Educational Theory, Social-Emotional Learning

Welcoming Values into the Classroom

Beginning in April 2019, I forayed into the world of freelance curriculum development and consulting. I’d had experience in this realm before, minus the freelance part, and had a blast getting to know a few educational companies more in-depth. One of these awesome organizations I worked with (and continue to!) is Sole Girls.

Sole Girls is a girls empowerment program that tackles self-esteem, physical and emotional health, and running through after-school programs, workshops, camps, and mentorship. Sole Girls was conceived by super-inspiring Canadian social entrepreneur, Ashley Wiles, in her late 20s. Ashley was impelled to take action after hearing about the tragic suicide of 15-year-old Amanda Todd, a teenager in Coquitlam, B.C. who was bullied, alone, without an advocate, and without the perspective of another way out. Ashley had been traveling the world working for a variety of organizations unsure of next moves, and after hearing about Amanda Todd, knew she had to come back to Canada and start a program that could support and empower girls while equipping them with skills and tools to navigate the frequently messy Girl World. And thus, Sole Girls was born.

Sole Awesomeness

Sole Girls works with females (and has a Sole 4 Boys program, too!) ages 5-12 through a 9-week curriculum, which is guided by the acronym S-O-L-E (Support, Open-Minded, Love, Enthusiasm) and culminates with a 5km run. The 5km run adds an element of challenge, forward-thinking, and bravery…all of which are absolutely transferable to social-emotional learning.

In addition to developing a variety of interpersonal skills, self-discovery, and running, Sole Girls also provides girls with a safe and encouraging community where they can share freely their experiences, questions, and connect with mentors ranging from high school to adulthood who play a diverse role in the programs’ communities. Six years of age, Sole Girls runs across Canada and has begun programming in Australia, as well.

I had the great privilege of working with Sole Girls, beginning in September 2019 in a variety of creative capacities, including leading programs (coaching) for both the Littles (ages 5-7) and regular (8-12) programs, curriculum development, and workshops.

…wait, can we bring this back to me for a second?

These programs are so special to me. As a kid, I never quite fit in, and I moved from a Montessori school to a public school and while I lived to tell the tale, retrospectively, I was thrown to the sharks. “Fitting in” was a totally new concept to me (made 0% easier by my strange obsession with growing a rat-tail and my parents’ wholeheartedly supporting nearly any form of said personal expression; side note- WHY, MOM AND DAD, WHY!? Jk- I love you); at my old school, all the kids played together, and for the first time, I experienced and saw that kids could be left out, which was jarring and confusing and really had no way of understanding any of it. I survived, yet constantly felt awkward, never knew when to “tell” on a student, and never knew what to do in the face of gossip or teasing. In short, I really had no clarity on my values.

And this is precisely why I adore Sole Girls programming, which takes a values-based approach in its curriculum and is also implicit in its mentorship programs.

But, I’m not really qualified to talk about that stuff…right?

Talking “values” with students might seem intimidating or “something they can do with their counselor,” but think about it. As educators, we learn about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs starting in day 0 of any training, so we know that students have needs they need met before they can master counting to 100 or writing a 5-paragraph essay or shooting a free-throw (pick your teaching poison). Specifically, these needs are Basic (which are physiological & safety), followed by Psychological (Belongingness & Esteem), and finally Self-Fulfillment…which, let’s be real, do we ever really attain?

https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
Photo courtesy of: SimplyPsychology.org

If we want to reach our students, we’ve got to meet them on this triangle first and foremost, before we think about behavior adjustments, learning support, and calling home, it’s worth seeing where students are feeling in regards to how they feel about their friends, their learning communities, and themselves.

Teaching values need not be complicated or deeply emotional. Introducing a word or theme of the day/month/week/year is a simple way to help students start learning about values and unlocking or further developing their own.

Okay, maybe I’m on board.

So, what are examples of values you may be asking? Here’s a few:

      • Gratitude
      • Friendship
      • Trust
      • Responsibility
      • Creativity
      • Optimism
      • Compassion
      • Kindness
      • Integrity
      • Curiosity
      • Craftsmanship
      • Enthusiasm
      • Honesty
    • Sincerity

…and so on! Chances are, some other words or values were sparked when you scanned the list. Using these words in grades or assessments, as well as at morning meetings and/or advisory periods is an easy way to incorporate more meaning into the academic schedule and help students’ navigate and further clarify their needs for belonging and esteem.

As it is February, a simple way to incorporate values into your classroom is with a fun resource I made for Sole Girls this year: VALUE-tines!

These simple, (free printable!) cards are an alternative take on Valentine’s Day, in which students can recognize and celebrate the values they see in one another. Have each student draw a name and create a VALUE-tine for a member of the class; or have small groups work together to create a VALUE-tine for someone who works at the school; or trade VALUE-tines with another class. Get creative! Remember to model yours first!

  • What are your top 5 core values?
  • Have you used values in your classroom?
Curriculum, Instructional Tools

Classroom Hack: Table Captains for Small Group Work

Small group-work: on the surface, it seems like a fantastic way to foster inquiry, bolster peer-to-peer interaction, and give students a taste of those real-world skills of collaboration, problem-solving, and communication.

But, as any substitute teacher will tell you, small group-work does not just happen. In fact, giving students a set of directions and letting them at it is most certainly a recipe for not-total-success. There are a lot of implicit assumptions on the teachers’ end: that students will know when they’ve reached the end of the task; that students will have all of the resources to finish the task; that all students will contribute and roughly equally; that all students will know exactly what needs to get done and a general idea of how. And the list goes on.

And, if your students are anything like I was when I was 11, if any of the above assumptions prove faulty, soon the task at hand, the collaboration, and any form of focus will fly across the room faster than a spitball.

So what to do?

First, let’s cover the bases. In order for group-work to…work, the following is a quick to-do list for teachers:

  • EXPLAIN IT
  • EXPLAIN IT AGAIN DIFFERENTLY
  • MODEL IT
  • PRACTICE IT
  • COACH IT
  • PRACTICE IT AGAIN
  • SUPPORT IT
  • REFINE IT

…come to think of it, this is probably an applicable framework for introducing anything in the classroom. But, I digress.

One of the problems with giving directions and letting students have at it is that students likely need more support when it comes to role definition. It’s unfair to constantly assume one student will “step up” as a leader. This is typically an extroverted student who perhaps doesn’t always particularly like the role, and it also makes it ever-challenging for introverted or more timid students to take on a role, which they may actually love!

Enter Table Captains: an equitable way for students to practice leadership roles, either as designated leaders or active followers.

How it works

Here’s the gist:

  • Students are divided into groups of 3-6
  • Each group has 1 Table Captain
  • Table Captains have extra responsibilities are in charge of keeping the team in line with respect to task completion; timing; and organization

A Table Captain is in charge of all materials and ensures the small groups stay on task within the given time frame. The philosophy is that students without a strong focus or drive tend to rapidly dissipate. With a clear leader in the group, students know who to turn to when they have questions about the task at hand. Additionally, when students have a leadership role, they are more likely to be invested in the tasks at hand, and ultimately, the learning at hand. This strategy also allows students to practice speaking to one another, instead of simply just to a teacher. In doing so, you’ll find students are learning from one another, and really… isn’t that kind of what we’re going for here? (Nod your head)

The Goods

Below is a sample Table Captain Task Page:.

Table Captain supplies in my (Grade 5-7) classroom typically include Post-Its + Folder with all necessary articles and Table Captain task page. I announce Table Captains the night before so students who may need (or appreciate) it can mentally prepare for being a leader.

Putting it all together

In order for students to understand how this works, follow the above to-do list:

  • EXPLAIN IT (have a conversation with your class about leadership opportunities)
  • EXPLAIN IT AGAIN DIFFERENTLY (show students a Table Captain sheet. Ask them what roles a Table Captain seems to hold)
  • MODEL IT (use a fellow teacher, aid, student, etc. and show, in a condensed version, of what this process looks like. For real. Do it.)
  • PRACTICE IT (give a sample task to the class. Offer students the chance to demonstrate to the class, if they’re confident)
  • DO IT (give a real task! Let it rip!)
  • COACH IT (wander about while students engage in Table Captain tasks. Check in with your Captains after class. Have them send you a quick email, including what went well and what was challenging– 1 sentence each)
  • PRACTICE IT AGAIN (keep doing it! You won’t know how it’s going until you’ve done it more than once)
  • SUPPORT IT (check in with your Table Captains. Be consistent. Even if it seems to not work the first few weeks, give it a chance. Don’t judge it until students have been Table Captains at least 3 times. That’s approximately 12 rounds. Data is important!)
  • REFINE IT (something work better or differently in your classroom? Get creative! Own it, customize it, rock it.)