In a professional development training with our full staff this past August, Dr. Stuart Ablon of ThinkKids at Mass General Hospital taught us that “kids do well if they can” and not “kids do well if they want to.” If we accept this premise, then we are compelled to approach a child’s challenging behavior as an indicator that a child is lacking skills, not will; our job then becomes helping children learn the skills they need to become their best selves. This task of growing the social emotional skills of our students has been top of mind for us this year at JCDS.

Wednesday night lower school parents, teachers and members of our student life and support service teams came together to explore the variety of ways that JCDS has long been teaching, modeling and reinforcing the social emotional skills that children need to succeed at school (and in life). We heard about the Zones of Regulation curriculum that is taught in Gan Nitzan (kindergarten), a concept used to help students learn how to self-regulate and to recognize how their bodies can provide clues to help them understand and name the emotions they experience.

We heard from lower school teachers how the Zones language becomes a tool that they use to check in daily with students, and how it integrates into the Open Circle curriculum that is the focus of our social emotional learning curriculum in grades 1-4. We saw examples of break spaces and class brits (covenants) and we learned about all of the thought and intention that goes into classroom routines and structuring the “unstructured” moments of the school day to set our children up for success.

After we learned about all of the work that happens at JCDS, day in and day out in the classrooms, hallways, on the playground and sports field, we talked about how we are learning to use the newest tool in our tool box: collaborative problem-solving. One of the things that drew us to collaborative problem-solving initially was how beautifully it aligns with our Habits of Mind and Heart:

  • The process starts with empathy as the adult listens with curiosity and humility to the child’s concern;
  • The process continues by encouraging the child to consider multiple perspectives as the adult shares their adult concern with the child;
  • Then we move toward problem-solving. At this stage the child and adult collaborate to come up with a solution that addresses both parties’ concerns;
  • If the first solution that is proposed doesn’t work, we rely on our ability to persevere as we come back to the drawing board and consider other possible solutions.

This work is exciting and exhausting and exhilarating. We are constantly reminding ourselves that this work of raising and educating children to be the mensches we know they can be is a marathon and not a sprint. We loved hearing from parents on the call about how the language of Zones is showing up at home, how an older sister recognized that her brother was in the red zone and asked him if he wanted help taking some deep breaths. We heard from several families who use the “fist to five” recess debrief tool to check in with their kids at the end of the day.

Marci Borenstein, Ph.D., is principal for JCDS.

The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.

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