Sessions provide tools to cultivate social and emotional skills

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Emotions matter, especially in schools. But all too often, schools are places that have too many rules and not enough feelings, said Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Brackett spoke about emotional intelligence during the July 13 morning plenary at TEACH. Several sessions at the conference focused on making classrooms safe, supportive and responsive learning environments.

three women discuss at the workshop

For example, in “Engaging Students Through Purposeful Play,” educators learned that “purposeful play” is more than just play, it’s activity designed to increase student engagement and learning. Purposeful play also allows students to cultivate their social and emotional skills. Jane Lee-Rhodes and Cynthia Hopkins, teachers from Corpus Christie, Texas, gave a tag-team presentation on the games they’ve used to get students to think critically while having fun.

Administrators may resist purposeful play, questioning if the students are actually learning, said Lee-Rhodes, but she encouraged participants not to give up on the activities. “It’s important to target essential content and know what you want students to learn,” she said. “You know what works in your classroom; administrators want the data to show it works.”

Educators need to know what they want students to learn and debrief with them after play is done. “Time for reflection is important to build into your gameplay,” said Hopkins.

She’Ree Choy, a second-year prekindergarten teacher and member of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, attended the session to get resources to use in her classroom. “Having students play games in class is productive because it fosters engagement, makes learning fun, reduces resistance and promotes success for all learners,” said Choy. “After listening to the presentation, I’ve learned that it’s critical that purposeful play is fluid; you have to be able to change things up to meet the students’ needs.”

“When your kids come in the door and  ask ‘What are we doing today?’ because they are excited for class, that’s gold,” said Lee-Rhodes.

Another session on cultivating social and emotional skills used children’s literature to celebrate diversity. The session’s discussion and exercises were led by Michelle Magner, assistant education director of the Anti-Defamation League, who engaged the packed room of educators as the experts they are. In the session “Powerful Words: Using Children’s and Young Adult Literature to Teach Tough Topics,” she led the group in a discussion on bias and hate crimes taking place in schools, and the diversity gap in children’s literature; as recently as 2017, only 7 percent of all children’s books included diversity. Magner recommended the website Here Wee Read, which lists books emphasizing diversity.

The educators also discussed the fact that it’s fine to talk positively about physical differences to children as young as age 3. Children notice differences at age 2, Magner said. By ages 3-5, they expand their observations, seek explanations and are curious about family variations. By age 5, they like to build group identity.

Participants included Christine Gibson, a third-grade intervention specialist and member of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, who has written her own series of preK-3 picture books called Christine’s Big Hair Adventures. Each book in the series is crafted to develop social and emotional learning. Find them at www.christinesbighairadventures.com.

During the workshop, Magner asked members to name their favorite children’s book. Titles included: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas; Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Peña; A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats; Cherries and Cherry Pits by Vera B. Williams; I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoët; Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel and Melissa Sweet; Click Clack Moo by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin; Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh; Spaghetti on a Hotdog Bun by Maria Dismondy; Confessions of a Former Bully by Trudy Ludwig; and Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson.

Magner offered the ADL’s No Place for Hate program, and its Current Events Classroom of K-12 lessons, which just released a new lesson plan on child detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

[Adrienne Coles and Annette Licitra]