KCS counseling focuses on social-emotional learning

Chloe McConnell, Editor in Chief

The rise of SEL, or “Social Emotional Learning”, has created an argument among students and faculty. Some think it is necessary and helpful, whereas others think it is a waste of time. All Kingsport schools have implemented SEL into their school days. Is it really helpful and productive?

SEL is meant to teach students skills that help manage their emotions and reach their goals. It is also supposed to teach them to see other people’s point of views and emotions, and how to make responsible decisions.

Lisa King is a counselor at John Sevier Middle School. She believes that SEL is beneficial.

“Social-Emotional Learning represents all people having the knowledge and skills to be successful in school, work, and life,” she said. “We recognize that for all people, these skills have to be taught and practiced. These skills hit all parts of life and are used daily, even when we don’t recognize it.”

Annette True, a science teacher, agrees that SEL is important, but does not think it is implemented correctly.

“SEL is super important, but pulling it out into a separate time, where one class period is working on it each 9 weeks, is not effective,” she said. “I think SEL should be integrated into the regular classroom as a part of regular instruction. A separate time is unnatural and artificial.”

Currently, SEL is a seperate class and takes up 20 minutes each school day. Some teachers and students think that this time could be better spent doing something else.

“Recess [would be a better option], or at least silent reading if recess is not an option,” True said.

Kate Flora, a seventh grade student, believes that SEL is important.

“I feel like SEL can be a time where teachers connect with their students as a person rather than a student,” she said.

Sam Perdue, an eighth grade student, disagrees.

“I feel that SEL time could be put to better use and isn’t taken as seriously as it was intended to be,” he said. “The 20 minute time of SEL could be used for homework and questions with teachers that couldn’t be answered in class.”

A few years ago, self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making were weak areas for many Sevier students.

“We began to recognize the need for teaching and growth in these areas,” Kelli Ferguson, a counselor at Sevier Middle, said. “Dr. Flora approached the counselors for assistance. Research shows that students who are specifically exposed to SEL growth activities also show academic gains and feel more connected.”

Part of SEL time in Kingsport City Schools involves “Naviance”, a college planning porgram.

“Naviance does have a college piece, but it also has a career piece,” King said. “Beyond that, it also has several self-exploration pieces, which is a lot of our focus at Sevier. Through Naviance, we try to address self-awareness, self-management, goal setting and responsible decision making.”

The goal is for the student body to discover their strengths and interests, then use those to plan for the future. “Naviance” has lots of information about what someone needs to be successful in a variety of jobs.

Even students who support SEL feel that there is room for improvement.

“I think SEL needs to improve by having more benefits, because to me it doesn’t seem very involved,” Flora said. “I think that the 20 minutes of extra time should be spent talking to our friends and a little break of free time.”

Studies show that people perform better when they have connections. So, when a teacher and a student get along, the student is more likely to do well in that class.

“We understand the pressure faced by teachers,” Ferguson said. “While students are held to many expectations, teachers are held to many expectations, as well. We encourage teachers to use the SEL time to build relationships.”

Many students enjoy building relationships in circle time. A weekly program called “Second Step” is not nearly as popular.

“My least favorite SEL activity is Second Step because it’s time consuming and hard to take seriously,” Perdue said, “SEL time could be improved by not doing or replacing Second Step.”

True agrees.

“My least favorite are the pre-planned computer programs; ‘Second Step’ and ‘Naviance’,” she said. “I think ‘Naviance’ is useful in planning for high school and beyond, but the kids so hate it from the lessons, that they cannot get past that. ‘Second Step’ is contrived and not interesting to students.”

The goal of “Second Step” is for middle school students to get focused practice using their social and emotional skills.

“All people need practice on these skills,” King said. “No one gets it right all of the time. Adults have just had more practice.”

Goal setting is another popular activity. Goal Setting allows students to keep up and manage their grades. Without a goal setting time, a lot of students wouldn’t even know what their grades look like.

“I think some ideas of SEL are effective, such as Goal Setting and Circle Time,” Perdue said.  “My favorite SEL activity is Goal Setting because it keeps me updated on my progress in all my classes.”

Looking at the big picture, SEL seems to be doing its job and improving students’ attitude and grades.

“SEL is a major focus in the state and across the country at this time,” King said. “At Sevier, we are 3 years ahead of most schools. We often have other schools that contact us for information about our program, our SEL survey data has been presented at the state level, ‘Second Step’ has developed a very giving relationship with us based on our program and results, and we are part of a KCS district SEL committee that is focusing on how to incorporate SEL expectations system wide.”

The SEL program appears to have already had an impact on students in Kingsport.

“We have seen improvements in discipline reports, down 50% in the first full year of SEL,” Ferguson said. “Students report feeling more connected, teachers report more students being aware of their academics and goals, and improvements in identifying feelings and conflict resolution.”