Saturday, June 17, 2017

Refugees and SEL: Foundational Skills

Hi all!!

I know, I know, it's been... a while. Like the whole school year. It was a full, busy, wonderful year and I spent so much time investing in the needs of my students, my coworkers, and getting ready for my wedding that I hardly had a minute to spare to share our year with the world. But here are a few sweet photos to catch you up (and be sure to follow me on twitter if you want more regular updates of life at the cozy learning cottage!).

But we're finished with all of that now, and it's summertime! I've planned a quieter summer than usual, with a few trainings, subbing for summer school, and lots of time at the pool. In two weeks, however, I have the opportunity to present on what I've learned in the last few years about social/emotional learning and refugees- their unique needs and strengths, and specific foundational skills that I am sure to address throughout the year in explicit lessons.
Side note- if you're local to Nashville, you should come to the conference! It's free for Davidson county residents and educators and there are some great presenters lined up. Check it out here!

I thought I'd share with you a few of my go-to resources for SEL with my students. Some I've created and some are from other educators, but all have been resources I've referenced time and time again this year as we've worked to create a positive learning environment for all students.


I believe I've talked about yoga before on the blog, but over the course of the past year yoga became one of our weekly SEL skills, and my middle schoolers loved it. I received a grant in the middle of the year for the YogaFoster fundamentals training (which I cannot recommend enough!) and mats for my class, which really helped to give us a structure to our weekly yoga time. Before we would start yoga each week, I would ask the class "Why do we do yoga again?" and they would respond, chorally "Because it is good for our bodies, good for our minds and helps us to [deep exhale] calm down."

And it's true! Research has shown yoga to be especially effective for trauma survivors in helping hem to reconnect with their bodies and develop self-regulation skills.

Here's a sample "yoga burst" from yoga foster like one we would do in our class:

One thing I would note about yoga- in my classroom, yoga is always voluntary, and always calming. That means we can giggle and be a little silly, but we can't be crazy. We never touch each other during yoga, and it's never a problem to sit out yoga. I always encouraged students to participate and reminded them of why we do yoga, but we always kept it lighthearted and fun. We don't want to be stressing students out or making them uncomfortable!

Calm Down Choices

One of the biggest emotional obstacles we had in our classrooms this past year was students with difficulty regulating their emotions. Small problems would become big problems, meltdowns would occur because someone skipped in line or stole a pencil. For middle school students, this isn't an appropriate level of emotional regulation, but because of our students' backgrounds, often the underlying problem was a traumatic trigger like remembering waiting in line for food at refugee camps where the last one in line might not get food. Regardless, no one can learn when their emotions are constantly on high alert, so we needed to develop some methods to help calm down when they got angry, sad, or even just too silly. So I created this calm down choices chart to give my students options when they got upset- and to allow picture references for my very limited English proficient students. I laminated them and put one in each students' folder, as well as keeping extras on my desk, in the front of the room, and at my small group table. If I could have wallpapered my room with it, I probably would have. 
Identifying The Size of and Appropriate Reactions to Problems

Speaking of wallpapering my classroom, one resource that I did print off poster-size and hang next to the whiteboard was our "How Big Is Your Problem?" chart (I downloaded this one for free from TpT). We spent several SEL periods on identifying different problems and where they would fall on the chart, drawing and role-playing appropriate reactions to different levels of problems, watching funny videos of people overreacting to problems and role playing how we could handle it differently. My coworkers used the same charts and lessons and after a week or two, we could all ask any of the class groups that came through our door to identify how big of a problem they were having when they came to us with a problem. 3 or higher required teacher intervention, and all of our students knew that, which helped them to triage their own problems.

Those are some of the big resources I'll be covering in my talk at the end of the month. Is there anything else you would want to hear about in a talk about refugees and SEL? Any questions or hang ups I should be sure to address? I'd love your suggestions and feedback!

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