SEL at Woodside from the Mouths of Apparently Not Babes

Last year, when it was time to review our SEL program here at Woodside School, we naturally enlisted the support of the Institute for Social and Emotional Learning. This was only fitting since they helped us get our program off the ground in 2012 and we have continued to use their work as a model. The assessment process included classroom observations and surveys, but by far the most validating experience of the evaluation was the interviews we conducted with our middle school students. Their thoughtful answers reveal a genuine appreciation and understanding of not only what SEL means but also why it’s so important in schools.
 
DO YOU KNOW THE TERM "SEL / SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING"? IF SO, WHAT DO YOU THINK IT MEANS? 
 
- 5th Graders:
“Relationships with others… How you communicate with other people… Learning to be with others… it’s not actual school work, it’s how to work with others and behave in class.”
 
- 6th Graders:
“I think it’s really trying to get us to understand not only our feelings and how we take care of them but how others feel and things we should know about the community. I think it’s a great way for everybody to get their point out and still feel supported doing it.”
 
“I think it’s how we can control our emotions but also support others in the community and understand how they’re feeling and how to work with that.”
 
“Another thing is helping everyone know both sides of the story. Like you could have said something but you don’t realize that. And it helps you learn both sides of the story so you’re not offending people in any way. So you get to see both sides.”
 
“I feel like it’s more like knowing the problem before it starts so it’s not two kids are fighting at recess and the teacher tells them what they did and how to fix it, it’s more like knowing how to fix it before you go to a teacher like doing it yourself.”
 
“That’s exactly it.”
 
- 7th Graders:
“I understand what it means and I agree it’s trying to teach us like once you go out in the real world, and face real-world problems and how to deal with them and how to deal with people.”
 
“I would say like empathy–for grades like first through fifth, we learned how to be there for our peers and also be empathetic also communicate your feelings.”
 
- 8th Graders:
“I think it means a lot of things in general just learning how to interact with people. I think SEL is social. It’s how you’re able to communicate with other people especially on a deeper level because it’s emotional and I think we do SEL where we learn how to talk to people about harder topics and stuff like that. For me, it’s always been more of a communication thing SEL where you really learn how to communicate with people.”
 
“I agree and I think that social-emotional learning is when you can interact with other people regarding your emotions and what you’re feeling and what other people are feeling like you can talk about something you’re worried about and basically it’s just a chance where you can socialize with other people and help with your emotional skills.”
 
“Social-emotional learning is dealing with harder things like oh I failed my math test but it’s like going deeper into like oh well my grandma died and I’m feeling sad. It’s not just the little things but also the big picture. Some people don’t know they’re actually doing social-emotional learning because we’ve been doing it for so long so someone will say ‘Oh you knew yourself today’ but we’re like oh that’s how I am all day so it’s just like part of me now.”
 
“We might think SEL isn’t that important but really I feel like we’ve matured for a long time together and SEL has been a part of that this entire time so I feel like we’re really good at that now to the point that we can just resolve conflicts by ourselves even though we might not know that it’s because of SEL.”
 
DO YOU FIND THAT YOU AND YOUR CLASSMATES CAN USUALLY SOLVE A PROBLEM OR CONFLICT ON THE PLAYGROUND AND/OR IN THE CLASSROOM ON YOUR OWN? OR DO YOU SOMETIMES NEED TO GET THE HELP OF A TEACHER? 
 
- 6th Graders:
“I think we all have the skills to do it, but sometimes in the heat of the moment, it makes it very hard to think about which sometimes is good about SEL but sometimes is a little hard to realize because it’s just so hard to stop yourself from feeling away. Everybody has the skills to do anything but I think you have to work on them.”
 
“In elementary school more we were bringing teachers into problems more but in middle school, you have to learn to advocate for yourself–not bringing a teacher in. Learning how to solve problems by yourself and not just walk away from it. Talking it out and not using a teacher. Especially in the last year, SEL has boosted me up. Because I feel like I solve it on myself I won’t get a teacher.”
 
“My old school didn’t have any SEL training so it’s been a lot better chance. At my old school, there were a lot of fights. It ended up being where teachers didn’t even talk about it because it was such a recurring topic. When I came here it was like nothing really so it’s like nice because everyone knows what to do.”
 
FOR OLDER GRADES, WHAT DO YOU DO "OPEN SESSION"? WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE IN "OPEN SESSION"? WHAT IMPACT DO YOU THINK IT HAS ON YOU AND/OR YOU CLASS? 
 
- 6th Graders:
“I think it’s a really good way to try to get us to connect with our peers because I think it’s a great way to just find out how everyone’s feeling. There are some parts of it that are like ‘Oh my gosh, who said that?’ But that’s also bringing us closer together because you can ask someone if they’re OK if they want to talk about it and if they say I just want to leave it alone you can say OK awesome I’m sure you’re going to figure this out you’re going to do fine with it. So I think it’s definitely a way to get us all together.” 
 
WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING SEL TOOLS DO YOU USE?
  • I message or Assertive voice
  • Win-Win solution
  • Breathing/Mindfulness/Relaxation
  • Knowing Boundaries
  •  
    - 6th Graders:
    “I think that taking a breath and breathing is good because it’s like if you’re not relaxed or you’re just all amped up about something, and then you try and talk this out you’re just gonna’ kind of put more anger into the situation and into your voice. And then taking a breath and thinking about it for like 15 minutes and just walk away and come back and talk about it you kind of get to relax and think about what you’re going to say so it’s not so like powerful or like anger that comes out.”
     
    “Win-win is good but it’s more taking breaths and knowing another person’s boundaries because those two are more before the actual conflict. You wouldn’t have started a conflict if you know their boundaries. So knowing boundaries is probably the most important one.”
     
    “This school has a strong SEL program and it’s kind of ingrained in us now because a lot of us have been practicing since kindergarten and it kind of comes easy to us now because it’s in our foundation. If we need to calm down we can just tell ourselves like ‘Oh let me just take a breath’ and we do these things without even realizing we are doing them because it’s just like a part of us after doing SEL for so long.”
     
    DO YOU THINK MOST STUDENTS IN YOUR GRADE FEEL THEY HAVE AN ADULT ON CAMPUS THEY TRUST AND COULD TALK TO?
     
    - 6th Graders:
    “I feel like there’s not a teacher I would feel uncomfortable around I feel like all the teachers take really good care of the kids in their class.”
     
    THINKING OF YOUR SCHOOL COMMUNITY AS A WHOLE, WHAT WORDS WOULD YOU USE TO DESCRIBE IT? HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE A MEMBER OF YOUR GRADE/SCHOOL? 
     
    - 5th Graders:
    “It’s diverse I guess because people are different.”
     
    “Maybe like proud.”
     
    - 6th Graders:
    “I think supportive is the main word you can kind of describe it doesn’t matter about like your grade personally it matters about the people who want to be there with you with your problems. Every grade has kids as a whole that want to support other people and be kind and caring.”
     
    “Supportive but also understanding.”
     
    “It definitely feels like a second home.”
     
    “The teachers help that too. They’re the ones that are like a second mom or dad. They want to talk and build a connection with you that’s like a parent bond obviously it’s not the exact same but it’s a very strong bond that you feel like in some cases you could actually talk to these teachers about it and you feel awesome here.”
     
    - 8th Graders:
     
    “I think a good way to describe it is like a safety net. We’re connected because we all know pretty much everything about each other and we’ve all been through everything together and we’ve grown together over all these years and it’s kind of to the point where we’re super comfortable and we can have fun and we’ve developed this safety net that we’ve been in for nine years now.”