SEL is a major focus of the prekindergarten and kindergarten program. Though SEL instruction is not offered as part of a formal class, it is a central piece of the program that is constructed and organically negotiated every day as young children and teachers interact with one another, work on studies together, work with materials, and play. Children and teachers hypothesize, compare, provoke, contest, and come to consensus about ideas, gradually building a strong sense of the group's perspectives, what it means to be a member of a community, and the uniqueness of each individual.
- Grade 1
First-grade exercises and lessons promote critical intrapersonal and social skills, which play a critical role in improving children's future well-being and academic performance. Classes meet weekly for sixty minutes. Studies show that classrooms, which value SEL foster greater academic risk-taking, concept retention, motivation, and trust. When children feel freely empowered to make mistakes and ask questions, receive and give honest feedback, and solve daily conflicts, there is greater educational meaning. Lessons and active experiences have been built created over the past twenty years and are drawn from many resources.
Students are introduced to "I statements" and use them in the classroom to express strong feelings (e.g., "I felt . . . when you. . ., and I wish . . .") and to ask for what they want or need in non-blaming language. First graders also practice the companion skill of active listening. "I statements" are also taught as expressions of acknowledgment of an act of kindness or group accomplishment. The concept of conflict de-escalation and escalation is then introduced, and children describe examples of calming or escalating actions and feelings using real and hypothetical situations they encounter every day. They identify strategies for cooling off and self-calming to help manage strong emotions and develop increased resiliency.
The work provides a foundation for conflict resolution and positive choice making at Nueva. Children role-play solutions to simple conflicts such as sharing a ball, joining play at recess, or expressing different views. Additionally, students have opportunities to learn and practice techniques for relaxation and stress management, including yoga, conscious breathing, and guided imagery. They practice various forms of mindfulness to develop greater self-awareness, focus, and impulse control. By the end of the year, students have myriad skills for building social and emotional intelligence.
- Grade 2
SEL class occurs weekly for sixty minutes. The year begins by focusing on active listening and reviewing concepts of "I statements," win-win, and de-escalation concepts. Students review which feelings, thoughts, and actions escalate during a conflict and de-escalate during solution generating. Using real or hypothetical situations students encounter as second graders, classroom meetings and role-plays increase conflict resolution strategies.
Students also practice relaxation strategies. They listen to music and review progressive relaxation and guided imagery to promote well-being. Second graders study actions and attitudes of friendship and teamwork. They explore the different roles people play in group work and reflect on their strengths in a group. They also learn a series of cooperative games for indoor and outdoor play and end the year by creating and playing their own cooperative games. The SEL themes of relaxation/stress management and friendship are woven together when students engage in a guided-imagery exercise where they meet imaginary allies. These allies are developed into characters that they write about and illustrate with watercolors. In this way, students expand their inner and outer resources for managing emotions and social situations.
- Grade 3
Third graders meet weekly for an hour, sometimes in classroom groupings and sometimes as a whole grade. They further their skills of peer mediation: reflective listening, paraphrasing, brainstorming, and solidifying agreements. Later, students use puppets to role-play friendly and/or self-critical "hidden voices" as they look at self-motivation. Using situations they are likely to encounter in their school lives -- such as spilling glue all over finished art work, leaving one's homework at home, performing a musical piece, or missing a goal during a game -- students try encouraging or discouraging messages to discover how these "hidden voices" impact behavior.
Classroom meetings provide a context to apply skills to discussions about play and cooperative work. Students learn about paying attention and concentration through various mindfulness practices. They apply this understanding to relationships as they expand "conversation maps" and work to heighten reflective listening. They review qualities and actions of a friend and build activities that promote and keep same-gender as well as mixed-gender friendships. They review the following inclusive behaviors: offering encouragement, opening up groups to others, complimenting someone's ideas, listening actively to someone, paying attention to one's tone of voice, and giving clear and direct messages to each other when necessary. Students also revisit progressive relaxation and guided imagery.
- Grade 4
SEL classes meet weekly for sixty minutes. Students begin the year by developing awareness of how one's perception of similarities and differences plays in making friends and learning styles. They explore the question "Who am I?" from multiple angles. Drawing on the multiple intelligences theory, students come to understand how being "smart" has many facets such as visual, spatial, kinesthetic, and verbal.
Students continue to build skills of cooperative problem solving and direct communication. Direct communication through the vocabulary of assertive language is practiced through role-play as a way to set personal boundaries and get needs met. Exercises using foundational collaboration principles from improvisation and team-building exercises such as paper-tower building and playing cards provoke discussion about differing leadership and participatory styles. Some exercises ask students to reflect on the process of nonverbal communication and how to pay attention to each other when verbal cues are absent. Students write scripts, and film passive, relationally aggressive, and unhealthy ways to solve problems or treat relationships.
Reinforcing concepts introduced in earlier grades, students review the importance of de-escalation and inclusive behaviors such as offering encouragement, opening up play groups to others, intentionally passing the ball to others during play, complimenting someone's ideas, listening actively to someone, paying attention to one's tone of voice, giving clear and direct (kind or firm) messages to each other when necessary. Guided relaxation and mindfulness practices continue to support students as ways to develop self-awareness, resiliency, management of moods, and a sense of well-being.
- Grade 5
The fifth grade program goals encourage preadolescent students to:
- become more aware of personal choices that promote self-confidence and emotional intelligence.
- gain insight into skills that promote cooperation and teamwork, while expanding leadership, empathy, and personal problem solving.
- develop positive communication and conflict-resolution skills.
- enhance group trust and respect for individual differences.
Teaching methods draw from experiential learning and group work, discussion, writing, improvisation, role-play, and visual arts, which serve as catalysts for building emotional and social intelligence skills. Students create community agreements for respectful behavior by identifying what it takes to activate respect for other students in the community, for the school grounds, and for themselves. Fifth graders participate in open session discussions, a hallmark of the Nueva SEL program for Middle School students. Using student-generated social and emotional issues such as personal decisions, real-life friendship struggles, and normal stresses of growing up and gaining responsibility, they apply the listening skills of clarifying their classmate's issue, offering support and encouragement, and providing practical advice and solutions.
Students brainstorm solutions to the dilemmas of peer pressure or pressure from within themselves. They review strategies of making assertive statements, enlisting adult help, ignoring situations, speaking out together, changing one's internal response and attitude, and uncovering assumptions and misperceptions. They explore the questions "Who am I?" and "Who do I want to be?" from multiple angles, using art, story, games, and self-reflection. They create a "personal values crest" or shield using collage and mixed media. They also explore issues related to technology and identity. They set goals and intentions and find ways to support each other and themselves to meet these personal goals.
Students learn and practice a variety of mindfulness techniques, using breath, body awareness, and movement to enhance focus and concentration. Guided-imagery and meditation techniques are reviewed and new approaches are taught to promote greater self-control and well-being. Students also learn about the brain and current research connecting mindfulness training with physical and emotional health.
- Grade 6
The sixth grade program encourages preadolescent students to:
- understand each student's strengths and accept differences.
- hone skills necessary to work effectively in partnerships and groups, such as questioning/listening, empathizing, asserting oneself, and negotiating.
- explore the complexities and value of genuine friendship.
- encourage a healthy perspective and truthful understanding of bodies, nutrition, and puberty.
- guide students toward ethical thought and action.
At the beginning of the year, the class spends time integrating new and returning
students with activities that explore identity, individuality, similarities, and differences. Students work through ethical issues introduced by technology as they prepare for the laptop program. As the first dance approaches, students have opportunities to ask questions, relieve anxiety, and seek mentorship from older schoolmates. Later in the year, students spend SEL time preparing for their East Coast trip.
The rest of the curriculum involves topics such as bullying, gender stereotypes, media messaging, peer pressure, friendship, cliques, conflict resolution, and puberty. Teachers choose topics in an order and pace relevant to the needs of the particular group of individuals.
- Grades 7-8
The program goals for students in grades 7–8 are to:
- understand stress and develop personal coping and prevention strategies.
- gain insight into cooperation and competition, expanding leadership skills, empathy, and personal problem solving.
- develop strong, effective communication and conflict-resolution skills.
- enhance trust and embrace differences within the community.
- explore nutrition and health in order to recognize satiety and make wise, nutritious choices.
- become more self-aware and group aware and contemplate their relationship to the world, others, and themselves.
SEL classes meet weekly for both grades. These older students begin to practice more independence and to become more aware of how others see them. Adolescents start to think more abstractly and rationally. They are shaping their moral code. Students review, examine, and elaborate on their SEL foundation and how these skills can help them form personal boundaries and values. Students discuss gender roles and stereotypes, the media's influence on ideals, establishing a personal code of ethics, nutrition, identity, drugs and alcohol, respectful relationships, and empathy. Above all, students continue to learn how to manage one's response to stress and strong emotions, a lifelong task for personal growth.
At least twice a month, students engage in an open session, a class period in which peers respond to student-generated issues through an intentional, supportive exchange of listening and ideas. This invaluable experience allows students to offer their personal wisdom, advice, or clarification to guide peers to a healthy resolution to everyday problems. Not only does this strengthen their SEL toolbox, it opens their eyes to how much they have to offer each other, empowering them with skills and motivation.
Nueva students engage in SEL-related projects that enable them to learn and exercise SEL skills. For example, in third grade, projects connecting SEL to the class theme emerge. One year, third graders used design thinking to identify issues they cared deeply about, then researched the topics and designed educational materials and actions to benefit the various groups (including stray dogs, children with cancer, endangered animals, and blind people). They held a Service Learning Fair to present their accomplishments to the Nueva community.
Projects linking SEL to the arts also emerge. For example, a photography project celebrated the use of a body part -- eyes, arms, hands, and knees. Another year students created life-size superheroes with SEL superpowers and wrote stories.
In fourth grade, working with the class theme of the hero's journey, SEL classes point out how SEL tools (self-reflection and management, compassion, personal decision making, etc.) and one's actions and choices help shape one's own heroic path. Student-designed leadership projects empower students to use SEL tools to benefit the school community. Using the interview process, they discover what needs and problems exist in Lower School. Based on the information they gather, they brainstorm ideas for projects to address the identified issues. In partners and small groups, they implement ideas.
Past projects included organizing a talent show, teaching correct pencil grip in prekindergarten, leading cooperative games at recess, presenting skits at community meetings to communicate the importance of caring for our shared spaces, being book buddies to kindergartners, and updating agreements in recess areas.
Daniela Papi -- the leader of the Nueva summer service-learning trip to Cambodia in 2008 -- recently included her reflections on Nueva students’ notable empathy in a story regarding the Skoll World Forum. The social entrepreneurship forum held each year in Oxford, England, featured speakers such as The Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, singer and songwriter Annie Lennox, and George Soros, a prominent international supporter of democratic ideals and one of the world’s most successful financiers, amongst others.
“Empathy has been coming up as a theme throughout the Skoll World Forum this year, and I think it is an important component in creating a better future,” Daniela Papi wrote. “An experience I had that informed that opinion was when I led an extraordinary group of students around Cambodia for two weeks. The thing that made them exceptional was not the fact that they were only 11 and 12 years old nor that they were exceptionally brilliant, but from the fact that they knew how to communicate and work as a team better than any adults I had ever worked with. I didn’t realize what it was that made them so unique at first, but when we gathered as a group and they gave each other time to speak, supported people who were struggling, and facilitated the group dynamics discussions on their own, I realized that they had more empathy for each other than any other group of people with whom I had worked. It turns out that at their school, the Nueva School in California, they had joined social emotional learning class for a few hours a week since grade one.”
Read the rest of the story here.