This blog is the third in a 5-part series by Adam Elder, Westside's Director of Counseling and SEL. At Westside, we believe that all teaching and learning is both social and emotional. In this series, Adam will be showcasing how we teach students the five pillars of social-emotional learning (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making.) This blog focuses on self-management.
It’s 9:00 a.m. on Friday and I am in a Zoom breakout room with a group of 2nd graders. We have just started a mindfulness activity during which we listen to soft music and watch the jellyfish cam at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Suddenly, I see a notice pop up on my screen:
Annoyed, I quickly hit “Postpone” and continue on.
An hour later, it happens again, but I don’t have time then either. Postpone. My computer and I play this game every hour for the rest of the day before I sign off and forget about it.
On Monday, my Zoom lags, Chrome crashes when I open my 8th tab, and my calendar won’t sync.
These annoyances continue off and on until finally, on Tuesday afternoon, while in the middle of an important meeting:
I’ve postponed proper care of my laptop so long that it crashed. And now I’m wishing that I would have just taken the five or ten minutes a few days ago to let my computer reboot so it can run properly.
Just like our computers, we also need to take time to “reboot” from time to time so we don’t crash.
Even though I ignored them, I appreciate that my computer told me (over and over!) that it needed to reboot. Wouldn’t it be nice if a sign popped up and told us it was time to take a break and reboot? And it would be great if that sign also told us exactly what to do!
In reality, those signs and action plans are available to us, but they are SEL skills that need to be developed. These are a part of self-management skills that include:
- Managing one’s emotions
- Identifying and using stress management strategies
- Setting goals and exhibiting self-discipline, self-motivation, and organizational skills
- Take initiative and show personal and collective agency
At Westside, we teach these skills in a number of ways at every grade level. Two of my favorite ways to teach these skills are through Check-Ins and Reset Stations. In our computer analogy, check-ins are how we read the signs our bodies are giving us, and the reset station helps resolve issues and make any necessary upgrades.
What I love about check-ins is that they are excellent SEL teaching tools that can easily be adapted to any age group. Our youngest learners may use charts like those below. Over time, students expand their emotional vocabulary beyond mad, sad, glad while also developing an understanding of the connection between their emotions and what is happening in their bodies.
As students move through early elementary, they develop greater insight into their emotional worlds. Check-ins become more nuanced and include a larger vocabulary. Kids at this age also have the ability to draw connections between their emotions and concrete objects, which can be used to represent their feelings. For example, students may be presented with a pile of rocks, or asked to find one that represents how they feel.
As the kids share their rocks, they describe how the colors, shapes, textures, and other features represent their emotions in the moment:
“I chose this rock because it has light and dark colors. It’s like me because I feel happy to see my friends, but sad that the weekend is over.”
“I chose this rock because it kind of looks like a pillow and I’m tired.”
By upper elementary and into middle school, students are able to use a wide variety of check-ins that are more complex, and capture layers of emotions that they may be experiencing. One of my favorite check-ins for students at this level is a 1-10 scale:
In order for kids to accurately rate themselves on this scale, they must be able to reflect on emotions they are not currently experiencing AND simultaneously describe their current emotional state. This is no easy task.
Eventually, students can get to the point of creating their own themed check-in scales like those below that were recently created by 3rd & 4th graders. They can choose a theme such as “Animals” or “Food” and assign objects to each number on the scale. These scales are then used as a fun way to check-in and express emotions, while also learning about others in class.
At any age, check-ins can be a creative way to teach kids to read the signs their body is giving them. If needed, this can also be a time to step back and reboot or reset, using proven skills and tools in Reset Stations.
Students are taught how to use a variety of skills and tools to manage their emotions. Yet, we know that the same strategy will not work for everyone all the time, and that different feelings require the use of different strategies. This is why reset stations can be so effective.
These are spaces often found in classrooms that allow students to step away for a minute to reset and refocus. A selection of activities are made available in these spaces to help students practice their self-management skills. They may also be called “Quiet Corner”, “Calm Down Spot”, or simply “Safe Space,” among other names.
Even spaces outside of the classroom can be used, such as a nook in the hallway, a small room, or the school counselor’s office.
Unfortunately, remote learning and classroom safety guidelines to this point in the year have made it so that students cannot have shared spaces like these in classrooms. However, we know that students still need to develop these skills, and have self-management tools available to them. In order to do this, I partnered with teachers at all levels and created virtual reset stations for both Lower and Middle School. I was then invited to teach students how to use some of these skills and tools.
After visiting each Lower School virtual classroom, teachers then added the reset station to their Google Classroom pages and continued to incorporate those skills into their classes. Below is the main room of the Lower School Reset Station. Click on the photo to explore the station on your own!
In Middle School, students were given direct access to the reset station, and it was provided to advisors to use as another resource during advisory. Below is a picture of the “Music” room. Click on the picture to explore the rest of the Middle School Reset Station, called the “Westside Wellness Center.”
Not only do reset stations offer opportunities for students to use skills and tools they are already familiar with, but also to explore new skills and tools they haven’t tried before. By offering choices, students can start to figure out for themselves how best to manage their emotions. Ultimately, they develop a sense of agency over their own well-being - a truly empowering experience.
Director of Counseling and SEL
Read the other blogs in this series here:
How Are People Like Icebergs? A Lesson on Self-Awareness
What Makes A Cartoon Funny? A Lesson on Social Awareness