It is crucial for our students to learn a social curriculum; however, how to teach one is something we as teachers need to figure out. Social curriculum is a means to teach students how to interact and empathize with one another. It is how to ensure students feel good about themselves and their relationships. When students learn a social curriculum they are socially aware and emotionally intelligent. They understand their emotions as well as the emotions of others.
So, the question then is how do we teach our students these crucial lessons?
It starts in morning meeting by creating a climate in your classroom where everyone feels safe and welcome and a part of the "team." It begins with greeting one another in a way that shows respect: eye contact, a kind tone of voice, an appropriate handshake. It starts in learning how to share with one another. It's as basic as looking at the person who is talking. This seems so obvious, but children need to be taught this symbol of respect. It is the same for all of these lessons -- they are obvious, they are simple, but they must be taught. They must be infused throughout the school day.
How do we teach children to listen to one another?
We teach children how to be good listeners by helping them to understand what it feels like to not be listened to. It is through modeling. For example, your class is sitting discussing their day and everyone is talking at once. It is taking that moment and making it the example, the teaching point.
Teacher: "I'm noticing you're all talking at once. I heard pieces of really good ideas, but I couldn't make them all out. Why do you think that was?'"
You are handing the control over to the children. You are engaging them and allowing them to think about this. Once you begin getting responses, it is then your opportunity as their teacher to lead them to a solution.
Teacher: "We couldn't hear one another because we weren't listening with our ears when each of our friends were sharing. This time let's make it a point to take the time to listen to each other. You each have such incredible ideas and I want us to hear each other's. When we listen to each other we get smarter because we gain new ideas that we may not have even been thinking. This time we are going to out our eyes and ears on the person speaking and we are going to wait until he or she is done to move on."
In this conversation you are using something that happens regularly in an elementary class: wanting to share, and being impatient and you are using it to teach children why listening is so important. It's not just a piece of classroom management; it is teaching a human skill. You are teaching your students to take turns,respect one another, be a good listener, and learn from others' ideas. The list goes on and on.
How do we teach children to empathize with the needs of others?
We teach children how to empathize by understanding themselves and their own emotions. Would you want to be treated meanly? No. Would you want to be all alone at recess? No. Would you want someone to say something unkind to you? No.
We all know the golden rule -- treat others the way you want to be treated. It really does get to what's at the core of all of this. When we let children experience this and have these conversations, they become innately aware that they would never want to experience being left out, alone or sad. They recognize that they don't want anyone else to experience those feelings either.
How do we teach children to speak to one another with kindness?
We teach our children to speak to each other with kindness by remembering as their teacher to always speak with kindness. We teach them by reinforcing every time we hear them do so. We teach by recognizing this moment and sharing it with the class.
"I just heard John kindly remind Sarah to push in her chair. Kindness counts, kindness matters, thank you for remembering that, John."
It is in always recognizing what your students should be doing and reinforcing it. It's also using a moment where a student forgets to use kind words and making it a teachable moment.
"How did you feel when Matt didn't use kind words?"
This allows the student who was spoken to unkindly to express what that felt like. When you use these moments and point them out children become aware that their words and actions do matter and that they do affect others. We can't assume that they already understand that.
Will these lessons be learned right away? No.
Will they need to be repeated? Yes.
It is like any aspect of learning. Children need repeated exposure and experience to come to learn anything. They need to have time and practice. Learning is cyclical and needs to be gone over again and again until it's mastered. It needs to be reviewed, gone over and then evaluated to see whether or not mastery has happened.
We would never say, "Here are the numbers 1 through 20. Now we're moving on." It's the same for learning lessons of kindness. It needs to be a constant. Learning to be kind, compassionate, and empathetic are lessons our students need to have and be engaged in all the time-that's the only way they will ever come to truly learn them. We learn by doing.