SEL in the 1st Grade

By March 28, 2018July 23rd, 2020No Comments

Shea Quraishi, Social and Emotional Learning Director

I once had a first-grade student we’ll call “Carlos.” He came to school so quick to anger over what seemed like the smallest things: a pencil breaking, a friend accidentally bumping into him, and yes, actual spilled milk. The result would be outbursts in the form of pushing over desks, throwing books, screaming profanity; you name it. First grade. It’s hard to teach with that going on.

Fortunately, I understood the importance of depersonalizing this behavior–knowing it was not about me–and of building the toolset that Carlos had to pull from when these situations inevitably arose. Sometimes, that looked like deep breaths. Other times, it included writing about what was bothering him and then ripping the paper. Always, it involved switching the color cards on his desk to give him a quick, noninvasive way to express how he was feeling.

Social and Emotional Learning

Social and emotional learning doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it a switch. But, one of the moments when I knew I was breaking through to Carlos was in the spring, when a little girl told him he was supposed to put his glue stick away, though he wasn’t finished gluing. Had this occurred months earlier, Carlos would have lost his mind at not getting his way AND at having another student tell him what to do. But as I circulated around the room, what I happened to overhear Carlos responding to his classmate was like magic: “Thank you for helping me make the right choice.”

First grade.

Developing Core Competencies

In this moment, I knew that Carlos was starting to develop self-management, one of the core competencies of SEL. As Carlos continued finding healthy ways to express his frustration and anger, his explosions became rarer. With that shift came enormous academic growth. Along with that came a rich class culture where students were able to commend Carlos and others for developing not just as thinkers, but as human beings.

Imagine what this will look like for Carlos as an adult–one who has the social and emotional skills to step back and evaluate his response to a problem rather than impulsively lashing out with a fight-or-flight response. Imagine what a different impact he now will have on his community. This is the work that Frameworks does every day.