Part 1: Analysis of Context

1. What do we know about our learners?

Dr. F.D. Sinclair is home to a diverse population of over 500 students and is located in the heart of Newton, across from Newton Athletic Park.  Since the school opened in 1956, there has been a rich history of learning at Dr. F.D. Sinclair.  Visitors to our school frequently comment on how well-behaved and respectful our students are. Our students rise to the high behavioural expectations set by our staff.  The staff are committed to maintaining high academic standards for our students and have adopted the belief that all students at Dr. F.D. Sinclair belong to them. Our school beliefs and values about caring, courtesy, and hard work play an integral role in shaping our learners, and the students respond by striving for excellence in their learning, and demonstrating caring in their interactions.

One of our strengths, as a school, is our diversity.  We are a rich blend of multicultural learners.  Other than English, Punjabi is the most common language spoken by Sinclair families.  Other common languages include Hindi and some other middle-Eastern and African languages. Staff have responded to the diverse range of learners at our school by creating opportunities for the students to demonstrate their strengths in a variety of areas.  At our school, students enjoy hands-on technology activities in our Learning Commons, they participate in Science Fair, Speech Fest, Multicultural Day, Me to We, and Spring Concert.  They also participate in a variety of sports such as tennis lessons, ice skating, track and field, and basketball.  These opportunities play a pivotal role in our students’ learning.

Although we continuously celebrate our students’ strengths as learners, we are committed to seeking ways to provide our students with skills that they can use as lifelong learners.  As teachers continue to learn more about our students, a theme that has emerged is that many of our students may benefit from developing strategies to regulate their behaviour so that they can optimize their learning. 

We know that “Social and Emotional Learning is inextricably linked to schools and life success.  Empirical research indicates that well-designed, well implemented, teacher-taught SEL curricula can achieve multiple benefits that include significant improvement in students’ social-emotional development, behavior and academic performance”. (Durlak, et al, 2011)  Staff at Sinclair have recognized a need in their instruction to support students in their personal and social awareness.  This will enable students to strengthen their core competencies, most especially their ability to identify and communicate emotions, demonstrate empathy, and apply strategies for positive personal and social outcomes.

2. What evidence supports what we know about our learners?

When staff came together to plan for the success and needs of our students, we engaged in a broad examination of our current reality and our desired future.  It was widely celebrated that our current reality is a place of strength
Literacy and numeracy always remain a priority in our instruction, and there is a strong focus on reading and writing and math across all grade levels.  Classroom and school-wide testing have indicated that students demonstrate strong academic achievement at Sinclair. On a 2016 school-wide numeracy assessment, for example, it was found that more than 70% of the grade three students and 90% of the grade six students were meeting or exceeding expectations in patterning.  86% of the grade 4 students were meeting or exceeding expectations in number sense.  On a 2017 numeracy assessment, it was found that 63% of grade three students, and 65% of grade five students were meeting or exceeding expectations in computation. 

Students at Sinclair show themselves to be thoughtful, articulate, critical thinkers, and they take pride in their strengths. They demonstrate this to the school community through their in-depth and careful scientific inquiry during Science Fair.  They delight their audiences with their expressive, informative and often witty speeches during Speech Fest.  Student leaders at Sinclair step willingly and easily into the role of emcee during school events, or deliver PA announcements with poise.  Students at Sinclair have an appreciation for etiquette and demonstrate thoughtful, respectful listening behavior for staff and guests.  Athletes at Sinclair work hard, showing up for practices and developing their skills.  They compete with pride and sportsmanship. Our current reality is certainly one of strength.

Staff are committed to the ongoing learning and development of our students.  Our desired future is one that nurtures the strengths of our students and supports their needs.  What emerged from our inquiry is that our students would benefit from an explicit focus on their social and emotional learning. 

Staff were surveyed to gain an understanding of their students’ current strengths and stretches with regards to their social and emotional learning.  They responded to the following questions (developed by Morgan Elementary staff) in order to “Take our SEL Temperature”:

1)    Are students demonstrating strong commitment to study foundational skills in reading, writing and math?

2)    Are students demonstrating resilience to persevere through open-ended challenges that require critical thinking, collaboration skills and problem solving?

3)    Are students able to articulate their emotional status at any given time?

4)    Can students describe personal strategies they use to de-escalate when they are angry or upset?

5)    When students are in an elevated state, are they able to apply strategies to de-escalate and return to calmness?

The data from these surveys helped us gain the following insights about our learners:

·      Our students are not yet demonstrating that social and emotional learning skills as a strength

·      Our students will benefit from support in developing their personal awareness

Our students are often challenged to apply strategies that help them de-escalate and return to calmness

Part 2: Focus and Planning

3. What focus emerges as a question to pursue?

Our students will benefit from an explicit focus on Social and Emotional Learning.  The following question will guide and support our inquiry:
How will a focus on SEL interventions help students develop their personal and social core competencies?

4. What professional learning do we need?

Staff are in need of learning opportunities to strengthen their understanding of Social and Emotional Learning, and to develop instructional strategies and interventions that support the personal and social core competencies.

To date, staff have worked with district SEL helping teacher, Taunya Shaw and have participated in her workshops; our pro-d committee has organized and provided summer professional development on mindfulness, the Second Step program and K-12 SEL Competencies in Action. 

Teachers continue to engage in their own individual professional development such as “Friends For Life” training and workshops on using SEL resources.  We expect further professional learning opportunities to emerge such as book clubs or collaboration with other schools as we continue our inquiry.

5. What is our plan?

  • Collecting baseline data for all students from Grade 3 to Grade 7 using the Island Net Numeracy Assessment (INNA)
  • Professional learning opportunities to link the core competency of critical thinking to problem-solving skills
  • Begin to explore the development of a school-wide numeracy assessment
  • Starting in Sept. 2016, one LST teacher will run intermediate math tutorials for struggling students
  • The school principal and vice-principal will create and maintain a school blog, www.sinclairlearns.com, highlighting powerful learning stories from our students and staff.

Part 3: Reflect, Adjust, Celebrate

6. How will we know our plan is making a difference? (evidence / success criteria)

We will know that our SEL interventions are helping students to develop their personal and social core competencies if our students are able to demonstrate the following SEL competencies:

·      I am able to identify and communicate how I am feeling

·      I can appropriately handle my feelings

·      I care about the feelings and opinions of others

·      I will learn to handle conflict in constructive ways

·      I can make appropriate decisions

We will have many opportunities to reflect and adjust our inquiry as we learn and grow together.  These opportunities include:

·      “Taking Our SEL Temperature” with a broad staff survey given at key points of the school year

·      Analysing data from our Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI)

·      Engaging students in a SEL survey

·      Case studies

7. Based on the evidence, does our inquiry require adjustment?

This process will be ongoing and will involve collaboration opportunities for staff to engage in conversations on how to further support our students
As the plan is in early stages, this area will be guided by the work as it unfolds