Monday, February 24, 2014

Taking Care of Their Hearts (AKA Mid-Year Social Skills)

Hey, friends. I was all set to do a completely different blog post today, one about the math work we are doing right now, including a freebie and announcing the upcoming TpT sale.  And I'll get to that post soon, but today, something else, something arguably more important, has stopped me in my tracks.

The tagline of my blog and TpT store is "Taking care of little minds and hearts".  Yes, the academics are important. But equally important is the fact that my babies are six and seven, and sometimes being six and seven is hard. And being adults long past six or seven, sometimes we have to consciously remind ourselves of this.

Today we were waiting for buses and there were only a few kids left in my classroom, happily chatting and playing Silent Owl (silent ball with a stuffed owl). I was walking around the classroom, changing the date and class schedule on the whiteboard to get ready for tomorrow, and tidying up around the room.  And there on the floor near our coat closet, I found this:
Cute, huh?  I'm not sure exactly what is going on in this picture, maybe a birthday party with a balloon and cake?  At a swimming pool?  Outside in the sun?  Regardless, it's cute.  Smiling people, clearly a picture about something that made the child artist happy. And then I turned it over to look for a name.  And I saw this:

I literally felt my heart sink.  The rest of the kids were called to their buses and the room was empty and I was standing there holding a picture that someone felt the need to write that on.  I have no idea whose it is. The spelling doesn't give it away because I have a very high class this year and many of them would have no trouble writing this well.

So now I am trying to decide what to do.  My class this year has needed a lot of work on social skills, taking turns, working together, thinking of others.  If you remember, in one of my recent posts, some of them truly thought that doing their homework was considered an act of kindness.  The thing is, not one of them is a mean kid.  Sometimes you have really difficult and negative kids or kids who have poor attitudes or are mean to others.  My kids are not like that.  Each one of them is truly very sweet, but I have a lot of kids who struggle with impulse control and think of themselves before others.  Some of this is just the egocentricity of their age, and some of it I think it just the mix of personalities and the fact that a group of my boys are neighbors and it's a lot of togetherness. They are all really neat kids, some just happen to need more work on social skills.  And so tomorrow, we will take the time to address this in an impromptu class meeting.  I don't even plan to show them the picture, just bring it up as a hypothetical and act out some solutions.  We do this pretty regularly, and I have seen some improvements.

Which brings me to some of the other things that have helped my class to take care of each others' hearts this and every year:

1. The Social Skills Picture Book:
I. Love. This. Book.  Yes, it is technically a book for students with autism.  But it's also just a book that clearly names and defines basic social skills.  I was introduced to it by a longtime first grade teacher who used it in her class for years, and I have used it with my class every September for the past few years.  It's not a book you read to the kids.  But it introduces some basic social skills that are important to every class, such as taking turns when talking, how to listen, "don't be a space invader" (personal space), etc.  It gives very clear names to these behaviors and includes realistic pictures of the behaviors.  I usually introduce one social skill during most morning meetings and act out examples as well as nonexamples. (The kids find nonexamples hilarious, but they are actually a comfortable way to show kids - "Hey!  You know how you've been shoving to get in line first?  Not cool. Try this instead.")  Plus it gives our class common language for expectations and redirection.

2. Monthly class meetings:

We start each month with a class meeting.  We begin by sitting in a circle and doing affirmations.  I start by turning my body to the student to my left and I say, "Good afternoon, Milo.  I like you because when things are hard, you keep trying." Then Milo says thank you and tells me why he likes me.  Then he turns to the person on the other side of him and starts a new affirmation.  We go the whole way around the circle.  It actually only takes a few minutes because my students know they have to listen to other people's affirmations and give them respectful quiet while they are talking (this is your basic Responsive Classroom stuff).  Affirmations have to be about "inside" things, not about what they are wearing, or how fun their birthday party was.

The next thing we do at class meetings is a shared writing chart of four Gator Greats for the month that just passed (our school mascot is a Gator) and then three Gator Goals for the new month. The kids are the ones who come up with things they feel proud about (greats) and the things they know we need to work on (goals).  Sometimes they are academic (we had just started How-to writing, so they thought a good goal would be to learn all about it and get good at it!), and sometimes they are behavioral (clearly, lol).  But they are always student-generated, which I think makes them feel more genuine to the kids and makes them more committed to working on them.  We post these in the room until the next month's class meeting.

3. Class Dojo

We started using Class Dojo in January and it is AMAZING.  It's a classroom management tool that allows you to give or remove points for specific behaviors.  The picture above is of a demo class, not my real class, because I didn't want to publicize how many points my kids really have.  It is free and SUPER EASY.  You just sign up at their website, plug in your kids' names (I just use first names), and it gives each student a silly monster avatar. I keep it up on the SMARTboard for parts of the day, and you can also download the app for your phone or iPad so you can take it with you and your kids have the same behavior expectations everywhere you go (even just walking down the hall!).

You can use the pre-made positive and negative behaviors, or you can make your own to use.  Here are mine.  Positive:

.. and Negative:

It keeps a running total, and the kids can visually see what they are gaining and losing points for.  It has really helped my kids to self-monitor their behavior, which has majorly turned some behaviors around. Also, if you are interested, you can give the parents codes to log in and they can see their kids' points (and only theirs) at any time, including what the behaviors were that they gained or lost for. This can be great at report card and conference time - behaviors are all recorded without me keeping notes and parents can't say they didn't know. This has been a HUGE help to me this year, and I find myself redirecting kids much less since they know that their own choices matter.  When kids earn 10 points, I let them pick a prize from the prize bin (you could also use simple prizes like iPad time) .  At the end of the day, you can see a whole class pie chart like this:
This has really made my class want to work together to get that 100% positive, where nothing else worked quite so well to bring them together.  We had our first 100% on the hundredth day, which we HAD to celebrate with a pajama day later that week.
4. Reading and Writing Buddies who take care of each others' hearts.
I include this in my partner work minilessons.  When we learn how to be good reading buddies, we learn that our buddies will make mistakes.  We don't laugh, we don't make fun, we don't jump in and solve words for them.  We act like coaches and talk to your buddy's heart.  (Your soccer coach wouldn't run out and score the goal for you, he'd remind you to use your strategies).  Same thing with writing buddies - we do need to tell each other when things need to be fixed.  But we do it with both your buddy's work and heart in mind.  We chart examples of how to tell your buddy to make revisions ("I think you need a period here" instead of "You forgot a period!").  We practice.  And practice.  And practice.  

I really do think that with first graders, and many kids, they don't mean to do things that hurt others, they are just so darn impulsive.  So I try hard to keep things positive while giving my kids the skills to solve problems verbally with each other and an open enough classroom that we can talk about problems we are having and solve them together.  My kids know that it is a big deal to me when they are Problem Solvers.  A big part of this is having the tools to fix hurting hearts because little hearts get hurt easily.  I constantly use language about the heart.  I tell the kids they make my heart smile or make my heart shine.  I tell them how important it is to take care of each others' hearts. And we'll talk about that tomorrow and how we can save someone's heart who is scared to show a beautiful picture because someone might make fun of it.


  1. Oh what a sad little picture :-(

    Thank you for sharing all of the things you are trying with your class- I have some similar issues going on this year and it's helpful to hear some new ideas. I hope things work out well for your kiddos soon!

  2. I'm so glad I found your blog! You were one of the first people to welcome me to TpT and I have no idea why it took me so long to discover your blog. Reading it last night, I could totally relate. The years I used class meetings really helped my kiddos. With everything teachers have to cover in a year, teaching social skills is hardly ever mentioned yet such an important concept for these little one who need to learn it now in order to have those skills for life. Kudos to you for taking the time to take care of those kiddos' hearts!! :)



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