Part 1: Analysis of Context

1. What do we know about our learners?

  • They are willing to speak about their feelings
  • They are positive and friendly
  • They need more language to describe their emotions
  • They like to express their thinking (especially with digital technology)
  • They need more strategies to set social emotional learning goals
  • They’re beginning to display an understanding of what self-reflection entails
  • They are working on understanding the difference between self-regulation and a self-regulated learning environment
  • They need exposure to different learning environments that best support their learning (indoors and outdoors)
  • They are starting to understand that there is more than one way to describe their SEL learning (e.g., using words, various art mediums, etc…) and that different learning environments affect them emotionally and cognitively in different ways

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

  • Classroom observations
  • One-on-one conferences / conversations with students
  • Self-reflection on FreshGrade
  • Students’ learning portfolios
  • Journals
  • Monthly teacher reflections on the SEL journey of their classes
  • A sustained inquiry approach to a generalized (yet classroom-adapted) school goal

Part 2: Focus and Planning

3. What focus emerges as a question to pursue?

  1. How to help students develop personal emotional awareness
  2. How to help students establish strategies that regulate their emotions in order to learn more effectively
  3. How to help students determine and take steps to select an environment that is most conducive to their learning
  4. How to incorporate outdoor learning as a part of SEL

4. What professional learning do we need?

We need to:
  • Attend SEL workshops offered by the district
  • Devote time at staff meetings to SEL idea generation and sharing
  • Collaborate with colleagues to further our knowledge of outdoor learning and how it impacts students’ abilities to self-regulate throughout the day (e.g., A Walking Curriculum)
  • Organize “Learning Lunches” with district SEL Helping Teachers to further our understanding of SEL

5. What is our plan?

Action Plan:
Classroom learning looks very different this year, with Covid-19 affecting everything from where/how we sit to the people with whom we interact on a daily basis. We believe that SEL is more important than ever, but also that we need to adjust our approach to suit the times. As a school, we met in September and decided to move away from a focus on physical literacy, which was potentially problematic with new Covid-19 restrictions, toward outdoor learning. We are interested in exploring the impact that learning outdoors has on the emotional well-being of our students, drawing on research that endorses its calming and centering effects.
Working as a team, we developed a generalized inquiry question to pursue, allowing for each class to take its own approach. Each inquiry question took one of the two following forms:

– How can SEL be accessed through indigenous and outdoor learning principles?


– In what ways does nature-based learning foster a sense of calm / contribute to Social and Emotional Learning / have an effect on my class / help with self-regulation? 

  • Teachers were asked to reflect on their question once each term and to make anecdotal notes on 3 randomly-chosen students in their classes, who would serve as part of a case study. They would then have these notes available at staff meetings to track/discuss what was and was not working in their classrooms.
  • Additionally, our SEL committee created a Social and Emotional Learning Team (on Microsoft Teams) in which staff exchanged different outdoor learning experiences that they tried with their classes.
  • As part of staff professional development, we conducted a book club based on Dr. Gillian Judson’s book, A Walking Curriculum: Evoking Wonder and Developing Sense of Place, and arranged to have the author speak to our staff about her work and its various social, emotional and cognitive applications.
Drawing on evidence from last year, and building upon the work that we completed, our staff decided to shift our focus slightly from utilizing a broad array of SEL strategies toward employing more physical and cognitive SEL strategies within our classrooms. We believe that the intentional use of physical movement paired with cognitively processing the manner in which it affects our bodies and our interactions with others can assist our students in feeling ready to learn (or “in the green zone”).
Similar to last year, teachers created specific goals for each of their classes that linked with this school focus, but could also be individualized in order to be more meaningful within their contexts. These goals mostly took the following form:

•       How will using ___________ (Physical Activity) before/after __________ (academic area) help to promote _____________ (e.g., focus on task, time in the green zone, the reduction of stress/anxiety, etc…)?

  • Teachers were asked to reflect on this question on a monthly basis at staff meetings and to make anecdotal notes, which they would bring with them to staff meetings in order to track what was and was not working in their classrooms.
  • Additionally, our SEL committee created a SEL Team (on Microsoft Teams) in which staff exchanged different “brain break” activities that they found effective, and one of our teachers discussed her learning from a course she was taking on interoception (a sense that allows you to feel and understand what is going on inside your body) at staff meetings.
  • Carrying on from last year, we continued to work with the “Brain Fit Super Powers” program, devoting each month to exploring a specific mental/behavioural Super Power (e.g., empathy, perseverance, etc.). However, this year we decided that, instead hosting monthly assemblies, teachers would meet with their buddy classes once a month to work specifically on a Super-Power-focused activity, which they would then share with the school during a school-wide gallery walk.
This year we carried on with a number of our SEL learning intentions from 2017-18, which included:
  • Using “I can” statements to engage students in self-reflection on Emotional Learning
  • Utilizing SEL programs in our classrooms, such as Second Step, Mind Up and Zones of Regulation
    Providing students with strategies to effectively regulate their emotions (primarily through the use of programs like Second Step, Mind Up and the Zones of Regulation)
  • Helping students develop SEL vocabulary using the Zones of Regulation to identify their emotions
    Supporting students in communicating their emotions
  • Helping students identify and take steps to create learning environments that best suit their needs
Along with these intentions, which are somewhat broad and present a challenge in measuring progress, we decided to create a specific goal within each class that would tie in with our school focus of Social Emotional learning, but that could also be individualized in order to be meaningful within each classroom context.
  • Using the “boulders to sand” work of Dr. Simon Breakspear as our inspiration, these goals took the following format:
    •       How will teaching ___________ (SEL strategy) and student use of this technique prior to/during/after __________ (academic area) impact students’ ability to __________ (academic success criteria)?
    •       For Example: How will teaching mindful breathing and student use of this technique prior to reading instruction impact students’ ability to visualize while reading.
Teachers were asked to reflect on this question on a monthly basis at staff meetings and to make anecdotal notes, which they would bring with them to staff meetings, to track what was and was not working in their classrooms.

Part 3: Reflect, Adjust, Celebrate

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

Evidence will be gathered throughout the year in the following forms:
  • Grade 4 completion of the MDI
  • Grade 7 completion of the Ministry Survey
  • Anecdotal notes gathered by teachers related to their classroom SEL goal
  • Student self-reflections on their work with SEL strategies, specifically related to outdoor learning
  • A case-study approach will be utilized to track the efficacy of outdoor learning strategies across each classroom
Success Criteria:
  • Increased use of detailed vocabulary by students to describe their emotions
  • Increased student time on task (demonstrating better emotional self-regulation)
  • Improved interactions between students
  • Increased student engagement with the learning
  • Improved student ability to self-select their most effective learning environment

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


We are in the process of collecting data.


Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, our information gathering was limited to a timeframe in which we could not draw noticeable conclusions. We will re-visit our plan in September and decide whether or not to continue on the same course.


When we compared our individualized goals, we noticed that there were a number of similarities between classes. The following emerged as common themes related to our various goals:

  • Using deep breathing and meditation to improve literacy skills (reading comprehension and written output)
  • Using growth mindset to improve math skills (especially problem solving)
  • Using class meetings and talk time to increase academic focus in various subject areas
  • Using Zones of Regulation language and strategies to increase the amount of time students remain on an academic task in various subject areas
  • Using brain breaks and stretching to improve math skills

Based on the evidence that was gathered at staff meetings and by teachers in their classrooms over this past school year, it is apparent that our teachers noticed improvements related to their goals. These were some of the teacher-generated data that support this belief:

  • By April, the vast majority of teachers noted that their strategies “usually” had a positive effect on academic learning
  • “I use the time to encourage meaningful interactions. It’s helping them to regulate their speech and to become better listeners”
  • “I have seen students be open to challenges, to keep trying, to collaborate, reflect and say ‘I am proud’”
  • “When students are frustrated, they now have strategies to deal with this frustration, and I’m noticing it’s improving their resilience”
  • “Our minute of calm helps students to let go of lunch/recess baggage and allows them to focus on their tasks”
    –       “Students ask for our breathing time and it does let us re-center as a group for the rest of the day”
  • “Students continually remind and prompt themselves to remain open to possibilities. Parents are noticing the work we’re doing in their homes because they’re being encouraged to stay positive by their children”
  • “The odd time I have skipped mindful breathing due to a shortage of time, I have regretted it. They read longer and have more focus when it’s done”
  • “Some students practice the chime breathing strategy, but most do not (boys especially have difficulty). As a result, we’ve shifted our goal to more nature walks, in-class exercises and outdoor lessons instead.”

This last teacher comment specifically demonstrates the inquiry-based nature of our school plan at Ecole Simon Cunningham. Teachers are encouraged to search out what is working and to adjust their goals to suit the students in their classrooms.

Based on our successes this year, we agreed to continue with a social emotional learning focus for our school plan next year. However, after a few teachers presented on work they’ve been interested in pursuing and some general discussion related to how this work could help our students learn, there was agreement that our plan next year would benefit from a physical literacy component (which is set to be pursued at one of our summer professional development days) and lessons related to interoception (the sense that allows you to understand and feel what’s going on inside your body). Our social emotional committee will be meeting in September to solidify how this may look within our school.