Social-Emotional Learning in 1st Grade Social-Emotional Learning in 1st GradeKaty Ailes has been teaching 1st grade at Park Day School since 2015. She received her training at Bank Street College of Education, and was an Agency Design Fellow in 2017-2018. Read her full bio here. Read on for a conversation with Katy around how social-emotional learning plays a part in her teaching practice. How would you define social-emotional learning (SEL)? Katy: To me, social and emotional learning is all about how a child navigates the world and the people in their world. It’s everything else beyond the “academic” portion of teaching; it’s how kids treat one another, how they problem solve, how they respect their space, and their things, how they treat their community members, including adults and animals. What is unique about SEL for 1st graders? Is there a difference in how you might approach SEL with 1st graders compared to kids in 4th or 5th grade? Katy: I think we forget that young children are still learning how to navigate their world. A lot of the things that we assume they know socially and emotionally, they actually need to be taught explicitly, and they need a good amount of practice at those skills. In the upper grades they can have more of a discussion and with 1st graders it’s a lot about building that foundation and practicing. Activities have to be done to bring kids together so they can practice skills like sharing, practicing empathy and kindness for example. How do you integrate SEL in your teaching practice? Katy: I approach the social and emotional skills we want kids to learn similarly to how I approach them learning to read and write and add. They all take practice! So I provide intentional opportunities for them to do this- projects that require them to learn something about one another, engage in dialogue, etc. When writing cards of appreciation, they are challenged and required to write out specific reasons why you, for example, appreciate your mother on Mother’s Day or loved working with your 4th grade reading buddy; giving LOTS of opportunity to reflect on who helps us and how they help us. For example, one year I noticed that kids did not know people’s names who they interact with every day- our maintenance staff, the lunch staff, etc., so we did a project to watch workers around the school and write about all the things we learned that they do to help us! I’ve even assigned KINDNESS homework to a child who just wasn’t getting it (but that’s a very specific example!). At Park Day School, when teachers are planning academic projects or experiences, we’re always thinking thoughtfully about how SEL is weaved in through that. There’s always more than just the academic “outcome”. We’re teaching our students about how to work on a team, how to collaborate, how to communicate, and learn from other perspectives. Sometimes that work can be easily missed if you’re looking at the outcomes of a project and don’t think about the whole impact and learning that has been done beyond the academic learning. Can you talk a little about the impact you’ve seen of SEL in the classroom? Katy: There’s definitely maturity that happens along the year and there’s always going to be problems that come up in a community because that’s how it is when people are together. What I’m hoping to do with SEL curriculum in 1st grade is to give the kids tools to handle those problems and create the foundation for life long learning and practice with SEL. When there is a real foundation in SEL skills, that shows up five years down the road. It’s collective over the years. A lot of the routines we do at Park Day, like class meetings and circles, they build on year to year and the routine of that helps them show those skills – through the consistency. It’s the most dignified way to work with a child in an empathetic way, to show them what they deserve and what other people around them deserve. How do you help redirect and/or set community expectations for your students? Katy: One of the things we do is create a toolbox for how to repair a friendship. The kids brainstorm ideas together of what they would like as a friend if they were mistreated. Some examples they have come up with are: picking a flower for a friend, sitting with a friend at lunch, or writing a note to a friend. That’s one way of helping kids find their own independence in problem solving. For class meetings there’s a community notebook so the kids are trained that when a problem comes up, they can write it down in the notebook and then it will be brought to the meeting for the whole community to help them solve. They also know that in order to write a problem down, they need to at least try one way to solve it first. And then there’s just moments when they need quick redirection or reminder of expectations. Our weekly class meetings are a real time when kids reveal themselves- and, sometimes, I notice something the class is finding challenging and I bring it a class meeting through a discussion, through reading a story, or through a project. I often share many personal stories from my childhood with the kids because I think this is a way to build trust and to show empathy towards my students (I was there once, I really hear what you are going through). Another thing we are always coming back to is the idea that- when someone hurts someone else’s feelings, giving them the benefit of the doubt. “We are all learning and this is something student x didn’t know before.” Then, acknowledging that when something has been discussed, others are expecting respect and change!