This year, our school focus is Social-Emotional Learning. Yes. SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING.
During our Learning Instruction Days, our staff revamped our (outdated) school Tiger PRIDE focus (which, after 5+ years, I should know the meaning of…a telling sign). As a group, we wrote and voted on our 4 school-wide expectations. Great care was taken to write the expectations (not rules) in child-friendly language. Any 5 or 11 year old should understand these words. Notably missing is the word “respect” – a vague, all-encompassing word if there ever was one.
Be Kind. Be Safe. Do your best. Help the rest.
Excited and hopeful don’t come close to expressing how I feel about this focus. Having observed Montessori teachers the last 5 years and read numerous books on embracing the whole child, I know that successful classrooms must build social-emotional behavior, learning and lessons whenever needed, not just when convenient. We can teach it anytime, but it’s taking the time to drop everything and focus on tough SEL issues when they crop up that is challenging.
So… how do these expectations and Social-Emotional Learning look in the library?
First, there is this quote:
To me, Ginott captures the heart of social-emotional learning. I know that SEL starts with me. Modeling positive behaviors is a must. Showing students – and telling them with grace and courage – that I’m doing my best during tough situations let’s them know that it’s not always easy for me, either. Acknowledging student for helping the rest – classmates, me, the library as a whole – is also important. And staying safe by walking, pushing in chairs, and quietly removing yourself when there is a seating dispute are discussed and encouraged. I speak using overwhelmingly positive, peaceful words. I aim to be predictable in my temperament and actions. Empowering children to love the library is my goal, and they won’t do that if I’m yelling/moody/unpredictable.
There is a large poster in the story pit with our four school (and life) expectations. We review these words every week before class, and I write them on the whiteboard. I highlight any that may be particularly useful during the lesson (help the rest – if we’re using a new tech, etc.) Total time: 30-60 seconds.
Some examples of how the expectations were modeled in the first two weeks:
- Be kind: A K student was surreptitiously pulling the hair of another. The girl turned around, yelled at the hair-puller, then folded inward and cried. I stopped the story, got down on their level, and spoke to both in a peaceful voice. I said that hair-pulling is not okay, neither at school or in life, choosing not to acknowledge the guilty party yet. I asked the hair-got-pulled girl if the other student apologized. She wouldn’t look at me, so I asked again, requesting that she look at my eyes. She did look and answered, “no”. To the whole class, I said, “Pulling hair is not okay. It is not kind, and we are kind at school” using a quiet voice. At this point, the hair-puller acknowledged herself and said it was an accident. About a minute had past and the rest of the class was silent. Now, apologies. I asked the class how you know if something is an accident. Someone says, “you have to say sorry”. I agreed, reiterating for the group that if you don’t say “sorry” – while making eye contact and using a kind voice – the other person think you were trying to hurt them. Apologies were made and accepted, tears dried, and the lesson moved on. Total time: around 3 minutes.
- Be safe: Students sit on stairs to listen to stories. Sometimes, feet and bodies are too close. Students are aware that, to be safe, they are able to move to a better learning space at any point during our lesson. This idea of being a problem-solver is reiterated for the first month of school. I do notice trouble, but I won’t stop the lesson if I feel a child can solve the problem independently by making safe choices that work for them. During the first 2 weeks, a half-dozen students moved during lessons – most quietly, without disruption – to stay safe.
- Do your best: I ask students to leave the library looking as good or better than they found it. In this way, each child can do their best. It took a class 5 extra minutes to leave, as they would not push in chairs and return pencils to the basket. My statement to them: “You are not doing your best for our library and for the next class by leaving materials around the room and chairs scattered.” Then…
- Help the rest: Library class always ends with the statement to leave the room looking as good as, if not better than, you found it. “If you notice a problem, step in and help the rest.” It’s interesting to watch which students will volunteer to help others and the library space as a whole. Often, it’s the children I least expect.
Our school received fantastic signage created by our colleague’s daughter, author/illustrator Lara Kaminoff. And though this poster will be hung throughout the building, I hold hope that it’s lessons will be embraced and encouraged, taught and retaught by both students, staff, and families. May these SEL lessons in life stay with us this year and for years to come.