) 94% 90%
  • I am happy outside of school. (new question this year)NA 94%
  • I feel comfortable and safe at Camp PVS. 92%
    (I feel welcome at Pleasant Valley in 2018-2019) 94%
  • I feel like an important member of my classroom. 88% 80%
    (same as in 2018-2019)
  • I feel like an important member of my school. 83% 78%
    (same as in 2018-2019)

The choices were:
Almost all of the time 5; Most of the time 4; Some of the time 3; A few times 2; None of the time 1

The final question was:

  • How many adults at Pleasant Valley do you think care about you and believe in you? 0 1 2 3 4 or more
  • How do you know they care about you?
    Questions Percentage as 2-5 in 2018-2019 Percentage as 2-5 in 2021-2022
    How many adults at PV care/believe 93% 92%

The results of the survey were first reviewed by the SEAL team members, then each classroom teacher met with a SEAL team member to review the data from the survey for their class along with information the teacher had gathered from their observations of the students and their class review, as well as any known supports the students were receiving at school (e.g. small group support around grief and loss). Teachers then determined what strategies they would implement with their class in order to make a difference. Strategies tried included:

  • implementing a soft start to the day
  • adding in additional daily physical activity and/or changing the time of the activity
  • teaching specific social-emotional lessons around approaching problems
  • implementing a self-manager strategy for students who are doing well academically and behaviourally, but were feeling not as connected in their classroom as the focus was on the students who needed more support
  • doing a weekly check-in (paper/pencil or via google form) – students could give their name or be anonymous
  • adding a sharing circle









Photo (left): A primary class having a soft start // Photo (right): An intermediate class have a vigorous and fun start to their day with daily physical activity

We also had regular sharing at staff meetings – talking about our goal and our strategies at every staff meeting to keep it on the forefront of people’s minds; it also gave people ideas to try and to just be more aware of the social emotional needs in their classrooms. This included book talks – sharing social emotional picture books and activities teachers have done with those books. This was a powerful way to hear how to take action and also have something small to try at first. We had a staff challenge to add something into their daily routine that helps with social emotional needs, then report out at the next staff meeting.

Checking: We believe that we made some inroads into all teachers adding more social-emotional focus into their practice. There is still a lot of work to be done in this area. Some teachers excel at this, but we would like to see all classrooms adopt a more fulsome routine that focuses on the social emotional needs of the students.

We did not re-administer the survey at the end of the year. Staff felt that they were determining if the strategies they were using were making a difference using other means. One class reported that they added a sharing circle every morning. In this circle they reported on which zone they were in – for zones of regulation – as well as practiced their Hul’qumi’num. The teacher reported an increase in self-regulation and was also able to refer back to the zones throughout the day. The biggest impact for her was how much more knowledge she gained about her kids and what was going on for them each day.

To monitor results from the initial survey, we had many classes continue to answer a smaller version of a survey that fit the needs of their classroom. It gave students an avenue to share any concerns, so that they could be monitored and acted upon by an adult if need be. This was helpful as it could decrease anxious feelings because they shared and then had some help. One teacher reported being able to get a student in their class some outside agency support, in working with the parents. In this situation, we may have never known this student needed extra support with their mental health. Staff felt that these regular check-ins provided more timely ongoing information than if we had redone the survey.





Photo (left): A sample of an intermediate weekly check-in form // Photo (right): A sample of a primary weekly check-in form

Reflections/Advice: We learned that this needs more work. We want to go deeper with where we were headed. At our final staff meeting, our staff put forward interest to continue our goal as a school goal in September. We learned that our students are going through a lot. Many have several aspects of their lives that are out of their control, and they need healthy and sustainable ways of going through these things. We learned that COVID truly had an impact on the mental health of many, and we need some school-wide strategies and support to help our students be ready to access the curriculum. We also were reminded of the power of a presenter to affect change. All staff had many take-aways from the session with Julie Anne Richards for themselves professionally, as well as personally. This helped to affect change in some of the staff members.

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