Perhaps more than ever, schools face a multitude of challenges in meeting the needs of the students they serve. The pandemic introduced a new set of protocols for classrooms to implement, along with the myriad of responsibilities already in place for classroom teachers. Considering these many expectations, it is easy for teachers to find themselves pouring all of their energies into managing their students and learning environments. In an effort to control variables, attention can become hyper focused on to-do lists, as well as tracking behaviors, shortcomings, and predetermined outcomes. We can lose sight of the individual student, and instead focus on collective performance and outcomes. In doing so, we slowly rob our students of ownership of their learning, self-discovery, and expression, thereby stunting the natural joy in learning. And, it isn’t only the student who experiences diminished joy in this environment, so does the teacher. The more external control and lack of autonomy students feel exerted upon them, the more disengagement, dependency, apathy, and lack of motivation they feel. A perfect storm for behavioral issues to appear.
A solution to this exists. A simple, natural, human-friendly solution; make students partners in their learning journey, and infuse natural elements of play and exploration in learning experiences. Turn over some of that control and responsibility to the learner, it is their journey after all. Allow them to devise ways to connect play, exploration, and experimentation to learning targets. Consider this quote by Susanne Leslie, “Play is not more important than science, literacy, physics, or math - it IS science, literacy, physics, and math. It is the FOUNDATION for learning.”
How do you incorporate play into your plans? What kinds of play and discovery opportunities are you opening for your students?
This post is part of a series about joyful learning. Friend and fellow ASCD Emerging Leader, Abby French wrote this post based on a conference session we presented together for Washington State ASCD and New Jersey ASCD Whole Child Institutes.
I have the privilege of working with amazing teams of professional learning facilitators, teachers, AND students. I really do get the best of three worlds. From time to time I'll be writing posts for the Resonance Education Consulting blog. We are sharing pieces called called SEL in Action, a sharing of experiences from working with students and supporting the development of SEL skills in the classroom.
This is post was originally written for and posted on ResonanceEd.com/blog. To learn more about Resonance Education. Consulting and bringing sustainable social emotional learning systems to your school, click here.
Some of the most special moments we experience as teachers are when we watch our students live the skills we teach.
We’ve been digging into empathy this month in our newsletters and blog feed. This is because empathy is a complex concept to teach and there are many skills to model and practice. Supporting our young learners in developing their empathy skills is critical for their long-term development as well-rounded individuals.
When we are teaching, we may have social-emotional expectations of students that may not be met. Often what we witness are students struggling to work with each other. Why is that? It could be because we haven’t spent the time necessary teaching the skills needed to collaborate, empathize, and make responsible decisions. In my current school setting, we discovered when there is a struggle, it is necessary to slow down, back up, and teach some specific skills to develop the bigger picture competencies.
I have the good fortune of substitute teaching in a small multi-age group school. Some time each day is spent together in the whole group learning. This approach has pros and cons and can be a solid representation of social-emotional learning in action.
Sometimes though, we assume students at the ages of 10 or 11 automatically have the skills necessary to work with 5- and 6-year old students, because they are students themselves.
When students work together, they draw upon both inter- and intrapersonal skills. As such, we must be mindful that we are explicitly teaching those intrapersonal skills first. Primarily, patience, empathy, and perspective-taking.
Patience is an intrapersonal skill, meaning it’s a skill we learn to develop within ourselves. But how do you teach kids to be patient? What makes them impatient in the first place? Recently, when observing upper grade students work with lower grade students, there seemed to be a quick increase in level of impatience as the older students tried to read with their little buddies. We noted this frustration and realized we hadn’t prepared the upper level students to read with their younger counterparts.
We decided to slow the process and explicitly teach the skills needed when working with the younger students. We began by having students identify their intrapersonal strengths and then moved into strategies they could use to feel calm when their patience was thin. Students soon realized already familiar techniques such as breathing or pausing could be applied in this situation when experiencing frustration.
In addition to some quick patience-building techniques, we knew that we had to talk about empathy, another intrapersonal skill. We knew building a bank of strategies with the upper level students could help them understand how the younger students are at different developmental levels. Once we shared stories of “remember when you were five?” and brainstormed ideas around “what do we think we need to do to help someone is only five?”, Intentionally and explicitly naming the skills and allowing them to internalize the situation, provides the skills needed to effectively work with the younger students.
Finally, after a few weeks of explicitly focusing on and practicing some intrapersonal skills, we noticed the upper level students were more patient and empathetic towards their younger schoolmates. Were they 100% improved? Of course not - they are still learning themselves. The point is that was an improvement in the interactions during mixed-level activities. Students displayed patience and empathy through their ability to pause and listen, rather than showing their frustration with a younger student. When students practice the skills, they are better able to make caring, responsible decisions.
Time invested pays off longer term, but we have to continuously teach and reteach these skills throughout school years. If we do, our students are equipped for having positive relationships with others, and themselves.