January 28, 2016

A Passion for Social and Emotional Learning

I snapped this photo yesterday of these 2nd grade and Kindergarten
buddies, playing a pat-a-cake game by Ann's desk
It is not everyday that I receive a note like this from one of our Friends’ School teachers: “This is my passion, and the reason I am teaching. I am glad it is helping so many families understand what we do at Friends' School. I truly believe this is the best place a parent can find to support their child in developing a strong social and emotional foundation.”

For those of you who know Caroline Long, from her three years teaching preschool, or from this year’s 2nd grade class, or our current 4th grade class who knew Caroline when she was their teacher candidate way back in Kindergarten, you know that teaching is indeed her passion (well, teaching, dogs, and skiing!) I recall Caroline saying, when I was interviewing her for the 2nd grade position, how excited she was at the prospect of teaching 2nd grade, because her own 2nd grade teacher had “changed my life”.

Caroline wrote me that note after I had asked her if I could use a piece of her writing for this Among Friends’ blog. She had written a simple email to the parents in her class.  Nothing out of the ordinary, it seemed at first.  All of our teachers update their parents on a regular basis.

But this email seemed a little out of the ordinary.

In response to the email, a long-time Friends’ parent wrote to me: “ I swear, this email that Caroline just sent is the most information I've ever heard about what is happening on a day-to-day basis at Friends’ re the social/emotional inner workings/teachings!! And it is hugely reassuring, and I am incredibly grateful that she took the time to write it. I honestly have never seen everything laid out so explicitly.

Everything she's doing makes a lot of sense, and I agree with it both philosophically and pragmatically.  And I can see how for an outside person wouldn’t make as much sense, given that Caroline is holding the whole context and using events of the day to create learning opportunities.

Perhaps it boils down to that crucial piece of how to communicate what is actually happening in its fullness and entirety -- on top of one's full teaching load!!  And I do feel that Caroline hit it out of the park with her email just now!  I hope it was helpful to others as well!”
2nd grade teacher Caroline Long

As a head of school and a writer, I  share my thoughts about Friends’ social and emotional learning frequently. I clearly don’t do it as well as Caroline Long!

This is a portion of her note to parents, that was sent earlier this month, for our whole community to digest. Thanks, Caroline!

“I have had many questions recently about our social and emotional curriculum, BrainWise. It is a supplement to the work I am already doing with your children. BrainWise focuses on the individual child. The focus of this curriculum is on critical thinking and decision making skills. Here is a link to this curriculum if you would like to read more: http://www.brainwise-plc.org.

The second component of our social/emotional curriculum focuses on knowing yourself, your impact on others, and communicating with friends.  These skills are incorporated into our daily schedule in many different ways. I tell stories and lead meetings based around conflict that the whole class can relate to (ie- feeling left out, talking behind each other’s backs, etc.). Interweaving social emotional curriculum into our daily schedule is the most effective way to capitalize on “teachable moments” that occur naturally in the children’s day.  As research has shown, and I see first hand, the most important thing we can do as adults is support children after conflict arises. The truth is that conflict will happen everyday, in someway, for each child. Providing them with the tools to cope with this conflict and giving them the skills to become more and more independent are the best gifts we can give them. Some broader skills we work on are:

        Cooling off when upset-taking a minute but returning to the conversation
         Speaking directly to each other in a respectful tone
        Speaking honestly and kindly with a goal of solving the problem
        Listening carefully to others and paraphrasing their words
        Proposing solutions
        Agreeing on a solution
        Shake, hug, high five it out 

Two of Caroline's other passions!
The third component of supporting children socially and emotionally is through small group conversations. I meet with small groups to talk about specific conflict and have what we call “Circle of Friends” conversations. I also meet with children one on one to talk about conflict, word choice, friendship challenges and individual needs. Sometimes Mandy is included in these conversations. When we notice behaviors are becoming bad habits we often set up a behavior plan with individual children and their families. Behavior Plans are kept confidential and are not discussed with anyone besides the child, their family and administration.

Here is a link to an article that talks more about supporting children with conflict:

If you have questions about how social and emotional learning is happening in your child’s classroom, ask their teacher; they know a smidgen about it!

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