Since becoming a house principal, I have worked to establish and promote meaningful relationships among both staff and students. These connections create stronger foundations which encourage social, emotional, and, in turn, academic progressions.
Teaching and Learning
“When students experience caring and connectedness at school, they exhibit academic, social, and ethical benefits including greater enjoyment of learning, stronger motivation to act kindly towards others, and stronger feelings of social competence.” —Breaking Ranks, NASSP, 1996.
Each month for the past six-plus years, I have met with new teachers in our building and facilitated an agenda, which includes operational information and collaborative guidance on the best ways to engage in the important work we do each day with students. Our New Teacher Manual has helped establish a common mindset and highlight instructional approaches, giving teachers a tool kit for promoting the highest level of achievement possible for each student.
We also built a framework for dialog surrounding teaching and learning at Trumbull High School. By providing pertinent articles of practice while offering experiences that I (or others) have learned from, we opened the floor for others to share. This helped show the importance of social-emotional learning (SEL) as a key tool in increasing academic success.
Through programs like this, I have seen firsthand the renewed commitment to continuous refinement of curriculum and instructional practices to incorporate stronger systems of support for all students. These visible outcomes, in combination with a distinct devotion to collaboration and communication across the community, has afforded our staff opportunities to work together toward a common goal, enabling them to better learn from one another and further develop their practices. As a result, our school community’s work ethic has been revitalized.
One of the main focuses of our work has been the creation and implementation of our schoolwide advisory connections program. Its goal remains to provide opportunities for students to cultivate stronger relationships with their peers and a faculty mentor. The program had an immediate positive impact on the climate for the over 2,400 students and staff. We continue to revise the advisory program curricula to provide opportunities for students to think more critically, develop problem-solving techniques, and enhance their communication skills, all while learning to respect and value diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
As students and staff feel safe and comfortable, they then have the platform to begin to produce more. Relationships and connections help establish a solid foundation that allows for true learning to take place and progress to be made.
“Education includes the development of mind (soul) and body.” —Socrates
To further increase student achievement, we as a community must continue to improve systems of support for all our learners. The connection between academics and social and emotional development remains pivotal in students who are attaining specific learning targets, allowing for more advanced learning opportunities.
The first step in implementation is to acknowledge that we all have a role in supporting students. Our collective lenses—be it as an administrator, teacher, school counselor, school psychologist, social worker, or volunteer—all are critical in avoiding barriers to learning. Together, we need to dispel the “myth of average,” as there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, we must challenge ourselves to design to the edges to create programs that are customized to our students. Ultimately, our formula to empower students is:
Social Awareness/Development + Emotional Awareness/Development = More Academic Successes
Please consider the idea that there is no average student, and think about our own roles within student support systems to help them push closer to the edges!
Todd G. Manuel is a house principal at Trumbull High School in Trumbull, CT, and the 2020 Connecticut Assistant Principal of the Year. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.