Why School Shootings are Extreme SEL Events at the Far End of the Social-Emotional Learning Continuum. . .
And Why Schools Need to Conduct SEL Audits and Needs Assessments to Decrease the Future Risks
Introduction: A Radio Realization
Every few months, the host of Education Talk Radio, Larry Jacobs, is gracious enough to invite me onto his program to talk about a current topic in education. As a school psychologist, I often bring psychology’s research-to-practice into the discussions which typically focus on school discipline, classroom management, social-emotional learning, and/or how to help students with challenging behaviors.
But we also deal with only with contemporary issues that face our schools—including some of the most current, challenging situations and events.
When preparing for our June 2nd show on How to Complete an SEL Needs Assessment, I began thinking about my last two Blogs, and then how all three topics were necessarily related.
Reconceptualizing Professional Development for the Coming School Year: Moving Away from Fly-by, “Spray and Pray,” and Awareness-Only Training
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How Many More Children Need to be Gunned Down in our Schools and on our Streets?A Historical Plea to Protect our Children from the Politics of Polarization
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The result was an Education Talk Radio interview emphasizing that some of the most prevalent psychoeducational root causes of many school shootings have been:
- Students who have been teased, bullied, rejected, or isolated by their peers in school and/or on social media;
- School staff who are not fully trained, miss, ignore, or avoid addressing peer teasing and bullying, or individual students’ social, emotional, behavioral, or mental health “red flags”. . . . or, Administrators who do the same thing even when staff correctly refer students to them;
- Schools that are “doing” SEL. . . but what they are doing is not based on (a) objective, data-based Needs Assessments of their current status or needs, (b) approaches that have been objectively validated through sound and relevant research, and (c) strategies focused on student outcomes—that is, changing students’ interpersonal, social problem-solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional awareness, control, communication, and coping skills and behaviors; and
- Faulty, incomplete, and/or poorly or under-staffed multi-tiered services, supports, strategies, and interventions that especially address students’ appropriate and inappropriate social interactions, and students who need strategic or intensive approaches to address their challenging behavior or mental health needs.
The revelation (or integration) coalesced into today’s Blog. . . that literally:
School shootings are extreme events at the far end of the social-emotional learning continuum that often occur due to a combination of incomplete preventative practices at the front end, and ineffective responsive practices at the back end; and
Schools need (right now!) to conduct comprehensive SEL Audits and Needs Assessments to decrease the risks of school shootings (as well as continued peer teasing, taunting, bullying, harassment, hazing, and physical aggression) in the coming school year.
To emphasize these points, please invest 36-minutes and listen to my Education Talk Radio interview from a few weeks ago:
June 2, 2022 How to Complete an SEL Needs Assessment
Education Talk Radio hosted by Larry Jacobs
How One Webpage of Education Week Validates Today’s Thesis
As I prepared to write this Blog, I also reviewed some of the relevant stories over the past two weeks in Education Week.
On one Education Week browser page, I found the following titles:
- “School Shootings this Year: How Many and Where”
- “After Uvalde Shooting, Build Up Current School Mental Health Efforts, Groups Urge Congress”
- “Strengthening Social-Emotional Learning Practices for Students and Staff”
- “7 Ways to Cultivate a Climate of Belonging”
- “A Seat at the Table: Staffing Issues Are Not New. What Do We Do for Next Year?”
- “How Much Time Should Schools Spend on Social-Emotional Learning?”
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Critically. . . at least to me, the confluence of these stories on one page validated my thesis in the first section above.
At the same time, beyond the fact that (a) schools are not conceptualizing the prevention of school shootings as linked to their SEL approaches, and that (b) most schools’ SEL approaches are not based on identified student needs or demonstrated outcomes, I have two additional concerns:
- Even though they have the money to hire them, many schools are struggling with recruiting, hiring, and retaining well-trained counselors, school psychologists, and clinical social workers whose roles can be prioritized to focus on students’ social, emotional, and mental health needs; and
- Schools are still “pigeon-holing” their SEL approaches to a time of the day (week, or month), an on-line curriculum, or a theme or monthly assembly.
Indeed, as in the last May 22, 2022 Education Week article above, the following quotes appeared:
In interviews with Education Week, social-emotional learning experts said that spending some classroom time explicitly teaching social-emotional skills is important, but what matters even more is effectively integrating the skills—such as time management, collaboration skills, and responsible decision-making—into everything that students are learning in school and in after-school programs.
School district leaders also recognize that social-emotional learning needs to not only be taught explicitly at times but also be embedded throughout the school day. And some even said an hour a day would be excellent.
“Well, if we had an hour a day to explicitly support SEL, that’d be amazing,” said Jill Bryant, assistant director of social-emotional learning for the Portland Public Schools in Oregon. “But then I would just go a step beyond that. It really needs to be woven into the fabric of everything we do all day, even after-school programs as well.”
“There isn’t a time limit for it,” said Juany Valdespino-Gaytán, executive director of engagement services for the Dallas Independent School District. “When we talk about social-emotional learning in Dallas, we’re not talking about SEL happening at one time of the day. SEL has to be taught and embedded throughout the entire day in order for students to really have the opportunity to develop those skills and apply these skills to everyday life.”
The SEL Needs Assessment Process
Putting all of this together, especially as districts and schools close out the current school year and prepare for the “hard” opening of the new school year in August or September, it only makes sense to:
- Analyze student, staff, and schools’ social, emotional, and behavioral progress, outcomes, and status from this past school year;
- Identify the approaches, activities, and initiatives that are working and need to be maintained or extended;
- Identify the approaches, activities, and initiatives that are not working and need to be phased out, retired, or discontinued;
- Identify the service, support, and intervention gaps that are resulting in unmet student needs. . . determine their root causes, and research and link proactive, strategic, or intensive actions to address those causes and needs; and
- Complete an audit to determine how to best align the curricular, intervention, technological, and staffing resources in a district and its schools to meet as many student needs as possible (while identifying the resource and staffing gaps that simultaneously need to be successfully addressed and closed).
This requires a formal or informal needs assessment, resource analysis, and strategic planning process.
Moreover, while this process could focus largely on student, staff, and schools’ multi-tiered social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health needs, students’ academic learning and mastery—through curriculum and instruction—also should be included as an interdependent domain.
To guide this complex, multi-stage process, we have developed a research-based blueprint in our Monograph:
Strategic Planning and Continuous School Improvement: Needs Assessments and Resource Analyses. Completing Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat (SWOT) Assessments
The Monograph discusses the science-to-practice components of an effective multi-tiered (a) academic instruction and student learning support system; and (b) social-emotional learning and positive behavioral support system.
It also provides a step-by-step description of (a) the phases of an effective Strategic Planning process; and (b) how to conduct a Needs Assessment, and a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT/Resource) Analysis.
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AND. . . through July 10th, this Monograph—and ALL other Electronic Monographs, On-Line Courses, and Stop & Think Social Skills Program materials are 25% OFF as an End-of-Year Celebration.
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As noted above, the Strategic Planning Monograph describes the five phases of an effective strategic planning process. These are:
- Phase 1. Assessing the Organizational Readiness of the School for Strategic Planning/Conducting Needs Assessments and Audits
- Phase 2. Writing the School Improvement Plan
- Phase 3. Establishing the Infrastructure to Implement the Plan
- Phase 4. Implementing, Monitoring, and Evaluating the Plan
- Phase 5. Reviewing, Retooling, and Renewing the Plan
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As also outlined in the Monograph, the entire process is designed to answer six fundamental questions:
- How do districts and schools design and deliver an evidence-based academic and instruction system that successfully addresses the differentiated needs of all students while improving their rates of learning such that they progress through the grade levels and graduate from high school with the applied skills needed for college and/or career success?
- How do districts and schools create a functional assessment and progress monitoring continuum that is curriculum-based, that can track students’ learning and mastery over time, while also guiding the development of successful, strategic or intensive interventions when students do not respond to effective instruction?
- How do districts and schools design and deliver an evidence-based school discipline, classroom management, and student self-management (or positive behavioral support system) that increases all students’ interpersonal, social problem-solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional control and coping skills; that creates safe and connected classroom and school environments; and that maximizes students’ motivation and their academic engagement, independence, and confidence?
- How do districts and schools create functional assessment and progress monitoring approaches to track students’ social, emotional, and behavioral learning, progress, and mastery that are ecologically-based and culturally-sensitive; that can evaluate student, classroom, and school outcomes; that can facilitate the development of successful strategic and/or intensive interventions when students do not respond?
- How do districts and schools increase our parent outreach and involvement so that all parents are motivated, capable, and involved in activities that support and reinforce the education of all students? To complement this, how do we increase our community outreach and involvement so that real interagency and community collaboration occurs—resulting in effective, efficient, and integrated services to all students at needed prevention, strategic intervention, and intensive service levels?
- Finally, how do districts and schools design and deliver these activities as an integrated, unified educational system through a strategic planning and organizational development process that braids data-based functional assessment and problem-solving to guide decision-making with ongoing formative and summative evaluation? Moreover, how do we institutionalize this process such that it becomes self-generating, self-replicating, and responsive to current and future student, staff, and school needs?
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If districts and schools can answer these questions and meet these needs, they will not only improve their chances of maximizing students’ academic and social, emotional, and behavioral success, but they will also help to prevent the next school shooting.
This latter goal can be facilitated if district and schools add a school safety audit to the strategic planning process.
The School Safety Audit and Emergency/Crisis Prevention Process
I know that I can’t provide all of the information needed to fully address the issues that I write about in these Blogs. And yet, I always try to provide evidence-based blueprints to help guide your analyses and actions.
Over the years, once they read a specific Blog, many administrators, supervisors, program directors, and others contact me, asking for the more personal, consultative support needed to apply and implemented the things that I discuss.
I love when this happens. . . because I love to work, personally and collaboratively, with colleagues to help them to solve their significant, persistent, or systemic challenges.
And to “give back” to those who contact me, I always provide the first consultation—individually or with a selected team of professionals—for free.
While we need political and practical solutions toward preventing future Uvaldes (and Sandy Hooks. . . and Columbines. . . and so many others), districts and schools need to still take the actions that they can.
While we are all ready for the summer break, I hope that our educational leaders still recognize that the “next leg” of our students’ “educational marathon” begins in a few short months.
We need to recognize that school shootings—and other, related horrendous and extreme calamitous and crisis-oriented events—are part of the SEL continuum. Many of these events can be prevented by creating systems that:
- Build positive school and classroom climates, and reinforce prosocial and meaningful relationships;
- Teach all students interpersonal, social problem-solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional awareness, control, communication, and coping skills;
- Decrease or eliminate peer (and staff) teasing, taunting, bullying, harassment, hazing, and physical aggression;
- Provide multi-tiered services, supports, strategies, and interventions for students with social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health challenges; and
- Recognize and respond to the early warning indicators that sometimes lead to anti-social interactions, violence, and injury/loss of life.
If I can help you, your colleagues, and/or your school, district, or professional setting to address your students’ social, emotional, or behavioral challenges through a Needs Assessment or Implementation Process, send me an email and let’s set up a time to talk.