Tag Archives: SEL

Rethinking Kindergarten

I’ve been teaching for 33 years and have seen a lot of trends and witnessed the shifts in society that have impacted our educational world. But the crisis we are seeing with our youngest students lately has been overwhelming our teachers and our schools in a way I have never seen. Children are coming into our schools with such an increase in dysregulated behavior that is impacting the educational environment for all students. Whether it is the result of ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences of trauma from violence, poverty, addiction, neglect, abuse, separation, mental health, etc) or some other reasons, we are having to rethink how we educate these young children so that they can have a more hopeful future.

In our district in Maine, we are taking some time this year as a kindergarten team to look at alternative ways to structure our teaching day that can help students develop a sense of belonging and find ways to cope with the stresses of life so that they CAN self-regulate in order to learn.

We have discussed incorporating more play, adjusting academic expectations, delaying classroom placement at the start of the year, examining supportive routines and rituals, and integrating experiences that tap into multiple intelligences.  At our last workshop day we focused on the latter-inviting in a professor from University of Maine at Farmington to help us take a look at how multiple intelligence (MI) theory could help us frame some experiential learning for kindergarten that may address the interests and needs of all learners, especially those most at risk.

Now I realize there is often conflation of learning styles and MI, but we are thinking about this theory as a rejection of the ‘one size fits all’ model of learning and recognizing that we all have intelligences beyond the 3 Rs and that we don’t just want to raise “college and career ready” students, but that we want to raise human beings who can have successful and fulfilling lives.

At this point, we still have more questions than answers. What is this going to look like? How will we integrate this into our current framework? What resources or materials will we need? How will this impact first grade? Subsequent grades? How will we support our teachers? We are clearly in the messy research and reflection phase with no clear direction, but we know we can’t continue with our current model. The meltdowns, disruptions, and defiance are corrupting the learning environment and not meeting the needs of those distressed children. We have adopted Collaborative Literacy: a  curriculum with a heavy focus on Social Emotional Learning (SEL) as well as reading and writing. We’ve hired more social workers, counselors, and deans of students but the crisis is growing for those coming into the educational setting.

I’ll keep you posted on our journey, but in the meantime I would love to hear from others who may be having similar experiences with the growing needs of young students and how you are seeking to support them.

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Sketchnote of our Early Release Workshop on Rethinking Kindergarten

One More Off My TBR Stack

Image result for something rotten: a fresh look at roadkillSOMETHING ROTTEN: A FRESH LOOK AT ROADKILL by Heather L. Montgomery
Every once in awhile you read a book that changes the way you think about something-often something so common that you rarely give it much thought to begin with. This book is one of them. Author Heather Montgomery’s fascination with roadkill translates into a an en”gross”ing look at scientific research that depends on DOR (dead on road) and URP (unidentified road pizza) to research parasitic diseases, track species, cure cancer, and even cut down on auto accidents. She also found that roadkill is used for art and sustainable food sources. I had no idea about so many of these aspects. I can say for certain that I will never be able to look at roadkill the same way again-and that is the power of a well written book! If you think nonfiction is boring, you just aren’t reading the right books! Not for the squeamish, but perfect for the curious minds out there! (oh, and don’t skip the footnotes: informative and hilarious)

When Curriculum Becomes Life or Death Learning

This week we had a day and a half of professional development in our district. For some of that time we broke into teams and groups to work on curriculum and to share ideas on pedagogy, resources for implementation, and time for collaboration. We want to make sure our instruction is meeting the academic needs of all students and take that work seriously.

Then we focused on a side of education we rarely discussed at the start of my teaching career: the social-emotional needs of our students, in particular those who have experienced trauma and at risk for harming themselves or others. This was painful for us as teachers to explore, because we know how painful it is for our children who are experiencing this in their young lives.

 

We first had a training on “Understanding and Responding to Child Sexual Abuse”. When you hear 1 in 5 people are involved in sexual violence in your state, and you look out at your classroom to the faces of those 20 or more children, you know the odds and it breaks your heart.  I’m certainly going to spend some time on the Children’s Safety Partnership website this weekend to become more familiar with their resources.

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I kept wondering how many of our children struggling to follow rules, engage in our lessons, treat others kindly, or control their behaviors are dealing with trauma we could never imagine? How do we teach them when their little hearts and minds are so wounded?

 

Then we had a training session on Suicide Prevention. We learned that our state has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation and that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for 10-24 year olds!

We (teachers) might be one of the most protective factors for our students in  preventing suicidality.  Our relationships and connections with our students may be a lifeline we don’t even know we are throwing out. 

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The last session of the day was exploring the “Traits and Characteristics of Violent Offenders”- in other words, those who have carried out mass shootings .

Our local police department prepared a presentation that helped us recognize these traits but were careful to say there is NO “model profile” of a school shooter.

The term that stuck with us was “leakage“-signs that are red flags or indicators of threat that offenders put out ahead of their violent acts, but are often only recognized in hindsight.

Sandy Hook Promise has put out some great videos to raise awareness with this issue.

 

So being a teacher these days is not only about ‘Readin’, Ritin’, and ‘Rithmetic. Those 3Rs are competing with Social Emotional Learning  and truly life or death issues for our students. Later this month our state test results will be released and there will be cries from the communities for us to raise those scores and work on school improvement plans. Luckily our state has done away with school “Report Cards” that shamed us on these high stakes tests and would have tied them to our teacher evaluations. But the pressure is on teachers to transform lives both academically and social-emotionally with less and less resources.

Am I saying we should lower our expectations? NO WAY! I am saying we should increase our society’s expectations for raising and supporting our children. It needs to be an “All Hands on Deck”, “It Takes a Village”, “No Child Left Behind” mentality from our entire society. It takes money and resources and a real understanding of what schools are being asked to do. We will never be able to attract the best and brightest to become teachers in the future if we blame schools and teachers for every failure, if we don’t have competitive salaries that will draw and keep educators in this difficult profession, if we underfund resources by diverting them to private schools, and we throw around flip and ill-informed comments like, “We can’t throw money at all our problems.” Education is a piece of the puzzle, but so is health care, nutrition, mental health resources, and child care. Accountability is often laid solely on the shoulders of schools. This must change.

I go to work each week grateful for the teachers who return each day to their classrooms with a passion for what they do. They are making a positive difference in the lives of children, no matter what their MECAS score tells us. This weekend many of them will be contemplating the depressingly serious professional development we just had, I’m glad we have a long weekend.

One More Off My TBR Stack

THEY CALL US ENEMY by George Takei, (with Eisinger, Scott & Becker)
This graphic novel memoir by actor/activist George Takei (Sulu on Star Trek) takes us back to WWII when every person of Japanese descent in the west coast was rounded up, taken from their homes, and forced into “relocation centers”. They lost everything (homes, businesses, jobs…) and were held for years in camps with armed guards. This was America and these people were Americans. How could this happen? Could it happen again? As Mark Twain once remarked, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” Timely, powerful, and important memoir told in an engaging and accessible format for readers

The Negation of Polarization; Book by Book

It’s getting messy out there in the world. We are becoming more and more polarized in our beliefs and our stances. We are seeing the rise of fearmongering for those who are “other”.  We are seeing emboldened acts of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, that are being rationalized as normal nationalism. I could write a tome on the topic, but instead I would like to offer a short blog and a collection of picture books that might serve as a small antidote to the mistrust, distrust, misunderstanding, and misconceptions that are slowly poisoning our society. I believe in the power of books to change lives; to stimulate thinking and to open hearts. We are more same than different and yet we should celebrate our differences for the richness it brings to life. We need to love ourselves as well and feel like we belong. Mirrors, windows, sliding glass doors…it’s more than a catchy phrase for diverse books, it is guide for helping us get books into the hands of our children if we are ever going to raise a more compassionate generation.

There are soooo many out there, but I wanted to share a few picture books I have embraced recently. This is just a drop in the bucket of powerful picture books. I would truly welcome YOUR suggestions in the comments or on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve provided links to Amazon below but please visit your local indie bookstores or libraries to check these out as well.

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JUST ASK: BE DIFFERENT, BE BRAVE, BE YOU

THE PROUDEST BLUE: A STORY OF HIJAB AND FAMILY

A BOY LIKE YOU

SAY SOMETHING

I AM HUMAN: A BOOK OF EMPATHY

I AM PEACE: A BOOK OF MINDFULNESS

I AM LOVE: A BOOK OF COMPASSION

I AM YOGA

NEITHER

THEY SHE HE ME: FREE TO BE!

ERASER

AFTER THE FALL

THE BAD SEED

THE GOOD EGG

THE COOL BEAN

BE KIND

Book by book we can change the world!

Please share some titles that you think will help us make this world a more kind and compassionate place for our students to grow and thrive.