How a Social/Emotional Philosophy Changed an Elementary School


Today was the last day with our kiddos at East Side Elementary School.  This is also my 9th year as principal/lead learner for the East Side Elementary School in Gouverneur New York.  We are a rural district in northern New York with about a total population of a little bit over 1,600 pupils.  At East Side, we currently serve 463 pupils, PreK-5 and I oversee 61 staff, including 43 teachers and staff that are under my supervision.

Four years ago, I heard about Responsive Classroom and noticed that Patrick Shaw, a trainer from the Syracuse area and the OCM BOCES was holding training sessions in Watertown, NY at the Jefferson-County BOCES center.  One of our second grade teachers wanted to go, so with permission from the assistant superintendent, we sent her to bring back the information.  She was hooked, implemented the program and philosophy into her classroom and would continually invite me into the class to see what was happening.  I would ask her to come to our staff meeting and show Morning Meeting and talk about the philosophy with our staff.  After that year, I made a plan for all of our classroom teachers to either take the 5 day course in the summer along with me, or be trained in the fall.

Needless to say, the classroom teachers were thrilled to sign up.  Anytime as a principal that I can learn along with my staff, I will do that, so we have common language, hence the title Lead Learner!  (See Michael Fullan, The Principal)  What happened drastically was that we all had a common philosophy and a belief that the social and emotional curriculum was just as important as the academic curriculum.

Discipline referrals drastically went down.  Teachers talked to the kids and would take action on the “minor” incidents in the classroom rather than sending it to me.  What really has worked is implementing one of the RC components: Morning Meeting.  This is a time when the teacher can really get to know his or her students in the classroom.  It is the “heart” of the RC philosophy and starts the day, every day!  Morning Meeting has four components:  1. A Greeting; 2. Sharing 3. A Group Activity 4. A Morning Message.  You can read about Morning Meeting here.  It truly builds the community in the classroom and permeates throughout the building.

So, are you wondering what the data looks like with discipline referrals? Below is a simple chart to show you the data over 5 years.  (We implemented Responsive Classroom during the 2011-2012 school year!)

 Referrals School Year
192 2008-2009
161 2009-2010
142 2010-2011
64 2011-2012
52 2012-2013
21 2013-2014


Here it is in graph form:

 Discipline Data

Pretty amazing isn’t it, from 192 referrals to 21.  Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that we do not do discipline.  It is how we work with our students, putting in logical consequences and understanding that kids do make mistakes. Some may think we are soft, but what we are doing is working with our kids and our parents to help model best behavior and to have our children leave East Side with a strong social and emotional foundation so that they can be productive young adults as they enter our Middle School.

My friend and colleague Lisa Meade had a recent blog here about discipline and implementing PBIS in her school.  She ended her blog with, “We all make mistakes.  In life, its’ not about the mistake.  It’s about how you recover from it and what you learn about yourself.”  This is what a social and emotional curriculum can do for you if you implement something, anything, to help your students and staff form a community and relationships.  In the end, it is all about relationships between student to teacher, and teacher to student, as well as school to home and home to school.  Put in an S/E curriculum and watch your school change for the better!

  1. #1 by Carol Varsalona (@cvarsalona) on June 25, 2014 - 6:51 pm

    Vickyi, glad to hear you and your staff will receive training on social/emotional learning since it’s an important part of school life. Continue to let the positive spirit reign in your building.

  1. Responsive Classroom® Changes Schools in Upstate NY | OCM BOCES Instructional Support
  2. The Power of Responsive Classroom | The East Side Monday Focus

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