School can be a place of “light, connection, and transformation”

Kindergarten teacher reading to children in library(Written by Jill Davis, Kindergarten teacher, based on her experience in the “How to Build Collaborative Teams” course)

Once upon a time, there was a teacher that loved to teach. She loved children and she loved helping them learn and laugh. She enjoyed her days in her classroom, but she had found that there were two different worlds at school.

One world was in the classroom, where people talked and touched and shared what made them excited and sad. They explored words in books, pictures, and movies. They laughed and cried together. They learned how to handle conflict honestly. They learned how to lift one another up to be the best they could be. They learned to celebrate one another’s gifts and celebrate each other’s song. This world was full of life and love and learning.

But, then, there was another world. It was cold and dark and long. Minutes felt like hours. It was a place where teachers were made to go. The walls were made of ugly, cold cement blocks. The floor was made of monotonous brown squares. The teachers were made to sit for long periods of time. Sometimes, the lights were turned off and the teachers had to stare at a white square that was filled with lots and lots of numbers. Sometimes the leaders would smile and say the numbers were good, and sometimes the leaders would shake their heads and complain that the numbers were bad.

There was no talk of true learning and growth. There was no enthusiasm for the students that lived by day in the classroom. There was no connection to the teachers. There was just blah, blah, blah that would come back each week after school. As the teacher looked around, she saw no one smiling or happy. The teachers’ faces looked sad and overwhelmed. It was not a happy place.

Then, one evening the teacher walked into a room at another school for a new course she had signed up to take. Here she saw teachers facing one another around a large rectangular table. There was a beautiful chime that seemed to drift her mind up and out. There were deep breaths that seemed to shut out the outside world and connect the teachers together. There were inspirational words shared. There was reflection and life and uplifting activities. People were allowed to see each other’s humanity – to see each other’s vulnerability and move forward into trust and empathy. Real-life conflict was discussed and teachers problem-solved and brainstormed together. There was hope and love and a celebration of life and learning.

This teacher was so touched by this classroom and textbook and TED talks. She was inspired to share what she had learned with the teachers at her own school. She was grateful that teachers could once again connect and collaborate on a human level. She felt hope again that the dark place at school could become a place of light, connection, and transformation. She was excited that the whole teacher could discuss and share emotions–she was excited to finally learn how to grow and manage her own emotions. She was excited that she could be honest and discuss ideas that would make her team and her students learn even more…school could become a real place–not a cold and sterile place. She could be a leader that helped others bring their best and true selves forward.

…And they all lived happily ever after. The end.

Social Emotional Learning Coming to Atlanta Schools

Guess what I’ve been up to this summer?  I’ve been in school….where I just finished the summer semester teaching Educators in Thomas University’s Master’s Program. The course I teach is called Cultivating Collaborative Classrooms through Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and it is akin to the skills I teach parents to develop self-awareness, regulate emotions, and collaboratively problem-solve in their families.Along with my passion to support children (and parents) in their home environment, this is a dream come true to impact the lives of children in their school environment. It seems that research is finally validating what I’ve known for a long time–that children’s social and emotional development is important to their academic success in school.

Research shows that SEL has a positive effect on school climate with students showing better classroom behavior, more motivation to learn, and a deeper commitment to school. Of course, what finally got Education Administrators’ attention was research that showed students who received SEL instruction had achievement scores an average of 11 percentile points higher than students who did not receive SEL instruction. Schools that implemented SEL into their curriculum also haddecreased disruptive classroom behavior, noncompliance, aggression, delinquent acts and disciplinarian referrals.  And they also reported fewer incidences of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal.
The pendulum is swinging the other way as we are beginning to realize the negative outcomes of the “zero tolerance” policies of the last decade.  Instead of suspending or expelling students for negative behavior, we need to teach them skills to deal with their anger and conflicts.
An article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week said that Atlanta Public Schools will spend more than $1 million over the next year specifically to teach students how to become self-aware, responsible, caring adults through social emotional learning instruction.  And earlier this year, three bills were introduced in the U.S. Congress which earmark a portion of the national Education budget to SEL programs in schools nationwide.
Developing students’ ‘social-emotional learning skills’ will help improve their academic performance and behavior and have other benefits, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said.  “Research shows our students can master these SEL skills and develop their hearts, along with their smarts, to become better people than we could ever be,” she said in a written statement.
I’m so excited to be part of this movement toward teaching children valuable life skills that go way beyond their school years! 

Compassionate Communication in the Classroom

TU TeamParentingHeart is branching out from families to the classroom!  I’m excited to share that I have joined the adjunct faculty team at Thomas University to teach Compassionate Communication to Educators in the Master’s Degree program.  Compassionate Communication (sometimes called Nonviolent Communication) is also the basis for the parenting approach I teach. Bringing Compassionate Communication into the classroom has been a dream of mine for over a decade!
This is yet another way to impact the lives of children by training educators on how to build a classroom environment conducive to the development of the students’ optimal emotional health and emotional intelligence…which in turn increases their capacity for learning.

 

This week the educators are introducing Connection Circles in their classrooms as a way to build connection, trust and community among the students and teachers.  Here’s what one educator had to say about her experience:

 

“I never realized that this sort of connection was so effective in a classroom and that students would be so open to the process.  I see now how the circles can create a community of learners that are truly connected.”  

This cutting-edge program is led by Director of Education, Dr. Susan Lynn, at Thomas University…and hopefully…coming soon to a school near you!