This brief on social and emotional learning (SEL) is based on a research study conducted by Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute (MVLRI). During this study, several school districts within the state of Michigan were surveyed and interviewed to discuss the impact of the Suite360 program within their schools.
Social and emotional learning in Michigan
Across the country, social and emotional learning has been rising in importance as schools continually seek to assist students with navigating both their home and academic lives. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), “Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” In Michigan, the emphasis of educating the “whole child” has risen to be among the highest of priorities. As part of Michigan’s Top 10 in 10 Years initiative, school districts are moving beyond focusing solely on students’ academic needs, and they are addressing students’ cognitive, physical, behavioral, social, and emotional needs as well.
Michigan Virtual supports this initiative by providing the Suite360 program to schools and districts throughout the state. Suite360 is a student curriculum that consists of a curated library of thousands of educational videos, articles, activities, surveys, heuristics reflections, and lessons on topics critical to students’ social, emotional, and behavioral needs. Suite360 is research and evidence-backed, with content aligned to the standards developed by CASEL and mapped to the grade-specific learning objectives published by various federal and state education boards.
The Suite360 student curriculum is accompanied by a companion program for parents and professional development for staff and administrators. Curriculum topics for students are assigned by school district personnel as needed. The Suite360 program also has a restorative justice program for students who need extra support with conduct and behavior. This particular program is often used to help support students as part of a school’s or district’s detention or suspension program. According to associate principal Kyle Meteyer of Lake Orion High School in Michigan, “Suite360 meets students where they’re at and gives them the opportunity to learn a little bit about why they’re in ISS in the first place and how they can improve their decision-making. If districts are looking for ways to comply with restorative practices, Suite360 is a good fit.”
Positive impacts of Suite360
Suite360 is a student curriculum delivered in a digital format, spanning multiple digital platforms. Available via the web or through a mobile app, Suite360 aims to reach students where they are in their digital world. School leaders within Michigan have noted that the curriculum has been met with positive results as the video content and curriculum, in general, is very relatable, featuring students or celebrities that capture the interest of students. Chris Arrington, principal at Marion Public Schools elaborated stating, “I think for us when we talk about helping kids and parents deal with tough topics and conversations … from our estimation, that the tech platform of 360 evens the playing field between the haves and have nots.”
School leaders have also cited the use of Suite360 has provided them and their teachers with meaningful data that informs conversations with parents. These data have been instrumental in fostering ongoing collaboration between school personnel and parents and guardians. Meggan Mertz, behavior interventionist and coach at Port Huron Area School District in Michigan, noted, “In order to reach kids, we really need to understand them.” Data provided through the use of Suite360 help school leaders accomplish this.
Of the school districts surveyed during this study, several school leaders indicated that the use of Suite360 has positively impacted overall school climate. These claims by Michigan schools further validate the findings of a 2018 study conducted by the Edna Bennet Pierce Prevention Research Center at Pennsylvania State University. According to the research center, “School climate and social and emotional learning (SEL) … are [both] necessary to build healthy schools, are co-influential, and benefit each other. A positive school climate creates the conditions for SEL; the social and emotional competence of each member of the school community, both individually and collectively, affects school climate” (p. 2).
A natural positive effect of healthy school climates is the overall improvement of school-wide student behaviors. In a 2018 report on improving school climate to support student success, Darling-Hammond and Cook-Harvey reported, “Crafting school and classroom environments that support and encourage positive student behavior as well as learning requires recognizing that academic, social, and emotional learning are interconnected—and that they can be explicitly taught” (p. 22).
School leaders participating in this study reported that they have seen a direct positive impact on student behavior as a result of the use of Suite360. Conversations with these leaders also indicated that the longer their school or district has been focusing on a whole-child approach to educating students, the greater the results. These results include the improved academic achievement of students.
Implementation factors and recommendations
Schools and districts that have successfully implemented the Suite360 program shared a similar process that included community outreach, internal visioning, the development and execution of an implementation strategy, and ongoing program evaluation. While the specific actions related to each aspect of the process varied from school to school, MVLRI recommends the following to schools seeking to implement such a program.
As a way to truly understand the needs of their greater school community, school leaders should open dialogue with various stakeholder groups to identify some of the needs and challenges students face both within and beyond the walls of the school. While involving teachers, school staff, and students in the process of identifying the focus of need is essential, school leaders would benefit from expanding these conversations to local civic organizations, church groups, athletic associations, and similar organizations that include children. Such conversations will allow school leaders to gain a more comprehensive view of student needs and allow them to identify which components of Suite360 would best meet their needs.
Once data have been collected through community outreach, school leaders should form an internal visioning team to analyze the data and form a comprehensive vision of how the Suite360 program can be used to meet the needs of students. This process requires a cross-functional team to not only develop a shared vision for the school or district, but also to identify the specific goals of the social and emotional learning program.
Development and execution of an implementation strategy
With a firm vision and the related goals in place, school leaders will be ready to organize a full implementation team. This team should be charged with the responsibility of developing the implementation strategy that not only includes the specific steps to implementing the Suite360 program, but it should also include a realistic timeline for the implementation. Key aspects of the implementation will center on the availability of technology devices for students and staff, adequate technology system infrastructure, and professional development or training for teachers, support staff, administrators, and parents.
Ongoing program evaluation
The effectiveness of the school’s or district’s SEL program, and the impact of Suite360, should be evaluated on a regular basis. It is recommended that an initial evaluation of the program be conducted approximately 6 months of the start of the initial implementation. During this evaluation, school leaders should assess the progress the school or district has made toward the specific goals of the overall SEL program. Adjustments or changes to the processes and procedures that support the program should be made at this time, if necessary. In general, the program should be evaluated at least annually after the first year of operation. It is also recommended that as new staff members are employed within the school or district, that a formal onboarding or orientation to the SEL program and the use of Suite360 occurs.
As schools and districts throughout the nation, and in Michigan specifically, continue to address the social and emotional needs of students, they should consider a formal approach to the design and implementation of an SEL program. Consideration should also be given to the use of the Suite360 program as it has demonstrated effectiveness in schools that participated in this study.
For more information about SEL and how schools and districts can navigate the challenges associated with the current COVID-19 pandemic, please visit the Michigan Virtual website to listen to a podcast recording titled, SEL During a Pandemic with Lauren Kazee. Other resources can also be found on this website by visiting the Michigan Cares web page. Here, Michigan school leaders can find hundreds of free resources to use to support their SEL programs.