“Take a Break,” says a small sign in a small corner of a second-grade classroom. A small corner that represents a big change at Dan D. Rogers Elementary School in Dallas, Texas. Last year we began small changes such as these as part of a school-wide effort to have a uniform approach to Social-Emotional Learning on our Campus. With the help of my leadership team, a group of core teachers, and our district’s Psychological and Social Services Department, we met over the summer and began to formulate lessons, gather tools, and purchase materials to begin our program which we now call, “Our Mind Time.” This a title that was coined by one of our district social workers, Veva Lane.
Prior to beginning this program, many teachers had tried various techniques in helping students develop the competencies outlined in the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) model with varying degrees of success. As a counselor, these critical social skills were certainly part of my classroom guidance lessons, but all our efforts lacked uniformity and a common vocabulary. The ideas did not carry over from class to class and year to year. Mindfulness couldn’t just be what we say or practiced in the counselor’s office, for example. As a result, Our Mind Time was launched in every grade and every class, from the first day of the 2016-2017 school year. Being recognized last May by the American Psychological Association with the BEA Golden Psi Award has given us validation that we are on the right track and motivation to continue the program in the 2017-2018 school year with renewed vigor.
The program encompasses several components. We begin with teaching social skills such as greetings and active listening with random partnering every Monday morning for the first 20 minutes of the day. Deep breathing is taught and practiced throughout the day and the term, “pretzel and breathe” is uniformly utilized so that every class understands what to do and how to do it. Breathing exercises are initiated with a chime which is visibly present in all areas of our campus. Students are encouraged to identify their emotions and calm down corners such as the one pictured, are present in every room. The lessons developed by the committee, use the core themes from the Scholastic MINDUP curriculum which we also correlated with the 16 Habits of Mind. With the MINDUP curriculum, students are taught the parts of the brain and how they can control their brain and the choices they make. Frequent brain breaks throughout the day are mandatory. Some incorporate meditative and relaxing themes while others are more movement and energizing in nature. We use common vocabulary such a prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and mindfulness across the grade levels. Finally, connections from the lessons are made throughout the week in all subject areas.
Where are we today? Well, as we begin our second year, we have trained new staff on our program and once again we made sure everyone had all the tools needed to be successful with the program from the first day of school. We hosted an “Our Mind Time” learning walk with books, activities, handouts, and games on display so teachers could begin focusing on what “Our Mind Time” would look like in their classroom. As in the year before, using the lessons, activities, “pretzel and breathe,” and the chime daily set expectations for everyone from the first day. Our first week of school focused on activities that helped teachers and students to get to know each other and in turn develop positive relationships. Polite greetings, activities such as the NAME GAME to learn names, and frequent brain breaks were practiced.
As our district is now making SEL programs on every campus a requirement, we are proud to say we are ahead of the curve and beginning to see the small steps take shape. Students are learning to use their words and identify their feelings. Teachers are understanding their role in teaching SEL in their classrooms. Even our parents, who are taught these same techniques, are taking note and trying them at home. In closing, I feel all these small steps are making a big impact on our campus. Today, we proudly boast of one of the highest ratings in Culture and School Climate in our district and I think Our Mind Time has helped us get there. We still have more to learn but as we say at the end of each day at Dan D Rogers, “We are the Eagles! Watch us soar!”
Interested in applying for the 2018 BEA Golden Psi Award? Applications are due November 1. Winning schools will receive $1000, a plaque/trophy, local media highlights, a press release, recognition at APA’s Annual Convention, a feature in the Monitor on Psychology magazine and on APA’s website. For more information, please visit http://www.apa.org/about/awards/bea-golden-psi.aspx.