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Ed. Magazine

Bite-Sized Learning

Defining the Skills for Success

You know how important it is for kids to develop life skills like managing emotions or learning to make better decisions — skills that are actually as important as doing well on an academic test. The problem is, you don’t know where to start. Or maybe you did start by buying some expensive prepackaged program that just isn’t working for your school’s particular needs.

Now what?

Associate Professor Stephanie Jones and her team at Easel Lab’s SEL Analysis Project came up with an idea called “kernel of practice” — evidence-based strategies and activities that educators can easily use with their students that are free and flexible. (Schools pick and chose which strategies they want to try.) The team shared strategies for elementary schools:

  • “I” Messages: Managing and communicating negative or difficult emotions can be challenging. “I” messages help children (and adults) identify feelings and communicate them appropriately. These messages support the develop-ment of an emotions vocabulary. If you notice your child or student feeling angry or embarrassed, help them use an “I” message to describe what they are feeling. An “I” message has three parts:
  1. I feel… states how he or she feels as a result of the current situation.
  2. …when you… in the second part allows the student to state what behavior caused this feeling.
  3. …and I would like… lets the student name something that he or she would like to see happen as part of the resolution to the problem.
  • Say It Back: When students use “say it back,” they engage listening skills to attend closely to what another person is saying, and they demonstrate understanding by repeating it. For example: “You feel sad when I call you names. You want me to apologize and not call you names anymore.” “Say it back” is intended to develop students’ ability to focus on what other people are thinking and feeling and to support empathy and understanding.
  • Feelings Thermometer: Emotions run on a continuum from low-key to intense and students often lack the ability to recognize when they are about to be overpowered by emotions. Before they can control their responses, students first must be able to identify what they are feeling and gauge intensity. Just as a thermometer measures rising temperatures, a “feelings thermometer” measures rising emotion levels. Using a scale of 0–5, students can use the “feelings thermometer” to describe their level of emotional intensity.
  • Peace Path: In any conflict, the goal is to find a win–win solution, but this can only happen when both parties are clear about their feelings, feel calm enough to actively listen to one another, and have the skills to negotiate effectively. It is important to give students an initial structure for this kind of complex negotiation. The step-by-step “peace path” model includes:
  1. Tell the Problem: Each person gives an “I” message, with the other person summarizing that message with “say it back.” This ensures that each knows how the other is feeling.
  2. Brainstorm Together: Each person suggests a solution to the problem, with the other person summarizing to be sure he or she has understood.
  3. Solve the Problem: Both people discuss the possible solutions and agree on one to try. They should be striving for a win–win result, something that both parties can live with, and then try it out.

Ed. Magazine

The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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