Teaching children during a pandemic, whether face-to-face or online, can be challenging due to the heightened stress and trauma. To cope with these difficult times, children need to be taught strong social-emotional skills so they develop a foundation for self-expression, communication, creativity, and effective learning. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen interviews APU Department Chair Dr. Kathleen Tate and Assistant Professor Dr. Greg Mandalas about five ways teachers can incorporate social-emotional learning into the classroom. Learn new ideas for the classroom like creative drama activities and social stories to build empathy and help students develop relationship-building skills to cope with stress and conflict.
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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
Welcome, everyone, to the Online Teaching Lounge. Today, I’m speaking with the Department Chair of the Teaching Program in the School of Arts, Humanities and Education, Dr. Kathleen Tate, and faculty member, Dr. Greg Mandalas, about social-emotional learning and mindfulness in the K-12 traditional and online classrooms. Just to help our listeners get to know you a little bit, let’s let you each introduce yourself, starting with Dr. Kathleen Tate. Tell us something about you.
Dr. Kathleen Tate: Sure. Hi, Bethanie. I have about 25 years ofexperience in education, with experiences in corporate, civil service, retail, and other industries. I’ve been a Department Chair in teaching for over 10 years at the university, with prior tenure-track professor experience at Auburn University, University of West Georgia. I’m a former elementary special ed teacher. I taught in an urban, low socioeconomic system, bilingual public school. I have several lifetime teachings certificates from Texas, which they do not offer any more, in pre-K through 12 special education, first through eighth grade theater arts, and first through eighth grade elementary education.
I’m a children’s book author. I have 16 years of online consulting experience at master’s and doctoral levels. And I have to say I enjoy guacamole, tennis, scrapbooking, boating, swimming, baking, going to museums, and reading whenever possible. I play drums and keyboards and am very passionate about how people of all ages, children, teens, adults learn, and also infusing arts-based and multi-modal approaches in instruction.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you, Kathleen. And thank you so much for such a wonderful introduction. Our audience is in for a real treat today. And Greg, let’s have you also introduce yourself to us as well.
Dr. Greg Mandalas: Yeah,sure. Well, thanks so much for having us first of all. I’ve worked for the past 27 years in education wearing many, many hats. I spent about 18 years as a music teacher before I moved into the wild, wild West of the administration world as a school principal.
I’ve been a principal for the past nine years in two different buildings. Also, for the past 11 years, I’ve worked as an online instructor in higher education. I’m currently an assistant professor in the School of Education, and I enjoy playing golf and anything that has to do with music, as you can imagine, as I was a music teacher. And, just like Kathleen, I’m also a drummer, so maybe eventually we’ll have a drummer educational podcast down the road. Again, thanks for having us and I’m looking forward to the conversation.
Bethanie: Wonderful! I can totally relate to your music background; I was music educator for 21 years myself. I wish we would do that podcast, sounds like fun!
Bethanie: I’m glad that both of you are here with us. As I mentioned, our listeners are in for a real treat because one thing that on everyone’s mind right now is how to help children keep learning, how to function in the rough environment we’re in. At the time of this recording, we’re still experiencing the pandemic. There’s a lot of stress out there. So, why should we talk about social-emotional learning?
Kathleen: That is a great question, Bethanie. We know students are increasingly experiencing a lot of challenges, in the community, at home, within and beyond school walls. They need skills to help them successfully prepare for learning.
Dr. Shivohn Garcia recently reported that 70% of students who drop out of school do so because they lack the social-emotional skills needed to navigate challenges.
Greg: Yeah. And to back that up, when speaking with those in the field of education, like teachers and counselors and other principals, it is obvious that there is an increased need for social-emotional education. It’s a topic that keeps coming up time and time again. Teachers are consistently seeing an increase in these issues, and there’s a need to better equip our teachers in this area so they can educate the whole student like we talk about so often.
Bethanie: That makes a lot of sense. Now, just in case we have a few less-experienced teachers out there, or somebody’s wondering, can you give us a little bit of background about what social and emotional learning is?
Kathleen: Sure. The Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning, let’s call them CASEL, gives us a definition for social-emotional learning, which is “the process by which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage their emotions, achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”
And there are five core social and emotional competencies:
- Social awareness
- Relationship skills, and
- Responsible decision-making.
These are very important for today’s K-12 students and adults to develop, and for teachers to model and support them.
Greg: Yeah, I agree with that as well. Self-awareness in particular is especially important in the K-12 classroom. While this concept is one that many students just grasp through simple informal experiences, your listeners can probably tell you that there’s a section of the population that needs direct instruction to understand exactly how their own actions affect those around them. The same is true for self-management and responsible decision-making.
For example, your listeners can probably relate to, even in the online world, a student who may become frustrated with their work, and perhaps this student has just very few skills in the area of self-awareness, and shouts out in frustration at something. That’s something I can definitely relate to as a former teacher.
And when that happens, the other students around obviously become distracted when that student acts out. But it’s possible that student who is acting out doesn’t have the tools to understand or the empathy needed for those around them. And it’s our job as teachers to meet that need of that student, too, to better equip them.
Kathleen: Greg, I’m so glad you mentioned empathy! Social awareness, empathy, that is at the heart of all of this. And it can be developed in different ways. For example, many listeners are probably familiar with William Glasser, MD and his classroom meetings, morning meetings, that help student-led conflict resolution take place in the classroom.
Getting to know students, families, and each other. This can be done in traditional classrooms or online, through autobiography- and biography-genre projects, as well school-based community projects. Through stories and readings, my favorite creative drama activities, pantomime, tableau-which are frozen pantomime pictures, improvisation, role-playing. For example, using child labor as a social studies topic that might be covered, empathy can really be developed looking through those photographs, reading the stories of people, and also taking care of classroom pets or stuffed animals.
When I was an elementary teacher, I would let the children whose parents gave them permission, take certain live animals that we had in the classroom home for the weekend and care for them, bring them back on Mondays. We also had stuffed animals the students had to take home, care for, write about in their journals, and bring back on Monday. And the students absolutely loved it, whether it was a stuffed animal or live animal, and it really taught them to care for someone or something outside of themselves.
Bethanie: You know, Kathleen, when you talk about these animals, classroom pets and stuffed animals, it just brings to mind an experience we had in our family where my son was in first grade, and that teacher had—I believe it was a hamster—it was class pet. Every weekend, it would go home with a different child. And it definitely was a source of building responsibility and some early relationship skills, like that empathy you were talking about. So, I personally just want to vouch for that as a really effective practice. So, thanks for bringing it up. Now what about other ways to build relationship skills?
Kathleen: Well, there are other relationship skills, such as communicating effectively, cooperating with and listening to others, resisting peer pressure, asking for and providing help when it’s needed, negotiating and resolving conflict.
Going back to creative drama, students can practice communication, cooperation, listening to each other, negotiating ideas, when they negotiate, plan, and carry out creative drama activities, such as skits, role-plays, pantomime, puppet shows and so on.
Students, not just children, (they might be older students) explore topics across the curriculum, in-person or online in pairs or small groups. There is really less risk through creative drama because there’s no one way to do things. There’s no one way to pantomime. There’s no one way to improv. It also helps to build self-esteem.
Children can act out verbs, historical events, story plots, things like that. Creative drama activities also help play out scenarios related to resisting peer pressure, for example, whether it’s with children or teens. This can help with thinking ahead about those common situations that may happen at or outside the school, in-person or virtually. And with such activities students can learn how to ask for help and learn to help each other.
So, it’s really practicing these skills. When listeners who are teachers use those collaborative groups, that’s a great time to give roles such as a leader, recorder, and so forth,or in literature circles in language arts, or project-based scenarios in science and social studies. This gives more opportunities for that active speaking, listening, and cooperating.
Greg: Yeah, I want to piggy-back on that a little bit. My experience has been that those social stories that Kathleen’s talking about can be especially powerful with the younger students. I’m a principal in a K-3 building, and I’ve seen it in action, with these social stories. And once the kids can relate to characters in the stories, it does help them to create that empathy we talked about earlier.
And even for older students, it could be helpful for them to actually write out the social stories and then maybe act it out in a play, like Kathleen mentions. Those are all awesome ideas that listeners can apply right away.
Bethanie: All these are fantastic and really getting us started. So, if we were going to take this a little bit further, how can our listeners as educators really address social-emotional learning whether they’re face-to-face or online?
Greg: Well, I look at it just like any other lesson plans. You have to start with the end in mind. What’s the objective or the goal?
If the goal is to teach empathy, work backwards from that. How are you going to do that? What does that student have that might be of particular interest to them that you can use during your social story time? For example, maybe the student is very into sled riding, say for example, or anything like that. You could use a story about sled riding. Two students go sled riding and work backwards from there. Maybe there’s a conflict. It can lead some conflict resolution.
And, just as you listeners know, your students change every single year. So, your focus may change from year to year, depending on your population. So, teachers have to know that, and be ready to adapt to the to the various needs that are presented to them, which I’m sure your listeners again can completely relate to.
Kathleen: Greg, I like that, focusing on the end in mind. Teachers should decide whether they want to explicitly or implicitly address social-emotional learning. And this can vary day to day, and they can do both.
Explicitly, they can introduce key words and concepts such as relationship skills, and then lead activities and discussions about using them. Or, more implicitly, embed the skills into lesson activities across the curriculum. These things can be done face-to-face or virtually. But, either way, students should work in groups. And do more creative drama activities. Just make sure the screen in Zoom, for example, focuses on pairs or groups, as they’re doing that.
Bethanie: This has been a lot of great, helpful information. If you were to think about, let’s say, five things that teachers can do right now, whether they’re teaching online or face-to-face or may be in a hybrid classroom situation, what would you suggest?
Kathleen: Bethanie, are you putting us on the spot? No, I’m just kidding.
Greg: Ha, ha, ha!
Kathleen: So first, I would say develop empathy by having students study characters, significant historical figures, current figures, current events, concepts across the curriculum through viewing photos, using created drama activities. Even virtually, students can be paired or put into a group for the skits, activities, or problem-based scenarios.
Number two, let students take care of virtual or actual stuffed animals over the weekend, or live pets, and creatively journal about them. Anything that helps them with perspective-taking can help develop empathy. If you’re not ready to try a creative drama activity, just use photos, art, poetry, songs from different eras and cultures to help evoke emotion and empathy about historical or current events. These are things listeners can do tomorrow, in-person or online.
A third take away. Make sure to structure opportunities every day for students to work together in pairs or small groups. Younger students do better in groups of 2 to 3. Older students can start to work in groups of 4 to 5. If you’re unsure about how to set up Zoom breakout sessions for virtual groups, just contact the technology teacher on campus or in the district for help with that.
But before doing any group activity, discuss expectations first, interactively. Have the students come up with expectations for working in groups and listening and sharing, and ask them what the consequences are if they don’t. How is it going to make them feel when people don’t listen to them?
Help them really think explicitly about those relationship skills of listening, cooperating, and communicating. And then co-create rubrics for group work expectations and allow the students to self and peer evaluate. These things only take a few minutes to do, and they help set the stage for success.
Greg: Okay, Kathleen came up with three, I have two more. And mine are going to focus specifically on teachers themselves and what they can do in this arena.
As you know, it’s a stressful, stressful position being a teacher, whether you’re online, face-to-face, or hybrid. We need to practice self-care as teachers. And a good way to do that, you can start by learning simple breathing exercises, and these can be done in the classroom.
Speaking from experience, I’ve led buildings where we made this a building-wide initiative, where we’ve all learned about mindfulness and applied it to the classroom. I think that helps take some of the stigma, which was still, may be there, the stigma about possibly, you know, is this mental health thing for me? It’s for everybody. We have to practice self-care. So that’s one thing they definitely can do.
And finally, teachers should meet with the organization’s counseling department to learn what resources may already be in place both for teachers and students, in person and virtually. It’s amazing what’s out there, and we may not know about it.
Kathleen: Greg, that’s a great suggestion because school counselors tend to be underutilized, I think. So that’s a good reminder.
Bethanie: Fantastic. We have a lot of great ideas for our listeners, and surely the experience you both brought to the table is really going to be helpful as listeners start to implement some of these. Any last-minute thoughts that you might have as we wrap up our podcast today?
Greg: I just know that it’s a stressful time to be an educator, and I remember when I started 27 years ago that I was told it’s a stressful time to be an educator. It’s always going to be a stressful job. And there’s a reason behind that. We are moving the needle with kids and making relationships with kids, which is, probably the most important job that you can do.
So when you do find yourself getting stressed out and anxious, and your students are having trouble with some of these mindfulness activities, just remember that. That it’s not the easiest job in the world. But it absolutely is the most fulfilling job in the world. So stick with it.
Kathleen: And I’d like to just add that I think most teachers are doing group work but if they’re not, I think that should be a priority. And creative drama may sound scary, but if you Google or buy some books, get some basics, or meet with an art teacher, perhaps, or theater teacher, you can really get simple ideas. It’s not that difficult to infuse puppetry, reader’s theater, improvisation, pantomime, virtually or in-person, and it’s really worth the time to focus on these skills and infuse activities that help develop them over time during the school year.
Bethanie: Fantastic. Thank you again for the wonderful tips and strategies on social and emotional learning. I just want to add my own suggestion for listeners, that when children do the things that you’re teaching, celebrate it. Really draw attention to it. Because it helps them repeat the behavior anytime. And we all know that not only do we need our own stress release, but so do students, right? So, we’re giving them the tools here to empower them to take charge and be okay in tough times. So, really fabulous things that you both shared with us. Thank you.
Greg: Thank you for having us.
Kathleen: Thank you for having us, Bethanie.
Bethanie: Yes! So, thank you, listeners, for being here in the Online Teaching Lounge today. We’ve been here with Dr. Greg Mandalas, a faculty member at American Public University, and also Dr. Kathleen Tate, Department Chair of the Teaching programs in the School of Arts, Humanities and Education. Thank you again for joining us, and we wish you all the best this coming week in your online teaching.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.