A focus on building strong relationships between teachers and students and helping teachers see students as unique individuals is making a big difference at the Chicago public high school where I teach.

For the last three years, North-Grand High School has emphasized the social and emotional needs of our students, a decision that is helping students and appears to be driving academic growth in our building.

There is a push in schools around the country to improve social and emotional learning (SEL). This is an educators’ term for students learning to manage and appropriately express emotions, have empathy for others, build positive relationships and make good decisions. Is it good for students socially and academically; research shows that students who complete social and emotional learning programs perform better and have fewer discipline problems. 

At North-Grand, we help teachers understand and value the social and emotional aspects of working with students and teach them techniques for doing it. Because our administration strongly encourages empathy, the whole culture of our school is shifting to be more supportive of all students — especially those who have severe behavior issues.