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Building social and emotional learning skills

Students may attend school to learn subjects like math and grammar, but a well-rounded education cannot be built on textbooks alone. A growing body of experts are highlighting the role schools play in the development of essential soft skills, noting that schools should be increasingly emphasizing the development of these skills. A particular set of skills that plays an important role in students' success in and outside the classroom is those called social and emotional learning skills.

Social and emotional learning skills encompass people’s ability to develop a healthy self image, manage their emotions, achieve goals, hold empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and thoughtful decisions. It’s critical that these skills are built early in life, which is why curricula focused on social and emotional learning is essential. As educational trailblazers, Collierville teachers have already developed grants that support the development of these skills – we outline a few below.

Changing perception.

We practice kindness toward others, but often forget to extend it to ourselves. Thinking of yourself in a negative way can impact self-esteem. In children, this can negatively affect academic performance, peer relationships and success later on. Developing positive self-image, and more importantly, the ability to acknowledge your unique strengths, is an important part of social and emotional learning.

However, developing this skill can be difficult, especially for children whose strengths are not highlighted in standard academic curriculum. Ann Taylor’s “When You Know You're A Genius, The Future Is Bright” grant helps Bailey Station students overcome this challenge. Students in her class learn to not only value their strengths, but use them to find learning skills, hobbies and future careers that fit their needs. It not only boosts student perception of themselves, but also reduces harmful peer comparisons by highlighting their individuality.

Creating community.

Children generally understand unkindness: not sharing with others, saying mean things and hurting one another. However, not being unkind is not the same as showing kindness, which can be difficult for children to grasp. Developing the ability to show kindness, which then develops into empathy, is an essential social and emotional learning skill that kids need to understand, but it’s difficult to teach such an abstract concept.

Karsyn Sewell’s “Kindness Rocks” grant at Schilling Farms is tackling this challenge by helping children understand the impact of kindness and how to use it. The grant provides every student in the school with a flat rock and painting supplies. The students paint encouraging messages, either to themselves or peers, on the rocks and place them in designated areas around the school during kindness week. Creating and seeing kind messages helps students understand the idea of empathy and how they can be kind to each other.

Embracing big emotions.

Dealing with complicated emotions is a challenge – one that even most adults struggle with. Feelings of stress, anxiety or frustration can quickly become overwhelming, especially in a school environment that’s been impacted by COVID-19. Developing the ability to self-regulate and cope with these feelings in a healthy way is part of social and emotional learning and is necessary to being happy and successful in life.

The “Get in the Zone” grant, developed by Erin Reagan, helps students build these skills by providing tools to use while they work through their emotions. Specifically, it provides every classroom with a toolkit that contains sensory items and visual reminders to help students return to their “green zone,” which is calm. The toolkits can be used whenever a student is in their blue, yellow or red zones, which indicate stress or frustration, and include a coping guidebook, calming fidget toys, emotion identifying charts and more. Building coping skills early on helps ensure that children are ready for life outside the classroom!

These are just a few of the many ways that CEF’s grants are supporting cutting-edge curriculum at Collierville Schools. We are excited to see what our students and teachers continue to do with their social and emotional learning grants and are honored to be a part of the next generation.


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