Why Meet Social Emotional Needs?
We’ve been hearing a lot lately about children’s social emotional needs. And how we need to meet them. But what does that actually look like?
Remember our good friend, Maslow? He was the psychologist who said that people have an ordered hierarchy of needs that must be met to become self-actualized. Or in normal language? We must meet kids’ needs from the ground up if they’re going to have happy lives.
When we say Child Y isn’t meeting his potential? It’s because one of the lower layers is cracked.
Like building anything, we start at the bottom and create a solid foundation.
PHYSIOLOGICAL. First, does a child feel physically safe? Do they have a place called home? Are they eating? Is their clothing comfortable and clean? Do they get enough sleep?
Any no’s? You’ve gotta stop there and address those needs.
SAFETY. Once that’s solid, you go to the next level. Do they feel emotionally safe? Can they be themselves in class or not? What happens when they make a mistake? Will people make fun of them?
SOCIAL BELONGING. Do they have at least one good friend? Do they feel accepted by their classmates? Are recess and lunch safe times for them?
ESTEEM. Assuming these are all yeses, then (and only then) can self-esteem happen. That gorgeous confidence blossoms.
SELF ACTUALIZATION. The best part. Finally, they can reach their potential. They can be risk-takers. Creative thinkers. And have empathy for others.
So. How do we get them there?
Successful Teachers Dig for Social Emotional Information
Let’s start by getting a shovel. Because we’re going to dig for information to learn how YOUR kids fit on Maslow’s scale.
a. Ask Families
First stop? Parents. Questionnaires are a fast way to learn about a child’s social emotional standing. Google Forms work great. You can ask about…
- The child’s strengths. What makes parents proud of them?
- Their child’s struggles.
- What can a teacher do to make this year a great social and academic success?
- Does their child have any siblings currently at your school? If so, whose classrooms are they in?
- Does their child have a specified space and time to do their homework? What are some successes or challenges surrounding homework?
- What are mornings like in your household or for your child in general?
Want a parent and student questionnaire to start with? I got you covered. Click here and you’ll get 2 Google Forms you can use with your fourth-grade class today!
Or you can schedule Getting to Know You conferences. During these meetings, teachers listen and parents talk about their child. There’s little you need to do except listen, ask questions, and take notes.
b. Ask other teachers
Next, talk to any past teachers and specialists. What motivates the child? What strategies have worked with them in the past? What’s important to know about that child so they succeed?
Now if you have a teacher who badmouths a child, take heed and prepare, but give this child a fresh start. You may be the one to change that child’s life.
If your child is a current or past ELL student, talk to the ELL teacher. Because their perspective can change your approach to a kid, particularly with cultural norms.
c. Ask kids
And finally, sending a questionnaire to children is useful to a degree. They’ll often give you one-word answers or will not complete it. But it’s worth trying. Sometimes you get real gold.
You can also try the “I wish my teacher knew” exercise with your fourth graders. I wouldn’t do this in the first week. Most students won’t spill souls until they trust you. But when you try it later, you’ll be amazed at the answers you get.
Successful Teachers Create a Regular Schedule
At the beginning the year, a dependable schedule is crucial for social emotional safety. When kids know what to expect and when to expect it, it creates comfort and order.
If you are changing from in-school learning to remote? Or the other way around? Whenever possible, keep the schedule the same.
Successful Teachers Assume Kids Have Regressed
At the beginning of the year or after any trauma, a child regresses. The regression can be in their behavior or academics.
And with any regression comes a desire for comfort. Think of this as repairing the foundation.
To do that, we create safe activities and lessons that provide a sense of comfort.
For example, start your read alouds with something that is below their grade level. Maybe a well-loved favorite.
Comfort goes a long, long way to establishing trust.
Successful Teachers Find Time to Connect with Each Child
Next, pick a few students per day (3 is a doable number) to check in with. First, find out about their lives. Who they are. Ask about the silly stuff — cartoons; can they touch their nose with their tongue? can they wiggle their ears? That’s the gold that will let their guard down.
If you are distance learning, set up times to meet with small groups of children each week. For example, at the end of each day’s lessons or meetings, have one fifth of your kids stay on to meet with you. By Friday, you will have met with each child.
During these small groups, play a game, like Kahoot for instance, or ask them some silly questions. Or you can try this Chat Pack for Kids, which has incredible prompts. Here are a couple:
- If you could permanently remove one month from the year, which month would you want to be rid of forever?
- Where do you think would be the most fun spot to have a treasure hunt with all your friends?
Have one or two kids who are struggling? Create a standing appointment with them daily to check in. Often, you only need to do this for a week or two.
Successful Teachers Know What Kids Focus On: Social Emotional Survival
In the first days of school, kids are watching and listening to you. But they’re not listening to what you say, exactly. Rather, they’re trying to figure YOU out.
When one of the braver kids asks you a question, they’re all watching to see how you answer it. Was it a question that you already answered? They’ll immediately wonder how you’ll respond. Are you a sarcastic teacher? Are you impatient? Are you understanding? Does your smile reach your eyes? Do you like being around them? This is crucial information. For kids, reading adults is how they survive the world.
What happens when *that kid* mouths off at you? Are you calm? Are you in charge?
It’s no wonder kids need us to practice routines the first few weeks of school. All their attention is on reading us, not listening to us. They weren’t focused on how to sign out to the bathroom. No — they were watching to see if you’d smile at them. Or they were checking out the color of your socks. Important stuff.
Kids are figuring out where they fit on Maslow’s scale. Are they safe here? Do they belong? Will they connect with you? Will they make friends?
Successful Teachers Assume Kids Will Forget Everything
If you are in a physical classroom, simple anchor charts on your walls will make them feel safe. Anchor charts that explain the basics they will forget. How to line up. How to pass in their work. How to ask a question.
And when they’ve mastered those? Put up new anchor charts for new skills.
Teaching remotely? Then create a folder in your online program that has videos or directions on how to do the basics. How to join a Zoom meeting. How to create a new password. How to turn in an assignment. Then keep it in a ready place for them to access.
Successful Teachers Use All 5 Senses for Social Emotional Safety
This last one is the most overlooked. And when you use it, you’ll notice a lovely shift in your kids’ comfort.
In the beginning, softness is a human’s first feeling of comfort. A parent’s soft skin. A cozy blanket.
A bin of stuffed animals in your classroom can be a gamechanger. I started this years ago and it’s a hit with my 4th graders. All the kids — even the supposedly tough ones — love to sit with a stuffed animal as they work or listen to a mini-lesson.
The day after Christmas or Easter, you can usually score on cheap stuffed animals. Then watch your kids go bananas for them!
Consider a touchable science area. Have things from nature there for kids to touch: pinecones, smooth rocks, seaglass. Nature’s textures can ground us.
Similarly, music can play a huge part in your classroom, whether you’re teaching remote or in-school. So experiment with different genres. For instance, collect a Youtube playlist of different kids of music.
Classical is a good standby to create social emotional calm. But jazz is also one that creates a cozy atmosphere. For example, my fourth-grade teammate has “Starbucks” time. First, she plays a jazzy soundtrack. Then she puts a picture of a busy coffeehouse on the projector. Some kids catch up on work, some work with her in small group. There are students working alone while others work in small huddles, attacking a math problem. Her kids love it and has the same feel as a Starbucks!
Tough one, right? Most schools have rules about food. And yet, food can be a vital part of their feeling safe. I’ll often let my kids eat when they want — as long as it’s not distracting them or others. I’ve even encouraged them to bring in a thermos of hot cocoa when it gets cold out. Many brought in tea last year and would sip it all day.
Because drinking cocoa or tea while you’re working? That’s Cozy and Safe 101.
Not everything on your wall has to be a teaching tool. For example, there can be a poster of a beautiful scene. Or blank space.
Because when our walls are too busy, it affects kids’ energy and focus. Consider taking down the excess.
Above all, smell is a powerful sense. Assuming your school allows this, you can use an oil diffuser in your room. For instance, lavender tends to calm. Vanilla, also, will generate feelings of comfort for children. (Vanilla = cooking treats)
Or use some all-natural sprays to add a calming scent to your room.
Once we’ve made our kids feel safe in these 7 ways, you will see more risk-taking in their academic work. They’ll be with you when it’s time to put in the hard work. Because they’ll trust you and they’ll trust each other.
And when you’ve got that?
You’ve got a happy group of students who love coming to school to learn.
Now it’s your turn! Tell us in the comments below, tell us:
- How do YOU make your kids feel safe? Do you have things that aren’t listed here?
- OR … Which of these tips will you try this week?
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