I was on yard duty yesterday and a hula hoop got ‘snatched’ from a first grader who couldn’t cope, floods of tears, not making much sense and a welling up of anger ready to erupt. I know this child well and talked to the potential anger volcano as we tidied the yard together.
My normal calming, nurturing approach that seems to work like magic generally, no effect here. I managed to take him to the class teacher and explained exactly what had happened and the fact that an eruption was probably likely to happen in the next five minutes. I left to put my coat away and also to give the child some space. I was then on a special needs focused learning walk within that class, but also feeling guilty that I hadn’t managed to calm the volcano, so wanted to be around just in case. I wasn’t needed at all, the class teacher and her assistant knew their children’s emotional needs so well, that yes the child sat at his desk with fury seeping out of him, not engaging with anything slumped in his chair. The teacher left him for a bit but was encouraging without words, saw the right moment and posed a challenge to the child, and left him with it. The teacher came back and celebrated his success. Within minutes that little one was completely engaged with the lesson like everyone else.
I chose to work within my school because the Principal understands that the emotional health of our children needs to be balanced with academic progress. She is good at managing the external needs for progress data to be positive with the emotional needs of the children. My school is an inner city small elementary school, we have the majority of children on free lunches. There are some challenges in our school so a school wide emphasis on social and emotional learning is exactly what our children need. It is not just what our children need, it’s what our families need too, if the children struggle to voice and deal with emotions there may be a link to potential difficulties with this in the adults at home. So there are careful ways to approach communication within the home that address difficulties with families but in a supportive way. The idea of ‘here is the problem’ and what can we all do to deal with this. It is also being able to listen beyond the anger outburst from the children and the parents and get to the real communication.
The emotional health of our children needs to be balanced with academic progress.
Why is this all so important? By having a school wide approach, it makes all these things easier as the children grow through the school with different educators being involved. The consistency of approach means that children and families know exactly what to expect when things go wrong. It also gives us an opportunity to model to families the sorts of social and emotional behaviors that we are teaching the children in school. A few years ago I worked with a student who really had a huge problem when anything went wrong, it was always a big problem- ‘lost his pencil the world was going to end’ scale. We put an enormous amount of work into helping him see problems on a scale of small, medium or big. Our speech teacher did quite a lot of the specialist teaching, but it was applied consistently when things went wrong by all, to help the student solve a problem without getting too upset. It took a while for this work to have an impact but it did and really worked for him eventually. Three years later, I was in a meeting with his mother when she was talking about how he was helping her to scale her problems and how that was helping her with her own feelings. Exactly what that mother needed as everything was a big drama when things went wrong for her son and it was generally me that had to sort it out in school.
I was on yard duty again today with the same group of children, the first grader from yesterday took a hula hoop again and I was able to ask ‘if it gets snatched today, what are you going to do?’ and quite matter of factly he replied ‘tell a grown up’. Thankfully it was played with by only a few children that day!
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