Middle School Students and Teachers Reveal How the Second Step Middle School Program Fosters Academic Success

happy students

“One day I got like a bad grade on one of my tests and in my notebook was my If–Then Plan and I saw it . . . and it was like if I get a bad grade on my test then I will talk to my teacher and figure out what to do about it. And so I used my If–Then Plan in that situation and it really helped me get my grade back up . . . it was really helpful.”

Students and teachers from diverse classrooms across the country reported connections between social and emotional learning (SEL) and academics during their interviews about the new Second Step Middle School curriculum after piloting it in their classrooms. They shared many different examples of how the social skills learned in the new Second Step Middle School curriculum contributed to academic success.

The Second Step Middle School Program teaches students to manage mistakes and to persist beyond them. Students develop skills to make and keep friendships, to help one another, and to manage strong emotions, such as anxiety and frustration. During the interviews, students reported experiencing many different academic benefits from using their learned social skills.

“I am falling into a hole of assignments and reports due so I use a trick of slow breathing and just take a break.”

“Everyone does make mistakes. And we all have to learn that even if we do we can still accomplish our goal and just keep going.”

“If I didn’t have these bonds with my friends . . . then I wouldn’t have had as many people to help me out with assignments.”

“It really does help me with my grades and stuff to have a positive attitude.”

They also told the interviewers how they used their social skills to help with academic tasks. One student, who was upset about losing a paper after writing it, reported taking deep breaths and using self-talk to say, “it is not the end of the world,” and then rewriting a better paper the second time. Another student, who was taking a test and feeling anxious about it, recounted how they closed their eyes and took some breaths to help focus on the test.

During the interviews, pilot teachers also expressed seeing how their students’ academic gains were apparent from using social skills learned from the Second Step Middle School Program. One teacher revealed that because students were better able to handle their emotions and work better with peers, they could focus more on academics. Another teacher shared, “they’re more productive in the classroom if they have ways to cope with emotions, and ways to . . . self-monitor and be self-aware . . . that’s what is going to produce the highest-quality learning experiences for kids.” Another teacher told a story about a student who had just encountered a challenging life experience, and how learning about feelings and how to express them led to improvement in homework and classwork completion.

Implementing teachers also talked about the academic benefits they anticipated seeing with ongoing implementation of the Second Step Middle School Program. For example, they talked of how students will have better connections to school if they are able to control their emotions and interact more positively with their peers, and have students will be more likely to attain their academic goals as they develop good strategies for success.

We’ve heard—directly from those who piloted the program—about the many reasons why the Second Step Middle School Program boosts academic success. One of the teachers summarized it well by saying, “If you want kids to be successful academically, you have to address their social-emotional learning as well because it just works hand-in-hand.”

*Individual names are not used in this blog post to maintain interview confidentiality.