Archive | SEL RSS for this section

Design Thinking makes people smile

When First Graders ask if they can interview you to find out what makes you smile, they’re off to a smiley start already! A couple of weeks ago, Elizabeth Tozzer and Marlene Getzendanner asked if a few faculty members would sit with their students during Design Thinking to assist with their current project. We took turns chatting with polite First Graders with impressive interviewing skills, firm handshakes included. The kids asked, “What makes you smile?” and follow-up questions. I answered that swimming, eating ice cream, and watching people being kind to each other are things that make me smile. Students around the room took brief notes and drew pictures as we talked, starting to imagine a prototype of an invention that would enhance our lives.

This week, the faculty members were invited back for a presentation. As I sat down at a table, four boys sat across from me holding special contraptions. One by one, they explained that they had built prototypes of things that would make me smile and make my life better. One student had designed a super fast slide that would get me into a pool more quickly than ever before. The other three students showed me wild inventions that infused people with kindness through jumping into tubes and being hit with soft, kind, fluffy bullets. Pretty creative!

Thank you, First Graders!

Read more on the Design Thinking blog here:

Four protoypes of inventions that would make lucky Ms. Strother smile

Four creative inventors in Design Thinking


Tuesday’s Parent Coffee & Conversation: Supporting all learners

During Tuesday morning’s Parent Coffee & Conversation (sponsored by PAWS in the Lower School), Dr. Carol Matheson and I will talk about student support at Westminster. How do we work together to support all learners? Dr. Matheson will share a lot of information you’ll want to hear. I will share the methods I use for reaching out to students, how students initiate visits me, some of the most frequent topics students want to discuss, and more. There will be a Q&A session at the end. See you in the Hamilton Room at 8:00, Tuesday October 6!

Curriculum night video

If you missed PF-2nd Grade Curriculum Night (like I did!), here’s the 3-minute video parents watched during their SEL/Guidance and Bible Values rotation, 45 seconds of bloopers included. No one’s perfect, right? Enjoy!

Articles to peruse and ponder

Parents, it’s likely you’ve read valuable, informative articles from A year ago, they published “A Parent’s Resource Guide to Social and Emotional Learning,” and earlier this month it was updated with new links. Click here for a comprehensive list of many great links related to these topics:

  • Encouraging Kindness and Empathy
  • Cultivating Perseverance and Resilience
  • Fostering Gratitude
  • Mindfulness, Emotional Intelligence, and Focus
  • Home, School, and Community Partnerships
  • Children’s Social Selves and Technology

What values and qualities should girls look for in a friend to foster healthy relationships? Are they the same qualities boys should look for? Should children refrain from being angry? When should parents intervene in social conflict? This article from Psychology Today addresses these questions and more subtopics surrounding “frenemies” and friendship as a weapon.

And when you have time, check out this article that responds to the question, “What Do I Do When My Daughter Comes Home Upset?”

Happy reading!

Talking about friendship before school

Going back to school is anxiety-producing for many children, especially when it comes to social situations, but as parents you can alleviate much of your child’s self-induced stress. One effective way to help your child is role-playing. Do you rehearse a presentation with a colleague before work? Do you plan out the points you’ll make during a potentially confrontational phone call? (I do!) It’s easy to advise kids, “Just hold your shoulders back, use an assertive voice, and tell your classmate you want him to stop grabbing markers from your supply box.” It takes more time to physically act out the situation at home or in the car, but that time will help your child conquer potentially difficult situations.

Don’t forget to role-play more “simple” interactions, too, such as greeting a new classmate. “Hi, I’m Kate! This is my second year at Westminster. What kinds of books do you like to read?” Practice, practice, practice!

When you have five free minutes, please read this great blog post that elaborates on role-playing and helping kids get ready for social interactions in the new school year:

Girl friendships and more

I love the PBS websites for kids and parents. Parents can search for books on many topics such as empowering books for girls and the best books for boys, read about the best ways to help their children through the grieving process when a pet or other loved one dies, learn what’s typical for social/emotional development at different ages, and recognize milestones in their children’s development related to technology and media.

Recently I read this PBS article about girl friendships, and I strongly urge you to read it when you have time. I have seen difficulty with the girls in our middle grades when it comes to forming/maintaining healthy, happy friendships. The forming of groups is normal; girls find common interests and enjoy getting to know each other through sports and play. Problems happen when the groups become competitive and exclusionary. Classroom teachers encourage discussions during morning meetings and at appropriate times during the day about social relationships, and I am also a resource for all students. I receive many notes in the mailbox outside of my office door from girls asking to discuss their current “friendship drama.” The girls’ feelings are hurt, they feel that an injustice has occurred, and frequently the problem happened on the playground. Girls walk away from each other, rolling their eyes and linking arms with friends in their group. Sometimes unkind words are said. Although these behaviors are typical for girls at this age, they cannot be accepted.

I encourage the students to talk TO each other in a fair, open, kind conversation instead of about each other. Sometimes a group discussion works well, and other times a one-on-one dialogue between two peers is the quietest and easiest way to get to the bottom of what’s happening Also, all of our Love Hall Wildcats received multiple lessons in the fall about empathy through their Second Step classroom lessons and the community celebration, reinforced in our school counseling lessons in Pre-First through Second Grade classes. What does it feel like to walk in someone else’s shoes? How do you imagine your classmate feels when you tell her she can’t play? How would you feel if someone rolled her eyes at you? Girls must stop and take the time to think carefully about who they want to be, decide what kind of reputation they want to have, assertively stand up for themselves, and simultaneously stand up for others when they observe unkind behaviors or hear unkind words. It’s tough work, but our students are so capable!

I also encourage the girls to talk about their feelings with their parents. Great conversation-starters can come from books, and a great resource for helpful books is the American Girl bookstore. There’s a book called The Feelings Book: The Care and Keeping of Your Emotions that has received praise from parents. Also, in the recent “Changes: Moving into the Teen Years” talk with the Fifth Grade girls, almost all of the students raised their hand when asked if they owned a copy of The Care and Keeping of You.

And as always, the media plays a big role in showing young girls how they’re “supposed” to behave (which is where Common Sense Media comes in handy).

Do you have suggestions for helping girls navigate successfully through elementary school? What has worked well in your family? Thank you for commenting or emailing me!


assertivenessDuring our Pre-First, First, and Second Grade counseling classes in the last few weeks of March, we talked about assertively standing up for others and for yourself. It’s everyone’s job to stand up for others when we see that someone is being treated unkindly. Sometimes standing up for others looks like:

1) calmly speaking to the person who is treating someone else unkindly (which should be done only when you feel safe enough to put yourself in the situation)
2) immediately finding a trusted adult to help
3) taking the target away from the situation by asking him if he’d like to join you in playing somewhere else

If we choose to speak directly to someone who is treating a peer unkindly (or treating us unkindly), we use an assertive voice and assertive body language. It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears — no one wants porridge that’s too cold or too hot. Goldilocks wanted porridge that at a temperature that was “just right.” When we are assertive, we do not use a quiet, scared, passive voice with our hands in our pockets and our heads down. We don’t use a loud, angry, aggressive voice while invading someone else’s personal space. When we are assertive, we use a calm, kind voice that is “just right.” We display body language that is “just right.” We hold our heads high, stand up straight with our shoulders back, keep our hands to our sides, maintain eye contact, and remain a respectful 18″ from the other person.

In the classroom, we practiced saying phrases such as, “No,” “I don’t like it when you do that,” “I was in the middle of using that marker,” “I wish you would stop pushing me,” and “I asked you to stop.” It was great to watch the students trying to go from giggling to assertive after a few practice sentences!

Websites about assertiveness here and here.

Kindness Club Week 1

Today was the first meeting of the first grade Kindness Club in ASK! Nine students were present, and we are off to a great start! First, we talked about the concept “Pay It Forward.” (The film with the same title is one of my favorites.) One person does three acts of kindness for three people, those people pass along the kindness to three others, and the kindness spreads! One club member asked, “Can it go international?” Of course! We had fun imagining that someone in the United States called her friend in Japan to say hello, and then the Japanese friend called his friend in England, and then the calls and kind wishes spread all over the globe!


Then, we watched a five-minute video to show how easily and (usually) inexpensively one can receive and then pass along a small act of kindness:

Video: Pay It Forward / Acts of Kindness / Boomerang Effect

Finally, using an idea I got from this blog post about kindness, we wrote and decorated anonymous notes of kindness to hide in library books. The kids enjoyed using colored pencils and stickers to convey messages about enjoying the books in which the notes would be hidden and having a great day. “Can we tell them to pass on the kindness?” asked a club member. Of course!

By the time we cleaned up the supplies, pushed in our chairs in the ASK! building, and prepared to head to the library for our super secret mission, the children were really excited. They ran, jumped, slid quietly against the wall, and even crawled toward the door of the library, ready to anonymously spread some kindness! Once we were in the library, they were thoughtful in their placement of the notes. We are all wondering who will check out one of these books and find a kind surprise!

The club members are looking forward to receiving their membership card next Tuesday afternoon and having another adventure in kindness.

Enjoy photos of our Kindness Club Week 1 super secret mission below!

Our first group photo! Thank you, Mrs. Cushing and Mr. Martin, for allowing us to spread kindness in the library!

Our first group photo! Thank you, Mrs. Cushing and Mr. Martin, for allowing us to spread kindness in the library!

Parent workshop at Cumberland Academy of Georgia, March 15

Click the link below to find out more about an upcoming encouraging parent workshop based on the work of Dr. Brene’ Brown, author of Daring Greatly. The workshop will take place on Saturday, March 15, at Cumberland Academy of Georgia. It’s filling up quickly, and the deadline to register is this Monday, March 10th!

Wholehearted Parenting workshop 3-15-14

  • “Wholehearted Parenting: Embracing Our Worthiness as Parents, Raising Resilient Children”
  • March 15, 2014
  • 9am-2pm
  • $165, includes lunch
  • Facilitators: Dr. Kelli Ritter, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, CDWF-C and Tracy McConaghie, LCSW, RPT-S, CDWF-C
  • Location of workshop: Cumberland Academy of Georgia, 650 Mount Vernon Hwy
  • To register: Please visit or call 770-645-8933