Many students are challenged with stress, anxiety and low self-esteem today and do not have the tools or strategies to combat this. It is critical that students learn and develop the skills to become more aware of their emotions, self-regulate, engage in meaningful conversations and make responsible decisions.
Some of the top skills employers are now seeking are soft skills. When making the decision to hire, employers want to feel confident that their employee can follow through with deadlines and drive leadership within a team, as well as effectively manage their workload. Generation Schools Network (GSN), an education nonprofit based in Denver, believes that schools can drive student success through intentionally teaching these skills during the school day and beyond.
GSN has an after-school advocacy program that promotes the overall well-being and development of students’ social and emotional learning (SEL), and college and career readiness (CCR) skills. The program is built around the foundation of relationships. Students need a school climate where they feel socially connected, valued and heard. Students want to try harder, remain motivated and show up to class when they know that they have someone rooting for them — they have an advocate.
We asked participants at a session at the PwrHrs Rural Afterschool Conference in November the questions: Who was your advocate during school? What was the characteristic/attribute that made your advocate stand out? How did they positively impact you with relationships, academics and behavior? How did they make you feel connected/engaged? Participants talked about a coach or a teacher, people who truly cared about their interests and life outside of school.
Staff shared effective SEL strategies they are already using in their classrooms: character building, positive self-talk, coping mechanisms, empathetic listening, sportsmanship instruction and bringing in guest speakers from the community. We informed staff that GSN’s advocacy program is a structure set up to directly teach these skills and strategies during a class session like advisory. Some topics include mindfulness, self-management, growth mindset and grit and healthy relationships.
A successful advocacy program helps students set and attain goals, make thoughtful decisions about the future, quickly identifies and addresses barriers to personal and educational success, and creates a safe and welcoming school community. During the 2018-19 school year, GSN conducted a teacher and student survey across 13 rural school districts in Colorado. Some of the results include: 92% of teachers responded positively to the statement “I have developed meaningful relationships with my advocacy/SEL students,” 90% of students responded positively to the statement “My advocacy/SEL teacher cares about me,” and 70% of students responded positively to the statement “I feel like my advocacy/SEL group is a safe space.”
One fourth grade advocacy student said they learned “to be kind to others always, never disrespect others, use teamwork … and how to deal with problems without violence.” What if all students believed this? Imagine how much more compassionate and reverent our world could be.
Ellen Sarkisian, senior project manager, leads the efforts of implementing Generation Schools Network’s SEL program across 14 school districts in Colorado and heads its communications and branding projects. She is passionate about the scientific understanding and practice of teaching and learning.