Warner ES: Dedicating Time to SEL & Mental Health
No “quick fix” to SEL & Mental Health
Ben Gilpin understands there’s no “quick fix” in education. This is something he reminds his teachers often. He even wrote a blog post at the beginning of this school year titled, “What’s Your Rush?” where he explains the importance of slowing down and building a culture of learning. He explains:
“Learn about your students. Show them you care. Take time to get to know them as people and not simply students. Remember, the educating of a child is much more than academics, it’s also the social and emotional sides as well.”
It comes as no surprise that Warner Elementary, where Gilpin is principal, is at the forefront of social emotional learning. Warner ES is located in Spring Arbor, Michigan and is a part of Western School District. Gilpin has been the principal at Warner ES for the past eight school years, where he has focused on collaboration, teamwork, student engagement and leadership. Gilpin began his career as a fifth grade teacher before transitioning into the leadership role and has always believed in a “whole-child” philosophy.
Over the past three years Gilpin has noticed some changes within students. A drop in student empathy, more “me-centered” attitudes, and a growing need for instant gratification were a few of his concerns. Some of the issues, he thinks, can be attributed to social media and the large chunks of time students spend on technology. He also noticed an increase in mental health issues, which was particularly troubling because he knew he and his team were not yet fully equipped to handle them. He knew he needed to provide his staff with a “toolbox” to help address the social and emotional needs of their students.
Implementing SEL initiatives
Gilpin went to work putting SEL supports and initiatives in place. His first step was to fight for a budget increase that would allow a social worker to be on site five days a week. The school then began a partnership with Kids Hope USA, which partners students with an adult mentor to meet with weekly.
It’s not uncommon for people’s immediate response to an increase in behavior issues to be more intense discipline. Gilpin looked into a program called “conscious discipline,” but after further research he felt that the work they needed to do would have to be more “proactive” rather than “reactive” if they wanted to see a systemic change - something that would allow students to work through the feelings and emotions that might be causing an uptick in behavior issues. This is where Move This World stepped in.
Gilpin knew he couldn’t implement a program without teacher buy in and was firmly against a group of teachers “piloting”. He believes that in order to truly assess impact it needed to be “all or nothing,” particularly when it comes to building a common language around mental health and improving school culture. Once Gilpin had at least 80% of his teachers on board, they were ready to begin implementation.
Strengthening social and emotional wellbeing
Since Warner ES began prioritizing social emotional learning, 85% of students have shown positive improvements in their behavior and in demonstrating stronger emotional intelligence. Move This World’s opening day videos have also helped teachers better identify which students need more intense interventions and support. The videos have provided students with an opportunity identify, discuss and manage their emotions and they give teachers a safe space to take the emotional temperature of the room, which allows them to better meet the needs of their students.
On February 22, Warner hosted a breakfast workshop where teachers, principals and district leaders in the area came to hear about the work they’ve implemented surrounding social emotional learning. Gilpin clearly recognizes the importance of social emotional learning and focuses on the needs of the whole child. He hopes that more and more people will begin prioritizing student and teacher wellbeing, as well.
“Society, in general, needs changing. Mental health is still largely taboo, which is harming us all. We all need to learn how to identify high-needs students and be knowledgeable about the different supports, intervention options, and programs available.”
Ben Gilpin is an elementary school principal who is passionate about leadership, positive relationships, continuous improvement, connected learning, and making differences in the lives of other. Ben regularly presents at local, state, and national professional learning conferences, is an active education blogger and hosts the podcast UnearthED. For more about Ben, check out BenGilpin.com or follow him on Twitter @benjamingilpin.