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The Power of Partnership, Innovation and Learning

School Desk Blog: Blending Academic and Social-Emotional Learning

The Ukiah Unified School District (UUSD) mission statement declares: “We will challenge and inspire our students to value different perspectives and become successful, contributing citizens in an increasingly interdependent world.” From preschool through high school, UUSD staff work diligently every day to support our students in the three traditional Rs that are taught in schools: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. 

One could easily argue that every successful citizen needs to be proficient in language arts and math skills. However, today folks live in a time of modern media and technology giving us access to ideas and people from all around the planet. These positive outcomes also come with challenges. Environmental, health, economic inequality, and poverty challenges, to name a few. The future generation will inherit these problems, and it is our job as educators to give students the skills they will need to solve them.

In the past, many educators assumed that students should leave their feelings at the door if they were serious about learning and wanted to be successful. Academic and social-emotional issues were considered separate, and anything that did not directly relate to students’ academic performance needed to be dealt with outside the classroom. However, it is plain to see that emotions and academics are not separate if we are preparing students to be “college and career ready.”

The question is, what are we doing about the challenge of melding academics and social skills at Nokomis Elementary? Nokomis and all UUSD schools have implemented multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) for our students. 

What are the MTSS tiers? Tier 1 – Universal Instruction: The high-quality classroom instruction that all students receive. This tier encompasses proven methods, teaching missing skills, and is continuously refined by looking at what is working in Tier 2 and Tier 3. 

Tier 2 – Targeted, Group Interventions: The evidence-based supports provided to students who are identified as struggling. Tier 2 interventions are typically implemented in small group settings, based on a similar need detected through student evaluations. 

Tier 3 – Intensive, Individualized Interventions: The supports implemented for students not responding to Tier 2 supports. Tier 3 supports provide more frequent, intense, and individualized interventions. Usually, districts expect to see 1-5% of their students receiving Tier 3 services. 

At Nokomis Elementary, every educator knows that reading is perhaps the most vital skill to ensure academic and life-long success. To support students who need extra reading intervention, Tier II small group instruction is used in grades Kindergarten through 3rd, focusing on specific skills that will help each student become an independent learner.

Social-emotional learning is addressed by another set of Three Rs at Nokomis: Ready, Responsible, and Respectful. We use these Three Rs as our Postive Behavior Intervention System (PBIS). PBIS is defined as a framework for addressing behavior through the prevention-oriented structuring of research-based interventions and supports in a hierarchical and progressive manner for improved behavioral and academic outcomes. In practice, PBIS also has three tiers of increasingly intensive and individualized behavior interventions and supports, as well as a system of data collection and analysis. 

Nokomis students are awarded tickets by teachers and staff when they are observed being responsible, respectful, and ready. Students collect the tickets and eventually redeem them for prizes. Students who demonstrate the Three Rs are also recognized at assemblies each month.

Challenging and inspiring our students to value different perspectives and become successful, contributing citizens in an increasingly interdependent world is the goal. While the goal is to improve outcomes for kids, that improvement comes from the adults in a school system changing the way they work and the actions they take. Melding academics and social-emotional learning through the use of multi-tiered systems of support will prepare our students to solve the problems they will face as adults.