In Our Words

Fostering Social and Emotional Growth in Elementary Students
Fostering Social and Emotional Growth in Elementary Students

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.

Another method we bring up in every class is "Think, Feel, Do." What you think affects what you feel and do; what you feel affects what you think and do; what you do affects what you think and feel. These three things are all connected so if you change one, you can change the others. Teaching children to analyze thoughts, feelings, and actions helps them to be in control of themselves, thus giving them the power to make change. This eventually leads to self-confidence and higher self-esteem.

When students want to talk or have problems they often come and see me. The issues that they bring up are very similar to the ones we face as adults. They may be friends talking behind their back, not being included, not knowing how to make friends, being teased. It may take a little while to solve some problems but I am always amazed by the great solutions students come up with and their willingness to want to change. I still remember a student who wanted to make friends and he suggested we go through his grade list and discuss potential friends. Then we practiced how to initiate conversation and join games with particular classmates. His strategy worked. He found three people he wanted to be friends with, and he became close friends with one of them.

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.