Second Step® Insights

Teachers Rally Around Second Step® Programs: Interview with Educator Alison Cline

May 17, 2024 | By: The Second Step® Team

In April 2024, Casey Escola, a member of Committee for Children’s Education Partnerships team, attended the Northwest Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (NWPBIS) Network Conference in Tacoma, WA. There, Casey met with many inspiring principals, counselors, and teachers.

One special education teacher, Alison Cline from Emerson Elementary in the Hoquiam School District, offered incredible insights. She said that last summer the district was planning on replacing their Second Step® programs with another social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum in their elementary schools.

The teachers at Emerson love Second Step SEL programs so much and see their benefits so clearly that they signed a group letter to the district pledging to continue teaching Second Step programs. After seeing so much collective buy-in, the district decided not to replace their SEL programs.

Emerson Elementary utilizes the Second Step® Elementary classroom kits and Bullying Prevention Unit, while Hoquiam Middle School uses the Second Step® Middle School digital program.

Recently, we had the chance to talk more with Alison Cline about her experiences with Second Step programs.

Can you briefly describe your role at Emerson Elementary and your experience as a special education teacher?

As a special education teacher with over 12 years of experience since 1996, I began my career as a one-on-one paraeducator before earning a bachelor’s in K–12 special education, followed by master’s degrees in curriculum and instruction and educational leadership and administration. I have managed various special education programs, including resource, self-contained life skills, behavior, autism, and Deaf and Hard of Hearing classes.

Since joining Emerson in 2019, I initially served as a child coach for three elementary schools, piloting the Second Step programs at Lincoln Elementary with second and third graders. The pilot was a huge success, and the plan was to expand it fully with our general education teachers the following year, which we successfully did.

What were your initial thoughts when you first started using Second Step® SEL programs in your classroom?

When I first started teaching the curriculum to third graders, I appreciated how it presented them with real-life situations and common peer relationship issues in elementary schools. It equipped them with tools for problem-solving. I also liked the variety of activities included in the program.

A particularly important feature was the ability to extend these lessons to the home, especially crucial in our high-poverty district where many children face social, emotional, and traumatic challenges. The ability to involve parents directly was phenomenal, unlike any other social-emotional curriculum I’ve seen.

Can you share specific examples of how using Second Step® programs has positively impacted your students?

Starting from when I taught second and third graders, and now with kindergarten and first grade, is the noticeable improvement in their problem-solving and social skills.

They are behaving more appropriately socially, resolving conflicts among peers, and using their words to communicate effectively.

They’re also more attentive and willing to participate, which contributes to their academic growth.

What motivated you and your colleagues to advocate for the continuation of Second Step® programs when the district considered replacing them?

We felt that Second Step curricula better addressed the children’s needs with its setup—using cards, stories, and the overall program structure. Many teachers found the terminology used in other SEL curriculums to be confusing and unrealistic for daily use. And that’s one of the things they really love about Second Step programming—the fact that it uses everyday language that kids hear and understand.

Can you tell us more about the process of organizing the group letter and the response from the district?

When we were initially directed to use a different curriculum, I was upset because I had successfully piloted Second Step programs and loved it. Previously, the staff had tried other SEL courses but disliked them, which led to a failure in proper implementation.

In response, our principal drafted a letter committing to Second Step curricula, outlining our agreement to fully implement it and follow all its lessons. We organized the school calendar to specify which lessons were taught on Mondays, with follow-ups throughout the week. All teachers signed this agreement, and we even submitted weekly paperwork to document our progress, including examples of student work and reflective pieces. Since then, everything has been going great.

You mentioned before that you’ve seen the benefits of Second Step® programs so clearly that you’d be willing to pay for it yourself if the district stopped funding it. Is that correct?

Yes. For me, the commitment is deep. I absolutely love Second Step programs. And it’s not just me. It’s remarkable to see the entire staff on board; achieving 100% buy-in from teachers on a single curriculum is very challenging. Every teacher has embraced it. They display the posters and actively refer to them during lessons. I also use components of the curriculum in small group settings to reinforce what’s being taught. Honestly, it’s the best curriculum I’ve encountered.

In your opinion, what sets the Second Step® family of programs apart from other SEL curricula that you’ve encountered?

What sets Second Step programming apart for me is its detailed approach. It doesn’t just offer a single script to follow rigidly; instead, it provides numerous ways to teach each lesson and various components that allow flexibility to meet the specific needs of the students. This adaptability is crucial, as it lets me tailor the lessons and reinforce them effectively. Unlike other social-emotional curricula that might offer only one lesson on a topic, Second Step programs include multiple mini lessons, ensuring that concepts are reinforced throughout the week rather than being a one-time event.

Do you have any memorable stories about how Second Step® programs have made a difference in a student’s life?

I worked with a third-grade student who had significant behavioral issues. That year, as a child coach, I provided additional reinforcement of the classroom lessons to him. Over time, I observed a notable decrease in his behavior problems. It was incredibly rewarding to see him use the language and problem-solving skills he learned, become more attentive, and engage more in class. Witnessing his transformation was a profound moment for me. By the time he moved to fourth grade, he was well-equipped with tools to help him succeed.

How have Second Step® programs influenced the way teachers collaborate or support each other at Emerson Elementary?

I really do think it’s made a big difference. Initially, when we started with Second Step programs, there was a lot of planning involved; staff would meet to organize lessons and discuss roles. Now, it’s become second nature to them. They continually touch base with each other about ongoing activities and responsibilities. It’s had a significant positive impact on our staff, making their interactions and coordination much more fluid.

What are your hopes for the future of SEL in your school and district?

I hope the program continues to be taught as it’s intended. It’s frustrating to hear that some teachers might skip parts of it. Some teach it fully; others don’t. Since we have the program from preschool through eighth grade, and it builds each year, it’s crucial that it’s taught consistently across all grades. I know it’s being implemented correctly in kindergarten, first grade, and preschool. My hope is that it continues seamlessly from second through eighth grade, advancing appropriately each year.