Educating the Whole Child

Educating the Whole Child
Posted on 05/05/2016

By Special Education Teacher Gina Russell & Guidance Counselor LaVerne Cray, Snow Hill Elementary School

Social emotional wellness, mindfulness and overall character building has been and continues to be a focus initiative at Snow Hill Elementary School.  Research that we continue to read leads us in the direction of social emotional wellness and mindfulness within schools to address the needs of the whole child in order for the child to access learning. 

So what really is social emotional wellness and learning?  At our school we feel that as a faculty we must understand the social emotional competencies and understand that behaviors are often related back to the emotions that children are experiencing.  Whether it is poverty, family dynamics, peer relations, or frustrations with a task we must figure out why they are reacting in that way.  The five social emotional competencies that our initiative centers around are self-awareness, responsible decisions making, relationship skills, social awareness, and self-management.

Our social emotional wellness initiative began because as a faculty, not only did we feel we needed to have a better understanding of the emotions behind the behaviors observed within our school; but we also wanted to provide students with the same understanding and vocabulary behind the emotions they are feeling as a result of stressors.   Doing this created a proactive approach and gave a voice to behaviors.  When we gave the behaviors a voice, we ended up developing a common vocabulary among the staff and students that is used on a consistent basis.  Research has shown that when a child is in distressing emotions, the centers for learning are affected.   

Social emotional mindfulness is not a program binder on a shelf found in the conference room.  It is infused within our staff, students, daily vocabulary, and even the school walls. 

“Social emotional learning takes place throughout our student’s day”, says second grade teacher Jamie Tellish.  “It has become a natural language and it’s been amazing to see even Kindergarten students using words like frustrated instead of just mad or sad”. 

Our student’s mindfulness begins every morning at 8:20 a.m. when the morning announcements appear on the televisions.  Principal Dr. Cooper and Guidance Counselor LaVerne Cray portray a playful way of asking about feelings and describe how to handle certain social situations.  Students have been observed recreating these scripts in real life situations such as using the word frustrated in a play situation or joyful because they are at school that day.  As the school day approaches lunchtime, our students see “Synonym Cinnamon Bun” posters on the cafeteria walls.  Our school’s vocabulary project team utilized social emotional vocabulary to create the Cinnamon Buns.  In the center is an emotion word and on the outside are synonyms.  Students love using the emotion words and often refer back to the cinnamon buns.

As an education system in ever changing society, we need to be conscious about educating the whole child.  This takes creativity in balancing the regular curriculum and emotional concerns. Through this ongoing balance, our school has created an environment that provides students with a safe, supportive place and ensures that they are ready and available for learning.   

For more information about this initiative, please contact us at Snow Hill Elementary School by calling (410) 632-5210.