Fostering Social and Emotional Growth in Elementary Students
by Eliza Kumamoto, Elementary School Counselor
At YIS we encourage students to know themselves, feel good about themselves, communicate effectively with others, and make responsible choices. Within the elementary school we follow a fully articulated curriculum of Personal Social Education (PSE). In PSE we talk about "feelings" -- identifying, using, understanding and regulating emotions -- and about appropriate social behaviors to help students achieve their goals. Starting effective social and emotional learning in the early years promotes successful development of social and emotional skills leading to healthy interpersonal relationships and improved academic achievement in the later years.
YIS takes a whole-school approach to emotional and social learning. Based on our school philosophy and values, all our staff model behavior that we want to see in our students and we continually take opportunities to encourage learning for personal growth. Also, all teachers work collaboratively in delivering the PSE in and outside of the classroom. As the YIS elementary counselor, I am involved with the PSE program in different ways. I work on a regular basis with classroom teachers from Kindergarten to grade 5 on units of inquiry with a PSE focus or visit each class for stand alone sessions. Also, I see students individually or in groups for counseling sessions.
This academic year, for example, I team taught a grade 5 unit on conflict with Ms. MacDonald, our elementary drama teacher. Students shared their personal experiences and discussed ways to manage feelings and resolve conflicts. Forum theatre approach was introduced and this got everyone thinking about different ways to resolve conflicts. In other classes, we are using "zones of regulation" a cognitive behavior approach to learn about self-regulation. In this approach students categorize different feelings and states of alertness they experience into four color zones. We ask questions such as "How are you feeling now?", "What color zone are you in?", "If you have an unpleasant feeling or you are not in a good state, what can you do to make yourself feel better?" This metacognitive awareness helps students to be in charge of their feelings. As we introduce these ideas throughout the elementary school, students and teachers learn to use the same language and strategies in tackling potential issues.
Like the example above, children learn the techniques to manage their emotions and get along with their peers better with repeated experience and exposure to social and emotional learning in the early years. In some situations, students are referred by teachers or parents for individual sessions. Parents are sometimes taken aback when they hear the word "counseling" but it is all a part of normal social-emotional growth. My role as a counselor is to help students be happier by supporting them and helping them improve their skills on how to deal with their emotions and/or social interactions. Such skills form a lifelong path of learning for everyone, and by starting early, we hope to help form good habits and awareness in our students so they can experience positive growth in the future.