Home » 2020 » February

Monthly Archives: February 2020

Follow Principal Notes on WordPress.com

Social Emotional Learning: Fluff or Essential?

If you hang around some of my teachers, you’ll probably hear us comment about the importance of Social Emotional Learning (SEL). It should come as no surprise that we learn best from those we like and those who like, and value, us. But it goes much deeper than that.

SEL has gained popularity in education circles, but practices tend to get blurry when they become “popular.” Concepts or programs get distorted as soon as they’re assigned an acronym, like SEL.

Blurry concepts eventually lose their meaning and become all talk and no action. Sometimes, there’s the temptation to pay lip service to a topic, giving the illusion that it’s being implemented. I think this often happens with Social Emotional Learning.

Some might say that all this SEL stuff is just fluff. Some think we go too far in our emphasis of social emotional learning, saying, “it’s too much of a good thing.” To that, I say, we haven’t even scratched the surface.

Don’t let my emphasis on social emotional learning confuse you into thinking I place less value on academic expectations. Experience has taught me that deep learning doesn’t have a chance without positive and trusting relationships, a central component of SEL. Learning will be much greater when we make responsible decisions and manage our emotions, also essential components of SEL.

Inez Taylor

Inez Taylor close to the time I was in her class.

When I was a student, my best teachers built strong relationships around a shared love for the subject or discipline. This didn’t mean I was always happy with the teacher who said, “I’m sorry, that needs to be better.” I remember Inez Taylor, my high school English teacher, challenging the assumptions of something I’d written. I was upset but learned from her hard questions. I rewrote the assignment and made it better because we had a relationship based on mutual respect. I still think of Inez Taylor with fondness.

I remember my best teachers’ passion and sense of urgency. If they got emotional, even bordering on a little angry, it was about our shared commitment to the discipline, the learning. That didn’t damage our relationship but ultimately strengthened it because we realized what we were doing was important.

The following elements are all necessary for deep and lasting learning: social (relationships), emotional (resilience and stability), content, skills, and application of skills to new challenges. I want my kids to have all of this stuff! I think they’re going to need it.

Inez Taylor EHS 1965

Inez Taylor on the left with Elsie Warnock on the right. Approximately 1965

When I asked El Dorado friends if they had photos of Inez Taylor, Mamie Polk found the above photo in a 1965 yearbook. I was pleased to see my mother in the photo. By the time I got to El Dorado High School, she had moved to Barton Junior High School in El Dorado. My mother always avoided teaching in the school I attended. I never knew if this was a coincidence or intentional.

Here’s a post I wrote about others who’ve impacted my learning, including Dee Post, an El Dorado High School teacher who influenced me after I became a teacher. When In Doubt, Write

Thank you to AIS and the Alma School District

Warnock020620I wanted to share my retirement letter with students and parents, so it appears at the bottom of this post. I shared the following four points with our School Board on February 6.

I’ve spent 19 years as a part of the Alma School District and have the following observations:   1) Alma has shown an ever-increasing focus on student achievement over these years.  2) Alma has made huge leaps in providing relevant technology for students.  3) Alma has demonstrated a constant focus on hiring great people and then providing professional growth opportunities throughout their careers.  4) Alma is a “both/and” district that balances student achievement efforts with an emphasis on the arts. Alma is a place where students can add relevance and engagement to their education through music, dance, drama, and the visual arts.

I didn’t mention this, but it’s evident in so many ways that the Alma District and community are committed to student and staff safety. We have our own Alma Police Department SRO, secure facilities, and well-trained staff and students. This means so much to me as a parent and an educator.

I’m thankful for the way the Alma School District has impacted my family, and my many students and staff.

January 31, 2020

Mr. David Woolly and the Alma School Board

I will be resigning as principal at Alma Intermediate School on June 30, 2020. My goal has always been to conclude my career in education still excited about learning and working with students. Being part of the Alma School District made this goal easy to accomplish.

I delayed my original retirement date by one year so that we could work with staff to plan and implement our Alternative Learning Environment (ALE). Writing that plan last year and then watching the teacher in our new ALE this year meeting the needs of our most at-risk students has been a highlight of my career.

I’ve had the privilege of working with great superintendents, most notably, Bob Watson in El Dorado, and Charles B. Dyer and David Woolly in Alma. I have also enjoyed my association with school board members who volunteer to serve our schools in continuous improvement efforts. My assistant principals, Geneva Moss (El Dorado), Suzy Ferguson, and Ralynn Wilkinson, have influenced my professional growth and done many things to increase the success of schools I’ve served.

While teaching music and completing my master’s in counseling earlier in my career, I could never have imagined that my journey would lead to a great school like Alma Intermediate. Thank you for giving me this privilege.

It has been an honor to work with teachers and play a role in their professional and personal growth. Watching them has taught me much about teaching and learning and the significance of their service. I often brag that my best talent is recognizing talent and core values in hiring teachers. I will genuinely miss hiring and watching the development of teachers.

Completing Phase III of the Arkansas Leadership Academy Principals’ Institute, being designated Arkansas’ Principal of the Year, and serving as president of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators were opportunities to bring positive attention to Alma. Still, my highest personal honor has been to work with students and take actions to enhance their learning. Watching their growth and development is the greatest joy of my work in education. I hope to continue working with students in the future in some capacity, maybe an occasional bucket drum club, or sharing an outdoor adventure from time to time.

I have many interests to pursue. Between family, trails, photography, writing, and drumming, I fear not having enough time and health to get it all done! Thank you to the leaders of the Alma School District for being such a significant part of my career. Education has been a rewarding way to spend a large portion of my life, and I look forward to serving our community and schools as a volunteer in the future.


Jim Warnock


Backpacking in the Ozarks

%d bloggers like this: