The Pella School Board discussed results of a Panorama Survey as part of their Social and Emotional Learning objective at a meeting on Monday, June 10.

The survey asked students, teachers and faculty questions regarding expectations, school climate, school safety, teacher-student relationships and sense of belonging. The survey is used to measure student, teacher and faculty perceptions of social and emotional learning.

Third- through 12th-grade students took the survey in April of this year, which included a total of 1,516 responses. After observing the results, staff is most concerned with the high school.

“We gave it [the survey] with the idea that in order to improve social and emotional things that are happening in the building, we need to know where we’re at and how that’s perceived by both the teachers and by the students,” said Superintendent Greg Ebeling.

At the high school, only 34 percent of students feel a sense of belonging or feel that they are valued members of the school community. This ranks the high school in the zero to 19th percentile compared to other schools nationally, which is the lowest.

Only 45 percent of high school students feel they have a strong social connection with teachers in and beyond the classroom, and only 48 percent have positive perceptions of the overall social and learning climate of the high school. Both results rank the high school in the 20th-39th percentile compared to other schools nationally.

Percentages presented are a combination of the top two favorable responses. Results of the survey are used to provide educators with operational strategies to build the skills essential for successful social and emotional learning.

This is the first time the school district has given the survey or asked for this type of feedback from students.

“This is a big deal, because this is the first time teachers can actually see how their students feel about some of the things they are doing,” said Ebeling.

Ebeling mentioned teachers were alarmed when they were given the results. However, they are determined to improve teacher-student relationships and students’ sense of belonging.

The school district created leadership teams that include one teacher from each discipline (for example science or social studies) who will work toward specific goals for social and emotional learning during professional development.

Director of K-12 Instruction Lowell Ernst said teachers on the leadership teams decided sense of belonging would be their number one focus at a recent meeting, establishing a 10 percent increase as a two-year goal. They originally wanted to establish a goal of 75 percent, but the significant increase in a short amount of time would be a remarkable challenge.

“When looking at the bell curve, I told them that would put you in the top half of the top one percent in the nation … they still wanted to do it, but then they start thinking it might be too depressing for the staff to set a goal that’s that aggressive,” said Ernst.

After establishing goals, teachers began brainstorming ideas on how to improve social and emotional learning in their departments.

“I thought that the energy the group generated over the process of discussing that was truly impressive,” said Ernst. “I think as a result of looking at some discouraging data, but to be motivated to say ‘we can do something about it’ was really good.”