Each morning in my homeroom, we begin the day with a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) session from the Greater Good in Education. These take no more than 15 minutes, but they are an integral part of our lessons that the students look forward to each day. In fact, if we have a deviation from them, due to a scheduling conflict or school activity, the students always tell me they miss them. This isn't something I came up with on my own, it is something that administration has introduced this year, and honestly, it has worked far better than ever I could have imagined for building a sense of community, self-awareness, social awareness and unity. I see students working hard to make good choices, and the further into the school year we get, the more evident their commitment becomes. I am proud of this group, and the accomplishments they have made this year towards self-respect, respect of others, and being able to function harmoniously in any given situation.
So how does this work for us? 3 out of 5 week days we do an activity, in a circle, at the back of our room. The other 2 days we work in workbooks that accompany our SEL lessons. They either do that at their desk, or in their circle (they love to be in a circle). There are many activities that we can choose from to do, and each one goes with the workbook lesson we are learning. On this particular day, for example, we did the Flow and Tell Activity. Everyone got in their circle, and greeted one another. Our early morning hellos are every bit as much a part of this ritual as anything else. We respectfully say hello to each other in different ways, such as with a high-five, a fist bump, an air High-5, etc. We make sure to look at the person and say their name. They return our greeting and pass it on in the same way, to the next person. Then our activity begins.
Then I told them to take a minute, and think of an emotion they were feeling, right at the moment. Were they feeling happy, nervous, excited, etc. Again, at the end of a minute, we shared. I got a lot of 'I'm feeling tired' responses, I guess because it was a Monday. ;)
Finally, they took a minute to focus on their bodies. I set the stopwatch and they had to tell me what the sensations were in their bodies during that minute. Did they feel muscle tension, relaxation, fast breathing, slow breathing, etc. We shard out when complete. One student said his knee hurt from basketball. Another said she felt her eyebrow itching, and everyone laughed.
Then it was time to mix it all up. The above three things were done in isolation. We were focusing only on one particular thing at a time. Now we wanted to do all three things together. I gave them a minute and told them to go ahead and perceive all of their emotions at once. They were to let their minds wander during the minute, and soak in everything all at the same time.
For each of these FLOW and TELL moments, when it came time to share out, we used deliberate sentence starters to remind students what the theme of the lesson was for the day (mindfulness of the present moment). For example, when we discussed what we were perceiving in our bodies, we had to begin our sentences with the phrase, "In the present moment, I am aware of...." They were reminded at the beginning of each discussion not to tell stories (something they LOVE to do at this age) or describe ideas, but rather to speak only about what was happening at the moment: truly a Flow-and-Tell.
A standing rule in our discussions, created in the norms at the beginning of the year, is that listeners are non-judgmental in their replies to others. This is important for many reasons and has become a given most days, we just do it like clockwork now, but I wanted to mention it, because it is very important that speakers feel safe in the discussion, or otherwise they will shut down and not share.
We always have a definitive way to conclude our activity. On this day, I gave them all a post-it note and told them to write down one thing they noticed about themselves as they were talking/listening. Did they feel like they might be judged if they shared? Did they feel comfortable sharing. Were they excited to hear other people's answers? Were they surprised at all of the things they noticed? We crumbled the post-it notes up, threw them on the table and randomly drew someone else's to read. It takes just a few moments to have them read the ones they selected and it is a great way to wrap the experience up for the day. We then returned to our assigned seats, to begin the academic lesson of the day.
I really enjoy these Social Emotional Learning lessons for many reasons. The biggest is the tone that they set for the room. Out of all of my classes, this is the one I enjoy teaching the most, and I know it is because we have all made personal connections in our morning circles. We feel like we know one another better, we are respectful of each other because of it, and we are learning skills all of the time, that help us become better members of our classrooms and our communities. I encourage all educators to check out the Greater Good in Education website. The students are truly developing skills and habits that they will use for a lifetime.