With hundreds of students in multiple grade levels, sometimes an elementary school can be an energetic place, some may even say a bit chaotic. But at Sherwood Heights Elementary in Pendleton, Oregon, many visitors comment that the school seems fairly quiet; some even say calm. That’s intentional, says Principal Ronda Smith, and it has taken a lot of time, effort, and work to make it that way and keep it going.
Smith, along with Sherwood’s teachers, staff, and students, is committed to Social Emotional Learning (SEL), and their focus is evident school-wide. Every morning, teachers spend 30 minutes with their students working on SEL, including self-regulation strategies, mindfulness, breathing techniques, and more, to make the most of learning. Every instructional assistant starts their day with 10 minutes in the cafeteria practicing Brain Smart Start, which teaches proactive, positive activities to support students in being ready to learn.
If you walk around Sherwood, you will see SEL activities on display, including a Time Machine Mat. This yellow banner attached to the wall enables two students with a conflict to work it out together using SEL strategies they have learned. Trace the Rainbow offers a colorful, tactile experience to help students re-focus. There are other reminders about feelings, safety, taking a deep breath, and wishing others well. Sherwood uses the Purposeful People curriculum and the Conscious Discipline program to help in their SEL work.
Smith said trauma-informed practices and SEL create a consistent, positive climate at school, which helps students be ready to learn and stay focused even when stressful situations occur. “Yes, students will have behavior issues and get off task, but when we respond with positive intent and strategies, we help students refocus on learning rather than removing them from education,” Smith said.
Detailed routines, clear rules, expectations, and intentional commitment by staff and students contribute to a successful learning climate. Smith said that when you create a safe, predictable environment for humans, it’s confidence and self-esteem building, even for adults.