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March 1, 2018

Social-Emotional Learning: Connecting to Students

By Nancy Jang
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

    I’m a teacher. I have 23 little first graders that I am in charge of every day, Monday through Friday, for 180 school days. During this time, I am responsible for teaching them reading, writing, math, social studies, science, art, and PE. But as anyone will tell you, being a teacher is SO MUCH MORE than just teaching the Common Core State Standards. We are surrogate parents, counselors, referees, cheerleaders, advocates, nurses, shoulders to cry on, huggers, listeners, and even protectors.

    Even though I send home all my little ones at the end of every day, I am always thinking about them. Are they safe, are they happy? Miguel seemed off today, I wonder if he is getting sick. Emma didn’t eat much of her lunch, I wonder if her tooth is bothering her again. George looked so tired today, I wonder if he is getting enough sleep, and so on. We love our students as if they are our own children and even when I send them on to the next grade, each one will always have a special place in my heart.

    Although in school, we focus on standards and testing and achievement and grades, we are also responsible in part for helping students learn to navigate social situations. In the primary grades, we are constantly talking about how situations make us feel, conflict resolution, and how to cope with aggressive feelings in a non-violent manner. Teachers are always saying, “Use your words!” More often than not, at the primary grades, a little talk about how each person feels and an apology will fix the situation. Scholastic and Facebook Education created a site called Our Best Selves that is a great trove of free resources to support social-emotional learning.

    In light of recent school tragedies, the subject of mental health has repeatedly been a topic of conversation. Now I’m constantly asking myself, what else can I do? How else can we as teachers, make students feel wanted, cared for, heard? How can we give them more tools in their emotional tool box to help them identify their feelings, cope with overwhelming emotions, and build resilience that will help them over their lifetime? How can I help? I only had to look to my own professional development bookshelf to find that answer. I can help even my littlest kiddos to understand each other, feel connected, and learn how to cope with their feelings.

    Connected and Respected by Ken Breeding and Jane Harris provides an easy, inexpensive curriculum that teaches conflict resolution, learning to respect others, and how to create a caring classroom environment. It integrates great developmentally accessible activities with good literature in easy-to-use, fun, quick lessons. This book is specifically written for K-2 students. The activities take about 10–15 minutes to complete and normally we try to do one lesson a week during Morning Meeting time. Occasionally, I will add in another lesson if a situation arises or if I have a 10-minute lull between specials. There are 16 lessons for each grade K–2. Short, sweet, meaningful, and totally doable.

    What else can we do?

    Here are some other ideas to build a school wide culture of caring and acceptance: 

    1.      Food Share Table

    A table with a basket of food is put out at recess and lunch. Students who don’t want part of their snack or lunch can donate it to the share table leaving it in a basket. Any student who is still hungry or forgot their lunch or needs more food can pick up an item. This allows students to support others who may be having financial stress, or just don’t have enough food to eat.

     2.    Communication Lab

    Our school’s speech and language pathologist created lessons in communication to help children learn how to read body language, communicate their feelings and ideas, and be empathetic and inclusive to one another. She called her room the Communication Lab. We visited her room once a month for 30 minutes to learn about how to become better communicators. Some of her lessons included subjects such as staying on topic, personal space, and active listening. Ask your speech and language pathologist if they have any great resources or would be willing to teach a few lessons on how to communicate effectively with each other.

     3.    Buddy Bench

    A Buddy Bench is a place for kids who need a friend to play with can sit. Kids who are outgoing or helpers of the day can make it a point to seek out kids on the bench to play with for that period.

     4.   Comment Cards

    Once a week, students in class can write a compliment about someone or comment on a situation that they need help solving. If your students are not writing yet, they could draw a picture to share orally. Compliments are shared and solutions to problems can be discussed in a class meeting.

    5.     Psychologists

    Ask your school psychologist to come into your staff and talk about how to help students cope with frustration or anger. Is it possible for them to form a counseling group during school hours?

     6.    Community

    Is there a child psychologist, an inspirational speaker, a counselor, a play therapist, etc. that can come and talk to your students about how to handle adversity, bullying, alienation, stress, depression, or grief? We had an amazing assembly from Brent Poppins, who became paralyzed from the waist down. He went on to become a Paralympic athlete in three different sports and speaks eloquently about overcoming adversity and thinking positively.

     

    7.     TED Talks

    TED Talks are an amazing free resource that address a variety of topics and may help provide a source of inspiration to others.

     8.     Great Kindness Challenge

    Join the Great Kindness Challenge! Click on the pictures to get your copy of the Great Kindness Challenge Game Boards and challenge your class to complete all the boxes in a week, or even better, have your whole school complete the challenges together.

    9.     Love

    Love your students. Show them in your words, actions, and expressions every day. Connect to them and make them feel LOVED. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

    I promise all of my kids that I will always be here for them and treat them like my own sons and daughters. I want to make sure that I connect with them every day in some way shape or form. A hug, a smile, a joke, a kind word — these all help a child feel wanted, needed, and loved. How can you connect with your students every day?

    Happy Teaching,

    Nancy

    I’m a teacher. I have 23 little first graders that I am in charge of every day, Monday through Friday, for 180 school days. During this time, I am responsible for teaching them reading, writing, math, social studies, science, art, and PE. But as anyone will tell you, being a teacher is SO MUCH MORE than just teaching the Common Core State Standards. We are surrogate parents, counselors, referees, cheerleaders, advocates, nurses, shoulders to cry on, huggers, listeners, and even protectors.

    Even though I send home all my little ones at the end of every day, I am always thinking about them. Are they safe, are they happy? Miguel seemed off today, I wonder if he is getting sick. Emma didn’t eat much of her lunch, I wonder if her tooth is bothering her again. George looked so tired today, I wonder if he is getting enough sleep, and so on. We love our students as if they are our own children and even when I send them on to the next grade, each one will always have a special place in my heart.

    Although in school, we focus on standards and testing and achievement and grades, we are also responsible in part for helping students learn to navigate social situations. In the primary grades, we are constantly talking about how situations make us feel, conflict resolution, and how to cope with aggressive feelings in a non-violent manner. Teachers are always saying, “Use your words!” More often than not, at the primary grades, a little talk about how each person feels and an apology will fix the situation. Scholastic and Facebook Education created a site called Our Best Selves that is a great trove of free resources to support social-emotional learning.

    In light of recent school tragedies, the subject of mental health has repeatedly been a topic of conversation. Now I’m constantly asking myself, what else can I do? How else can we as teachers, make students feel wanted, cared for, heard? How can we give them more tools in their emotional tool box to help them identify their feelings, cope with overwhelming emotions, and build resilience that will help them over their lifetime? How can I help? I only had to look to my own professional development bookshelf to find that answer. I can help even my littlest kiddos to understand each other, feel connected, and learn how to cope with their feelings.

    Connected and Respected by Ken Breeding and Jane Harris provides an easy, inexpensive curriculum that teaches conflict resolution, learning to respect others, and how to create a caring classroom environment. It integrates great developmentally accessible activities with good literature in easy-to-use, fun, quick lessons. This book is specifically written for K-2 students. The activities take about 10–15 minutes to complete and normally we try to do one lesson a week during Morning Meeting time. Occasionally, I will add in another lesson if a situation arises or if I have a 10-minute lull between specials. There are 16 lessons for each grade K–2. Short, sweet, meaningful, and totally doable.

    What else can we do?

    Here are some other ideas to build a school wide culture of caring and acceptance: 

    1.      Food Share Table

    A table with a basket of food is put out at recess and lunch. Students who don’t want part of their snack or lunch can donate it to the share table leaving it in a basket. Any student who is still hungry or forgot their lunch or needs more food can pick up an item. This allows students to support others who may be having financial stress, or just don’t have enough food to eat.

     2.    Communication Lab

    Our school’s speech and language pathologist created lessons in communication to help children learn how to read body language, communicate their feelings and ideas, and be empathetic and inclusive to one another. She called her room the Communication Lab. We visited her room once a month for 30 minutes to learn about how to become better communicators. Some of her lessons included subjects such as staying on topic, personal space, and active listening. Ask your speech and language pathologist if they have any great resources or would be willing to teach a few lessons on how to communicate effectively with each other.

     3.    Buddy Bench

    A Buddy Bench is a place for kids who need a friend to play with can sit. Kids who are outgoing or helpers of the day can make it a point to seek out kids on the bench to play with for that period.

     4.   Comment Cards

    Once a week, students in class can write a compliment about someone or comment on a situation that they need help solving. If your students are not writing yet, they could draw a picture to share orally. Compliments are shared and solutions to problems can be discussed in a class meeting.

    5.     Psychologists

    Ask your school psychologist to come into your staff and talk about how to help students cope with frustration or anger. Is it possible for them to form a counseling group during school hours?

     6.    Community

    Is there a child psychologist, an inspirational speaker, a counselor, a play therapist, etc. that can come and talk to your students about how to handle adversity, bullying, alienation, stress, depression, or grief? We had an amazing assembly from Brent Poppins, who became paralyzed from the waist down. He went on to become a Paralympic athlete in three different sports and speaks eloquently about overcoming adversity and thinking positively.

     

    7.     TED Talks

    TED Talks are an amazing free resource that address a variety of topics and may help provide a source of inspiration to others.

     8.     Great Kindness Challenge

    Join the Great Kindness Challenge! Click on the pictures to get your copy of the Great Kindness Challenge Game Boards and challenge your class to complete all the boxes in a week, or even better, have your whole school complete the challenges together.

    9.     Love

    Love your students. Show them in your words, actions, and expressions every day. Connect to them and make them feel LOVED. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

    I promise all of my kids that I will always be here for them and treat them like my own sons and daughters. I want to make sure that I connect with them every day in some way shape or form. A hug, a smile, a joke, a kind word — these all help a child feel wanted, needed, and loved. How can you connect with your students every day?

    Happy Teaching,

    Nancy

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Susan Cheyney

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