SEADing the Growth of Both Students and Staff

By Abner Oakes

ISA's Director of Outreach


(The following post is by Carolyne Quintana, former principal at ISA partner school Bronxdale High School and newly appointed executive director of the Affinity Schools office at the NYC Department of Education.)

I generally spend the summers between school years reflecting on data and programming decisions, and other logistical pieces such as those, as I prep for the new school year. I often meet with teams of teachers and engage in conversations about practices and resources for the upcoming year. 

But not this year. This year, I’m preparing for a transition away from Bronxdale, and that work has included some coaching conversations, some passing on of information, and a great deal of letting go. It has been a challenge. I know that ultimately I’ll successfully transition out and move into my new role with confidence, because of the various systems in place at the schoolprofessional, academic, and other. Mostly, I’m able to make this move, including the emotionally challenging parts, because of the relationships that exist at the school. The community has shown me love and encouragement; and, more importantly, I’ve watched them rally behind their new leadership and support one another as they enter into a new phase at Bronxdale. I’ve seen staff members step up to take on new roles, engage in leadership, mentor colleagues, and more. They’re excited about change and growth, because they’ve helped build a supportive, caring community for students and staff alike. 

When we talk about socio-emotional and academic environments and practices, we often jump to those protocols and methods that we can teach students to employ to help them engage in work. We think about those strategies for which we’ve received training that are about resolving conflict. We consider those tools we’ve been provided or have created that are intended to help students get to know themselves as learners and speakers.  

I’ve seen the social, emotional, and academic development (SEAD) work in which Bronxdale has engaged having fully positive impact on our teachers’ pedagogical practices and on student outcomes.

Our students reflect on their work and know how to provide and seek help. They give suggestions on what to do to improve their own skills and increase their knowledge. With support, they can interact with the differences of others, even when conflict is present. Teachers have fostered classroom spaces committed to student growth and development, classrooms in which students take risks and make mistakesclassrooms which bolster learning.  

Research shows that student academic performance and graduation rates improve when schools consistently integrate SEAD into their practice and curricula. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has identified five core SEL competenciesself-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, responsible decision makingand we’ve worked with ISA coaches to specifically address those areas across grades and disciplines. While our graduation rates are not where we want them yet, we continue to outperform the Borough and our designated peer schools, and we have seen our attendance rates improve. (See here.)

We know that deliberate SEAD programs improve students’ ability to integrate a range of skills (e.g., socio-emotional, interpersonal, and academic) to effectively handle challenges. It’s no surprise then, that in schools where SEAD is part of the framework, 27 percent more students improved their academic performance, and 24 percent more saw a boost in their emotional well-being and social behavior. (More info here.)

Clearly, efforts around SEAD have a positive impact on our students. However, when we emphasize only students’ capacities and behaviors, we overlook the impact of this work on the school as a whole and, in particular, on the adults. We have seen an improvement in school climate and our efforts to create a caring community in which students, staff, and visitors experience a deep sense of belonging; this SEAD work has changed our staff, too. 

At Bronxdale, some of this has happened purposefully as a result of what we collectively believed and strived to create. We trained staff to learn language and strategies to better inter-relate with others; we taught staff to de-escalate conflict; we asked staff to take a learner stance; and we modeled making and owning mistakes and sharing the learning that came from that. At the same time, we increased the time we spent with our ISA coaches to help teachers develop non-cognitive practices and build up their SEAD skills and knowledge. We built up traditions and we included fun. As the principal, I made non-negotiables evident and stated very clearly what I expected to see and not see/hear in terms of adult behavior. As a result, we are developing socially, emotionally, and cognitively competent school staff.

These experiences were designed to improve outcomes for our young people, but they’ve also improved the ability of adults to move through life as well. They have allowed us to embrace changeexpress emotion, and become closer to one another, modeling the impact and importance of positive relationships. Research shows that people with “healthy social and emotional development are more successful in the workforce and experience greater lifetime well-being.” Deliberate SEAD work, along with our beliefs about schools as caring communities, has helped us all develop our own social-emotional capacities.

I’m thankful for the community I helped build and now leave behind. I’m a better leader and person because we engaged in such meaningful practice together. I look forward to the journey to come, for both Bronxdale and for me.