Social-Emotional Learning at the Core of GOA

By Tammy Anagnostis, Dean of Faculty
With all that is going on in the world, our Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) initiatives at GOA have taken on even greater significance. When we looked at reopening school this fall, we recognized that one of the priorities was to deepen the SEL work and respond to the needs of students and families under these unique conditions.
According to the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, “The emotional climate of a school affects the community’s well-being and students’ ability to learn.” For the third year in a row, students at the Wilf Lower School Campus began the year with grade levels focusing on Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).  Students in grades 2-5 gathered outside together as a grade,along with remote students who shared their thoughtful ideas as well, to create an Emotional Intelligence Charter. The charter is a collaborative document designed to build a positive culture and climate in the classroom.  Students began by brainstorming as a grade a number of feelings that they want to experience each day in school. They then began grouping words that go together such as happy, excited or calm and peaceful. Finally, they selected and agreed upon the top emotions that they want to feel in school every day.  In teams -  which included teachers, specialists, and learning specialists -they described what each of these feelings will "look like" in terms of measurable or observable behaviors in school.  In small groups, students also thought about uncomfortable feelings and unwanted behaviors they would like to avoid experiencing in school. Then they discussed and described how they would handle these feelings and behaviors, including how they would prevent and manage conflict. Every student will sign the charter, and this "living document" will hang in the classroom for all to see. 
Our Early Childhood grades (Ganon, Gan and First grade), also met to introduce some of the tools they would be using in their classrooms. In First grade, for the second year in a row, students and teachers are using the SEL curriculum on character building. The first lesson focused on respect for each other, as well as on how to be a good listener and how to prepare their bodies to learn. Each week, the focus will be on a different social-emotional topic that will help guide them in developing good character.

In the Gan classes, teachers introduced the Mood Meter, enabling students to identify and describe their feelings using a colorful visual map of different emotions. The students are now able to watch as their photos are moved on the SMARTBoard to different places on the Mood Meter to communicate how they are feeling each day.  The Mood Meter will also be introduced in Ganon as well, as these students are just beginning to explore the depths of Social-Emotional Learning. Responsive Classroom, an evidence-based approach to teaching and discipline that focuses on positive community and developmental awareness, is also an essential part of the daily routine in Ganon. They spend precious time every morning greeting each other formally and asking, “What’s your name?” These seemingly tiny skills give each child great power to navigate the new and growing world around them. 

In addition, Lower School guidance counselor Mrs.Donna Karp, and guidance intern, Ms.Dana Halpern, visited every grade level last week. They led powerful discussions about how our masks do not define us but our personalities and character do! Our students talked about the characteristics that make each one of them who they are, and  shared the characteristics that help define them.  Having good character makes each one of us a better person and helps make the world a better place. Students participated in a project to demonstrate this. 

In each of our classrooms, teachers are engaging students in important conversations and exercises such as discussing Growth Mindset, or participating in mindfulness activities to help our students begin the day with a clear mind. We are delighted to have students back in our care, both in school and through remote learning. The well-being of each child truly matters to us here at Golda Och Academy.