Chris Toomey‘s school was implementing a new learning model called 21st Century Learning based on foundational principles called The 5 C’s: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking, and Citizenship/Citizen of the World. The problem: His elementary students didn’t have the emotional and behavioral skills to pull it off. The school offered professional development about implementing 21st Century Learning, but not in equipping young students with skills needed to succeed with that model. He designed a Fund for Teachers grant to attend the Institute For Social and Emotional Learning summer program in San Mateo, CA, then complete coaching sessions on play-based strategies at Proponent of Play in Storrs, CT, to incorporate playfulness and social emotional learning (SEL) with students at Vinton Elementary in Mansfield Center, CT.
Chris’ fellowship goals were to:
- Research how Social and Emotional Competencies better prepare students for the Five C’s paradigm;
- Learn how to make SEL an underlying, cohesive component of the classroom experience; and,
- Discover how playfulness and play-based strategies help facilitate the teaching and learning of Social and Emotional Competencies.
“Our school had embarked on a journey to make SEL a more integral piece of our students’ school experience, but had only examined it at a macro level, or “from 30,000 feet,” said Chris, a 25-year teaching veteran. “The experiences of attending the IFSEL Summer Institute and working with Jeff at Proponent of Play (POP) provided me with many concrete, experiential activities to make SEL engaging and meaningful to my students.”
At the summer institute, Chris participated in workshops including Developmentally Appropriate SEL for Grades K-2; Peace Building, Conflict Resolution, and Play; Getting Kids Out In Nature; and Practices Promoting Self-Regulation and Resiliency. A side benefit was building an international cohort of teachers committed to equipping students with life skills supported by SEL. Afterwards, Chris had four one-on-one coaching sessions with Jeff Smithson, founder of Proponent of Play.
“My fellowship has equipped me to teach SEL actively and explicitly, rather than by simply talking about it or reading about it with my students,” said Chris. “It has also opened me up to take more risks myself, to put myself out there with my students, so they see me practicing and learning alongside of them. Through the process of active engagement followed by debriefing/reflection, my students will learn social and emotional competencies more deeply. I believe these competencies will stick with them.”
Chris’ second-graders now participate in daily experiential activities in SEL from from his fellowship at IFSEL and POP. The activities increase in complexity and challenge as the year progresses. The carry-over is that students recognize and manage their emotions independently, recognize emotions in their classmates and respond accordingly/appropriately, work more effectively in groups, and resolve conflicts with peers independently.
“Our students are being asked, more and more, to work collaboratively in a project-based model. To do this successfully, students – particularly young students like mine – need to have a strong foundation of Social and Emotional Competencies and skills,” said Chris. “Being able to focus specifically on these competencies/skills in an experiential and reflective approach equips them with the tools they need to be creative, flexible, and ultimately successful collaborators.”