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As early as seven years old I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I have fond memories of transforming my Holly Hobbie bedroom into a classroom where my stuffed animals became my students and my nightstand became my teacher desk. As I reminisce about those early years of my life, I recall being a courageous and caring “teacher” who led my “students” towards being responsible “citizens” in a fairytale community.
Broken. I remember hearing that one word come out of the mouth of the mother of my best friend.
This was the word she used to describe my home, my life. In 1984, in central Nebraska divorce was uncommon. I was the first one in my third-grade class at Eisenhower Elementary School to have divorced parents. Did this mean that I came from chaos and despair? There were many things during those elementary years that made me feel unstable which led to my timid nature. But school provided me consistency and security.
I had teachers who considered the uniqueness of my situation but didn’t make me stand out. They were aware of the dynamics of my family but they were encouraging and provided me with a realistic and positive outlook on life.
Growing up in a single parent household and understanding the demands of financial stability, I coerced myself to seek a more profitable career in business. My first semester of college I experienced the feeling of failure for the first time in my life. Trigonometry, taught by a professor with limited English, stopped me in my tracks.
My inability to understand lengths and angles of triangles added to my professor’s lack of communication equaled a barely passing grade. Through much thought and reflection, I quickly switched majors and decided to follow my heart and passion in life and that was to become a teacher.
My life experiences have taught me that without compassionate and caring teachers, society’s children will grow up in a world steeped deeply in chaos and detachment. Stability in school is the salvation for many children today. They thrive on the consistency and structure. As I entered my very first “official” classroom in 1999, I realized something was uniquely different than the experiences I had in elementary school. I didn’t recall children pushing teachers or kids hiding in the fetal position under a teacher’s desk. There was no remembrance of my teachers restraining students or placing a behavior card on a student’s desk. I don’t remember any of my friends telling a teacher that someone was inappropriately touching them. Why did my classroom seem so different? How did life evolve and morph into something so drastically different in only fifteen short years? Unfortunately, these were all my personal experiences as a first-year teacher.
I think back to how naive and inexperienced I was at 23 years old teaching my first class of twenty-two eight year olds. It’s alarming to think that the lives of these little human beings were with someone so unqualified to deal with such psychological trauma. I’m not certain I met all my standards that year, however, I do know I met each child holistically and did the best I could to make them feel emotionally safe and secure.
My life experiences have given me the ability to connect and empathize with many students who have entered and exited my classroom through the years. I’m certain, though, that I have failed to meet every child socially and emotionally. Kids come into my classroom with many different life experiences. Many students, at one time in their short lives, have experienced trauma. With trauma, the symptoms can go largely unrecognized. Trauma shows up looking like other problems such as frustration, impulsivity, difficulty concentrating, an inability to follow directions, or the inability to work well in a group. For children who have experienced trauma, learning can be a big struggle. Teaching them can be a bigger struggle. But once trauma is identified as the root of the behavior, teachers can adapt their approach to help kids cope when they’re at school. Understanding kids who have been through trauma plus knowing strategies for helping them is essential in the 21st century classroom.
In 2017-2018 there was a big push in our district to implement class meetings two to three times a week. Teachers were given minimal professional development dedicated to the structure and purpose of class meetings. I did some research on my own and found that class meetings would be a good way to foster a cohesive community of learners. I found that facilitating classroom meeting helped my students feel successful academically and created a positive learning environment. Social and emotional learning was factored into the daily routine of my classroom. After implementing class meetings in my classroom, I noticed fewer discipline problems which led to more effective academic instruction. Students became more thoughtful, respectful and reflective as we tackled social decision making and problem solving skills in our class meetings. Trust was also established and fewer conflicts occurred in the classroom.
Mayor Jean Stothert proclaimed August 24, 2018 as #BeKind Day in Omaha. Many school districts in the metro have adopted the slogan. Each district has its own definition of #BeKind. In Millard, #BeKind is about being intentional with your words and actions. Kindness costs very little and pays huge dividends. #BeKind encompasses the idea of showing empathy for others. We have made an intentional effort at Willowdale Elementary to show empathy through many avenues. One way we are achieving this is through a family literacy campaign, One School, One Book. Our school is reading Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie. One School, One book has been tied to giving back to our community by having families make donations to the Nebraska Humane Society. This is one small effort in intertwining literacy with Social Emotional Learning.
Feeling out of control is one of the hallmarks of traumatic experiences, so adhering to a clear, predictable routine in my classroom provides my students with a sense of stability. Am I doing all I can in my own classroom so students feel secure and connected to each other? Have I created a culture of security and stability? This is what led me to the study of social emotional learning and how to integrate it into all curricular areas. Being able to incorporate social emotional learning into all subject areas will allow my students to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. It’s important to begin with a definition of social emotional learning. Through research and practice I hope to find techniques to integrate into all curricular areas that don’t just benefit kids who are struggling but all students will develop the skills to build resilience, confidence and an overall well-being.
Willowdale Elementary School is a K-5 school located at 168th and Q street with an enrollment of approximately 430 students. The mission of Willowdale Elementary, a leader in technology, is to ensure that all students develop character traits and academic skills for personal success as responsible citizens and life-long learners. In collaboration with families and the community, Willowdale provides diverse and innovative opportunities that engage and challenge each student. Students are offered many unique learning opportunities that engage and challenge all students. Students are offered many unique learning opportunities, supported by college and career readiness skills through engaged learning. Willowdale is an English Language Learner Cluster School, which serves diverse cultures and languages from approximately twenty different countries that make up 10% of the population. About 12% of the student population is low-income.
I am one of three third grade teachers at Willowdale Elementary School. I teach all subjects to a class of 25 students. Currently, I have one ELL student. This is her first year in the United States. She came to the U.S. from Germany speaking no English. I have three identified special education students. One has a disability in reading and writing, another has a speech disability, and the third is identified as other health impaired due to a cancer diagnosis. I have one student on a protective behavior plan. Another student has been diagnosed through his pediatrician with ADHD. Another student has a court order protection against her father for physical abuse. Four students have parents that are divorced and are living between homes. Forty percent of my students are living with situations that affect their academics. These are the known situations. I have suspicions of other things going on such as alcohol abuse, physical abuse, and neglect. For children who are currently experiencing trauma or have experienced trauma in the past, strong connections and rich relationships are vital.
Teaching to culture through culture is aimed at shifting the content so that the content we teach in classrooms better reflects our students and our community. In order to see the whole child, we can’t deny the challenges students face outside the classroom. We must acknowledge that cultural practices change overtime. As teachers, we need to build onto cultural assets that students bring to create a space that continues to nurture and develop their culture. We can do this by shifting the content so that the content we teach in our classrooms better reflects our students and our community.
Developing a set of classroom norms where students can have safe conversations where they can disagree with one another, explore deep ideas, and sometimes difficult ideas is essential in a responsive classroom. There are seven key principles which can bring about change in the classroom which include building trusting relationships, fostering self-reflection, fostering growth mindset, cultivating perseverance, creating a classroom community, practicing cooperative learning skills, and responding productively to conflict across differences. In the elementary classroom, an extensive amount of modeling and practice must take place as students learn these key principals.
Through research, I hope to find ways to deliver culturally-responsive lessons that reach the diverse learners in my classroom. Fostering the ability to effectively deliver culturally-responsive lessons will help me engage students and will allow them to make personal connections with the content I teach. It’s my hope that such lessons will lead students to be more invested in the curriculum giving them motivation to do their best.
As I integrate social and emotional learning into the curricular areas I will teach my students the importance of developing, applying, and sustaining healthy attitudes and behaviors throughout their lives. It’s my goal that throughout the year they will be engaged in activities and lessons that cultivate their social and emotional well-being. For example, when teaching the driving question how can I build healthy relationships, students will be assessed as they teach their peers something unique about themselves. This will tie into one of our writing standards. Students will prepare a written speech, practice giving their speech orally to a small group, and finally present their speech to the entire class. The speech will be about a unique character trait. This informal assessment will not only show students’ understanding of their personal unique trait, but by listening and valuing their classmates’ uniqueness they will show an appreciation for each other.
Creating exit tickets showing student understanding of key words tied to social and emotional learning is a quick formative assessment to assess how well students understand the material. When integrating social emotional learning into literacy, using familiar picture book read-alouds, is a helpful way to generate discussions. After reading Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, students could be asked why they think Pete didn’t cry or get angry when his white shoes turned some interesting colors during his walk. It will be important to encourage my students to share about small things that have occurred or may occur in their lives that make them upset, sad, or even angry. Students can share how they would handle negative life experiences.
A rich discussion may take place as I teach about perseverance and the importance of looking for the positive in bad things that may happen instead of dwelling on the negative. It will be important to let students share times they didn’t let a bad situation bring them down. Or students may share about something that happened and how they reacted negatively. Teaching mindfulness as a coping mechanism will benefit students. An informal assessment could be done after the whole group discussion by forming students into small groups and asking them to create and write down a situation in life that could possibly bring someone down. In addition, students will write a positive way to respond to the situation they created.
Growing as an educator is important to me. As I integrate social emotional learning into the curricular areas I will reflect on several questions. What went well? Were my students engaged? Did I notice students sharing experiences that they normally wouldn’t share? Was there anything alarming that was discussed? What was challenging for students as our discussions took place? How could I adjust the leading questions to make students feel more comfortable sharing in the large group? Is there a need for me to pull small groups to continue the conversation? Were new relationships fostered as discussions took place? What emotions surfaced in discussion? Reflecting on these questions will guide me in my next steps as I continue the practice of integrating social and emotional learning into all subject areas.
I’ve already begun collaborating with my school principal. She’s been very helpful by giving me suggestions in reference to my proposal and websites to research. Planning with my teammates weekly is an excellent resource for me as I implement this practice. I may contact other Millard employees who specialize in the area of social emotional learning such as school counselors, psychologists, and social workers to seek out an understanding of what’s being implemented in their schools in regards to social emotional learning integration. Collaboration will also take place amongst my students and their families since they are the center of this project. Interviewing experts such as Debra Anderson Pappas, senior director of early intervention and training at Project Harmony. Project Harmony is a child advocacy center in Omaha.
Pappas noted the reality in our community such as the statistics she noted in the film created by Nebraska Loves Public Schools, The Mind Inside. The film explores one of the most pressing and complicated issues in public education today, mental health. She states 60% of all kids, ages 0-16, are exposed to some sort of violence every year. Twenty percent of Children who are diagnosed with a mental health problem don’t get services. The most common diagnosis is ADHD, depression, anxiety and conduct disorder. This proposal will be successful if I remember the importance of establishing strong relationships, continue to build upon those, and discover new ways of integrating social emotional learning into curricular areas to best impact my students.
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