Teaching kindergarten students more than academics
Kindergarten teacher Danielle Mann stresses the importance of helping her students learn how to be part of a classroom community and interact with others.
Mann is in her 15th year of teaching at Woodland Primary School in Gages Lake. During her career, she has enjoyed seven years of teaching kindergarten in the classroom and nine years as the kindergarten math specialist.
Before joining Woodland, she worked in the child care industry with children from 12 weeks to school age. She has a bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education and a master's degree in School Administration. A resident of Gurnee, she and her husband have two children, a 13-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter.
Q. Why is social-emotional learning important in education today?
A. Students in kindergarten need to not only learn academically, but also how to be part of a classroom community and interact with others. The goal is to develop the whole child and go beyond working with a child from an academic standpoint to also help them develop socialization skills and the ability to connect with others and work collaboratively in a supportive environment.
Students who struggle to get along with others, express their emotions appropriately, and follow classroom routines are more likely to have trouble behaving in school. The learning is also essential for children who struggle with social aspects, such as making friends, or being overly shy, or asking for help when needed.
Children struggling with behavior and social interactions are less available and, oftentimes, distracted when it is time to learn.
Q. What are some of the most important lessons you try to teach students within this discipline?
A. How to be a student -- how to behave and act in a classroom so you are ready to learn. Conflict resolution -- how to peacefully and respectfully resolve conflicts when they arise in the classroom. Finding their voice -- students are taught to express their feelings without fear or judgment. Acceptance -- all students are unique and special in their own way. They learn to respect each other and accept everyone for their uniqueness. Teamwork -- working together to come up with a solution.
Q. What are some ways those lessons are taught in your classroom?
A. Social emotional skills are taught through our Second Step Curriculum and PBIS, (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports), which is a positive way of creating behavioral and social expectation so all students are able to learn.
The lessons teach the children how to be compassionate, caring students and problem solvers. After teaching the lessons, it is important that the students are given time to practice the learned social emotional skills. I use free choice as a time for my students to practice and develop their social skills.
Those are such teachable moments that go beyond traditional academics, helping students to positively interact with each other. When conflicts arise between two students, I don't step in and solve the problem, but rather assist the students in working together to come up with a solution.
Q. What is a real-life example of how your students have positively applied these lessons?
A. One of the first things I work with my students to develop is the ability to stop, think, and tell the other student how they feel. Kindergartners are impulsive; if they take a second to think before they react, their reaction is more likely to be appropriate.
For example, two students wanted to play with the same item, and instead of the students shouting over to me to help solve the problem, I heard one of the students say, "You can play with it for a little while and then I can have a turn." The other student was accepting of the solution and they went along as if there was never a conflict.
Once resolved, I walked over to the two students and explained how proud I was that they modeled the appropriate behavior and solved it without my help. Later, for the entire class, I share the event in order to continue reinforcing the positive interaction.
Q. How can this type of learning influence a student's overall academic performance?
A. Current research has shown a child's behavioral and social readiness for school is a stronger indicator for school success. It is important to reduce the behavioral distractions and anxiety that interfere with academic performance.
If we take the time to develop and support a child's social and emotional learning, it will help students be ready to learn academically. In addition, learning those skills early allow students to better function as young boys and girls in society.