There is growing attention to the positive impacts of implementing social and emotional learning and sensory integration techniques in schools. The authors intend for this case study to showcase the design thinking and continuous improvement process at Rocky River Elementary school and the keys to success.
It’s 8:15 a.m. in Mrs. Brenneman’s class and one of her students is introducing his friend to the rest of the class during their morning meeting. “I’m Roger and this is my friend, Lucy. She has really cool sneakers.” In another classroom, students are engaging in sensory stations designed to help them get the “jitters” out by moving their bodies, practicing mindful breathing techniques, and experiencing the power of laughter!
Rocky River Elementary School incorporated sensory integration techniques and tools, mindfulness and social and emotional learning (SEL) into daily lessons for some students. The school has a full-time sensory integration coach who works with students and teachers on a daily basis. Sensory integration tools range from flexible seating to body movement exercises to belly breathing. These tools promoted mindfulness, helping students recognize and accept their present thoughts and emotions, which can help students reset their brains for learning. SEL teaches students essential life skills based on five core competencies – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Research from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) shows that students with SEL training “scored 13 points higher academically than their peers 3.5 years later, had 6 percent better high school graduation rates, and could even reap lifelong monetary benefits for their healthy adult lifestyle.” These morning activities were not always part of a formalized curriculum and were limited to only some students. Rocky River wanted to enhance these activities and implement an SEL curriculum for all students.
In the spring of 2018, The Innovation Project (TIP) received a three-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan, to empower principals and school teams to pioneer innovative approaches targeted at early learning to dramatically improve student outcomes. TIP and its partners created the TIP Early Learning Network (ELN) to bring together teams from across several districts to engage in this work. The ELN takes a concerted approach to three interrelated activities that together will enable schools to achieve transformative results: transformation through school design, coaching for entrepreneurial school leadership, and innovative district supports.
“One of the best parts of the experience was bringing a group of professionals together, to learn and then to be able to apply it immediately in the classroom.”
-Adrian Parry, Principal
Through a formal application process, the ELN selected the first cohort of 17 schools from seven North Carolina school districts to participate in this program. Rocky River school leaders applied and were one of the 17 schools selected to participate in the ELN program. Through participation in the ELN, the Rocky River principal and teacher leaders engaged in a year-long design thinking and implementation process. As a result of this activity, three primary factors emerged that helped the Rocky River team successfully implement the SEL curriculum for all students.
Listen to a Rocky River Elementary School Teacher’s Testimonial:
Cyndal Brenneman shares her thoughts on the importance of whole-school buy-in.