Strong social-emotional skills are crucial to a child’s academic success—and life. So at Park, we weave social-emotional learning (SEL) throughout every day.
We maintain trusting relationships between students and teachers, creating a community where children feel seen, understood, comfortable, and empowered to take intellectual risks. It is through these relationships that students in PreK learn how to recognize and label emotions, laying the groundwork for developing empathy throughout the Lower Division. Students in upper grades can aptly express their needs as well as understand that taking emotional risks is part of the learning process. Classrooms and daily schedules are intentionally organized to provide students with opportunities to collaborate, engage in discourse, ask questions, and learn the skill of self-advocacy.
The Lower Division emphasizes valuing others’ ideas and perspectives. Together we build empathy and independence and learn to make responsible decisions.
In one PreK classroom, the children take turns sitting in a special chair while they receive compliments from their classmates. Adding this “compliment circle” to Morning Meeting provides a daily opportunity for students to recognize their classmates and their contributions to the classroom community. First, teachers give examples of true compliments, encouraging students to be specific and not to repeat what others have already said. Coming up with compliments requires noticing others, which helps lay a foundation for empathy. At the beginning of the year most of the compliments are statements like “I like your shoes,” or “I like playing with you.” In time, however, teachers observe how the compliments become more specific: “I like riding on the bus with you,” or “I like when you help me build in the big block area.” The goal is for children to be aware of each individual’s contributions to the group, and also to develop an understanding that everyone has many wonderful qualities that should be celebrated.
Students build on their SEL skills as they move to the Upper Division, where Advisory and Growth Education promote self-awareness, organization, digital citizenship, collaboration, and conflict resolution. With Park’s teachers and advisors, adolescents strengthen their skills of reflection and self-advocacy, so they graduate from the Upper Division feeling known by others and knowing themselves as individuals, students, and community members.
In the fall and spring, every student in Grades 6–8 uses evidence from their classes to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses in their student-led conferences with their advisor and family. To prepare, each student creates a Personal Learning Plan that includes goals and strategies to help improve their skills and performance. They then facilitate a discussion about their plan with their advisor and family. Throughout the year, each student-advisor pair reflects on the effectiveness of the strategies and celebrates when progress has been made. Student-led conferences provide adolescents the opportunity to practice the essential social and emotional skills needed to be a successful lifelong learner.
Teachers rely on the Responsive Classroom approach when considering the best SEL practices for Park students. They also collaborate with our two part-time mental health professionals for additional SEL support. Our school counselor works directly with individuals, small groups, and classes, and our psychologist is available to work with families to help students build specific SEL skills on an individual basis.