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Building Habits of Success in Disengaged Youth

Teacher: Jennie Hallisey
School: Boston Day and Evening Academy

The Challenge:
Our proposal was to figure out how to revive our habits of success and how to teach the skills associated with those habits. A very large percentage of our students are struggling with difficult life circumstances, trauma, and mental health issues. Many have not learned emotional problem-solving skills and this impacts their school attendance, their effectiveness when in school, and interactions with peers as well as school staff. A great deal of research exists around teaching these skills, and we have implemented it in some areas of our school’s roadmap with our Habits of Success; however, we need to explore further how we can incorporate these into every element of our students’ academic journey.


What did your team do about it?:
We examined the SEL practices within our own school and how these connected to our Habits of Success. As members of a workgroup, we analyzed a staff online survey that collected data on SEL practices within our school. We expanded our own learning by reviewing SEL research, current books and articles related to SEL practices.
We interviewed (and visited some), SEL team leaders/members in five BPS high schools and Ardsley H.S. in New York. The focus of each interview was to gather information connected to their experience with specific SEL curriculums and practices which included STEPS-A/DBT, Restorative Practices/Circles, and PBIS. Our main challenge in this process was the coordination of our busy schedules to conduct the interviews and visits.

Impact on Students:
This research will have an impact on our students by informing the development of our school-wide SEL practices. Based on our conversations with other schools, as well as our own learning, we have had an opportunity to gather information on what has worked and not worked in different high school settings as well as research based “Best Practices.”
Our survey results demonstrated that as a staff we care about our students and value SEL, however the implementation of SEL practices were very inconsistent. Input from current and former students confirmed what we had known about the “teaching of the Habits of Success skills” within our school; the habits are introduced however there is no follow through of the practice of the skills associated with the habits.

Teacher Leadership and School Community:
One of our biggest takeaways was that we are not alone in the quest to incorporate social-emotional learning. Everyone we spoke with emphasized that in order to implement ideas and supports, you need time and “buy in” from colleagues. We were specifically able to bring this work to our Strategic Plan Workgroup that centered around Pedagogical Framework and Implementation. This work gave us the space to break down our school’s values and practices around SEL. We established the Habits of Success as a framework by which we can teach the skills and establish behavioral norms that will improve student engagement and success.


What’s Next?
Our research fits into the work of our school-wide strategic plan which has given us broader access to staff input and engagement regarding SEL. We will share our findings with the workgroup. Recommendations include re-instituting an SEL group to provide leadership and coordinate efforts around school-wide SEL implementation and creating a “Zen Den” for students to clear their minds and take a break.
Many staff are interested in exploring restorative practices for our school and it seems promising for SEL. We will encourage our school to offer related professional development to interested staff. This ongoing consultation will support our work by teaching staff specific strategies and skills for supporting students with their SEL.


Helping Others:
Our best resource was other teachers and behavioral health specialists within our own Boston schools as well as an entire behavioral health network in White Plains, New
York. We will continue to be a resource within our own building as the work continues
and we share our learning with others within our BPS networks and other SEL
communities. Our survey, though tailored to our school, might be of interest to a school who wants to evaluate their own SEL practices.