Social-emotional skills: focus of FR Foundations

Social-emotional skills: focus of FR Foundations
Posted on 10/29/2019
Empathy, emotion management, problem solving and other social-emotional skills are at the core of the new “Future Ready Foundations” class that elementary students throughout the district are attending this fall.

“The idea for a Future Ready focus was the result of multiple group conversations around connecting the specialist class with K-5 classrooms, creating valuable experiences for our kids, and taking advantage of the wonderful opportunity to take a big step forward in supporting our district vision around Future Ready,” said Shadow Lake Principal Mike Hanson, who helped form the framework for the classes with Glacier Park Principal Shelly Gaston and other staff members. “It was exciting to see the process and where it brought the program.”

Although it is still early in the school year, so far the lessons are going well and there is great energy in the program, Hanson said.

This week at Shadow Lake Elementary, Future Ready Foundations teacher Danna Steichen led students through a lesson about empathy and kindness. After reviewing the meaning of empathy, Steichen read aloud from the book, “Be Kind,” by Pat Zietlow Miller. The class talked about the examples of empathy and kindness from the book, and then discussed how many small kind acts can add up into something big. Then, Steichen showed the students examples of children in different situations, such as being lonely at recess, losing a favorite piece of clothing or winning a soccer game. Together, the students and Steichen talked about how they might show empathy or express kindness to the other children in the examples.

The connections between the new classes and the Second Step social-emotional curriculum are important and help reinforce key concepts, Gaston said.

“Second Step is an important part of our students’ elementary experience. It has been taught by classroom teachers for many years,” she said. “Many of the Future Ready lessons have concepts from Second Step that complement the lessons being taught in class, yet they also incorporate fresh elements of social emotional learning supporting the Washington State SEL standards, benchmarks and indicators.”

Many years ago, Tahoma convened a large group of stakeholders that helped identify which skills are paramount for success after school. The result of that work was the creation of the district’s Future Ready initiative.

“Staying focused on these wide-ranging skills provides our students the opportunity to gain experiences that are readily applicable outside of the classroom,” Hanson said. “We are excited that there is a clear focus around Future Ready. There are also some important differences between buildings and grade levels that require teachers to be flexible in meeting the needs of their kids."

Because of facility differences and schedules, the frequency and duration that grade levels see this specialist are not identical from building to building, so the flexibility is important in that regard as well, he noted.

The curriculum was created by Maret Unruh, who last year was working as an instructional coach in the district’s Teaching and Learning Department and who is now an assistant principal at Tahoma High School. In order to cater to the specific needs of younger and older elementary students, the curriculum is created for similar lessons in kindergarten and first grade; and different lessons for grades 2-3; and grades 4-5.

“We looked at all of the Future Ready skills and began to imagine, knowing that the classes would be in the library, which skills would allow us to create an experience that was purposeful, meaningful and intentional,” Unruh said. “We also realized that at the younger grades, social-emotional skills are Future Ready skills. … I think one of the things that we recognize is how much our social-emotional learning needs to be a part of our everyday experiences with our kids, and that it can’t just be a drop-in lesson here and there, or it won’t have the lasting meaning that we want it to have with our kids -- even more so now that we are working with students who come to us with adverse experiences and trauma. Part of being trauma-informed is helping students to have the right tools to express how they’re feeling, be more mindful of how they’re feeling and be not only more successful learners, but also more collaborative and empathetic.”

The lessons are rich in quality literature, multimedia such as songs and videos, and movement, she added. Feedback from teachers thus far has been very positive. The Future Ready specialists leading the classes are certificated teachers, who will continue to get together throughout the year to discuss the lessons and work together on the evolution of the program.

In the photo, Shadow Lake Elementary Future Ready Foundations teacher Danna Steichen reads aloud out of "Be Kind" during a recent lesson about empathy.
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