Students are involved in personal and social interactions all day long. Social behavior is tied to the health of the body and the brain. Social relationships are tied to emotion and you cannot separate learning and emotion. Great teaching embraces the intellectual, physical, social and emotional child.
What can be done to promote unity and build positive relationships in classes? How can helping students understand the importance of building character strengths within themselves positively effect learning for everyone?
- Positive social interactions are tied to feelings of warmth and connectedness. Feeling valued or cared for releases neurotransmitters (endorphins and dopamine - the feel good brain chemicals). These chemicals are strongly tied to lasting memories and help to create unity.
- Nourishing relationships benefit both health and learning. Toxic relationships slowly poisons the body.
- Positive social experience = releases serotonin (feel good hormone that assists in memory storage)
- Negative social experience = release of cortisol (not good for learning)
- During a highly charged emotional situation the amygdala signals a response to the hypothalamus to fight, fly or freeze. The amygdala plays a role in storing long term memories that are colored with positive or negative emotions.
- Taking time to teach and reinforce social intelligence skills is well worth the time and effort. Help kids get a clear picture of the type of person they would like to be and identify the behaviors that will help them get there.
Strategies & Resources
Front-load Everything With Character - Every learning experience affords teachers the opportunity to challenge kids to practice character traits necessary for classroom unity and increased learning for all. As part of introducing a lesson or project and transitioning into a time when students will be working together it only takes a few seconds to have kids identify the character traits they will get a chance to practice in whatever is coming up next.
Teaching Games For Understanding With a Little More Feeling with Dr. Joanna Sheppard - #PhysEdSummit - This is a great video that brings the social/emotional aspect of what we do into focus.
Conflict Resolution Time Machine - This is a great mat that gives kids a place to practice effective communication and conflict resolution skills. It gives them the words to use to begin taking care of conflicts on their own. I've always had a conflict resolution space but this mat makes everything work even better. One of my favorite memories of this happened one day when I forgot to put it out... a 3rd grade student walked up to me, took a deep breath and said, "Mrs. Giles-Brown can you get the mat out? I'm having a conflict with Susan." Then she asked Susan to go with her, they worked everything out and came back to class on their own. YEAH! Social Intelligence! Thank you Becky Bailey!
By using punishment and reward systems many classrooms are set up to foster competition rather than unity. In this Webinar (2 in a series of 7) Becky Bailey does an excellent job explaining why fostering unity is so important and shares some strategies we can use to achieve it. I highly recommend her book Conscious Discipline to anyone interested in brain smart practices for dealing with children. Over the past five or six years it has helped me make many positive changes in how I teach.