ECPS Monthly Update

February 2016

Social Emotional Apps for Special Education

February is a time when we think of Valentine's Day and one of our curricular themes: Feelings. You may already have plenty of tools in your tool box to teach feelings, please consider one more: Apps. The Edutopia excerpt below suggests nine social emotional and skill building apps to consider. Please read this informative article below by Jayne Clare.

Social-Emotional Apps for Special Ed

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence, as these abilities do not come naturally for some special education students. Children in special ed settings need to have their confidence, courage, and emotional awareness nurtured in order to successfully play, work, cooperate, and be productive in their studies. We have all heard that technology can be a great playing-field leveler in a classroom with diverse learners. It can also assist in providing social and emotional skills. Let's face it -- the digital lifestyle is here to stay, so using digital technology to enhance SEL makes perfect sense.

However, I have yet to encounter research that focuses on the effectiveness of using apps designed solely to enhance the social and emotional health of children. Researchers and educators have only begun to closely investigate the impact of these technologies on SEL. For special ed teachers, that research can't come soon enough.

Young children acquire and utilize their initial social skills mostly in the context of play and shared activities. Through play, they form their first interpersonal interactions and develop important social skills related to empathy, cooperation, conflict resolution, and self-control, which will be used throughout life to maintain healthy relationships with others.

9 Skill-Building Apps

Several apps can be used in the classroom or at home to assist in reinforcing social and emotional learning while also helping kids cope with the pressures that we all face. These apps can help teachers and parents in addressing students with special needs, and many are also available in a web format.

  1. Breathe, Think, Do (Sesame Street) teaches children to keep calm and carry on by introducing three possible strategies for working through problems. It touches on familiar emotional challenges such as problem solving, self-control, planning, and time on task. Intended for very young children, this simple app gives players different scenarios in which the Blue Monster character needs to regulate his or her emotions using the breathe-think-do technique.

  2. Touch and Learn -- Emotions (Innovative Mobile Apps) is chock full of wonderful photographs representing four different feelings per page. The child is prompted to match the verbal cue with the appropriate photo. This app focuses on helping kids read body language and understand emotions by looking at pictures and figuring out which person is expressing a given emotion.

  3. Avokiddo Emotions provides opportunities for younger children to explore a wide range of feelings through several silly characters and a plethora of props. This app incorporates activities to help children understand the subtle cause and effect of facial expressions. The main idea is exposing young children to a variety of feelings and helping them grasp emotional connections with those feelings.

  4. Emotionary (Funny Feelings) is designed to give a wide age range of kids the tools and skills to express themselves well in our world of emoticons. The app has become a popular resource for the special needs population. This collection of emotions and funny feelings now allows users to draw their own emotionary "selfie" to match how they are feeling.

  5. GoNoodle is a wonderful web-based way to get younger kids out of their seats and moving. These short physical activities provide brain breaks that can help keep them focused throughout a long day. Studies have shown that physical activity increases blood flow, which increases concentration and attentiveness. This enhances students' ability to acquire and recall information. These activities make them cross the mid-line of the body, engaging both sides of the brain. GoNoodle provides teachers with fun, interactive ways to get kids moving and feeling good about themselves.

  6. IF. . . The Emotional IQ Game (If You Can) promotes teamwork and collaboration, accentuating how to be in touch with our own feelings and the feelings of those around us. With this app, kids (recommended ages 9-11) learn to listen, make friends, and deal with bullying in an adventure story/game format. IF's motto: "Play Learn Grow: Succeed at school with friends in life!" This pretty much says it all.

  7. The Middle School Confidential series is a powerhouse of SEL lessons by tween/teen expert Annie Fox. The book/app series for ages 8-14 is a graphic novel sequence focused on making stepping-stones out of stumbling blocks on the road to becoming a teenager. Readers follow the adventures of a group of seventh-grade friends trying to navigate the ever-changing drama of their friendships, families, and school. Excellent resource!

  8. Stop, Breathe & Think (Tools for Peace) promotes mindfulness, meditation, and compassion for middle and high school students and adults. Research has shown that people can develop kindness and compassion by focusing on them through mindfulness and meditation practices. You can cultivate your frame of mind in a very short timespan with simple meditation.

  9. I would be remiss if I didn't include the The Social Express in this collection of apps. Its quality content keeps students engaged and on the path to mastering healthy social and emotional skills. Research-based webisodes give kids the exposure necessary to develop meaningful relationships and become more socially competent in all realms of life. This program covers the gamut from preschool through high school with a robust SEL curriculum.

Beyond Finger Foods

Meal time for many students can be a struggle, but provides a unique challenge for students with visual impairments. Our very own fabulous Visually Impaired Program staff are involved in a multi-county collaboration called Beyond Finger Foods. Students from multiple counties come together to socialize and practice their dinner table etiquette. The program is an impressive mix of language/communication, socialization, orientation & mobility, and promotion of mealtime independence. This month, yoga was scheduled after dinner, providing additional opportunities for students. Thank you, VI Department, for all your extra efforts to provide this amazing program to our students and families.

Important Dates

February 1 - Birth to Three Meeting

February 1 - MoCI Department Meeting

February 3- ASD Department Meeting

February 4 - Beyond Finger Foods (VI Dept) Birch Run

February 4 - Yoga (Multipurpose Room)

February 5 - YMCA (Room 15 & 23)

February 5 - Preschool Department Meeting

February 5 - Staff Meeting

February 8 - Birth to Three Meeting

February 8 - Student Assistance Team Meeting

February 9 - Student Assistance Team Meeting

February 12 - YMCA Room 15 & 23

February 15 - Birth to Three Meeting

February 17 - Service Coordinator Meeting

February 18 - Yoga (Multipurpose Room)

February 19 - Special Staff Meeting - C. Wager

February 19 - PBIS Committee Meeting

February 19 - YMCA (Room 15 & 23)

February 22 - Birth to Three Meeting

February 23 - Board Meeting

February 24 - Certificated Staff Meeting

February 25 - HI & VI Dept Meeting

February 26 - Family Involvement Committee Meeting

February 29 - Birth to Three Meeting

PBIS Tokens

January was our kickoff to our PBIS behavior expectations of Be Safe, Be Kind, and Be Your Best. Students traveled through areas (bathroom, classroom, bus, gym, hallway, etc) and were taught the behavior expectations of each area. Our ECPS Bear tokens (pictured above) are given to students to promote expectations. We already have many students that are reciting and practicing the behavior expectations and teachers are pre-teaching and reviewing expectations. Our students and staff are benefitting from this consistent messaging. Please continue your efforts to provide positive reinforcement.

Social Emotional Skills - Staff Edition

Our month of teaching "feelings" presents a nice segue to also address the social emotional health of adults. Our own social emotional skills impact our ability to have a lasting, satisfying career (avoiding burnout) and also impacts students and the classroom environment. We, as adults need to take care of ourselves first before we can think about taking care of the needs of our students or family. This reminds me of the flight attendant instructions to first place the oxygen mask on yourself so that you may then assist others. Please read the Edutopia excerpt by Lorea Martinez to raise awareness of social emotional health.

Developing Teachers' Social and Emotional Skills

Emotions are at the heart of what teachers do and why they do it. Educators come to teaching with dreams of changing the odds for disadvantaged children, inspiring a love for learning, or developing critical thinkers. Unfortunately, research shows that 40-50 percent of teachers will leave the classroom within their first five years. Stress among teachers has reached unprecedented levels, and according to the latest MetLife Survey of the American Teacher (PDF), over half of teachers reported "great stress at least several days a week." Teaching is an emotional practice, and teachers need support in strengthening their social and emotional skills to manage the stress that comes with teaching and stay in the profession for the long term.

Social and emotional competencies (SEC) are critical to avoid burnout and increase teacher well-being. Being able to connect with our own emotions and feelings before reacting to student misbehavior, finding ways to unwind after a busy day, or identifying our internal drivers are all ways of using our emotional intelligence to feel better with ourselves and the world around us. Since these competencies aren't generally taught in mandatory professional development courses or teacher preparation programs (there are a few exceptions like San Jose State University in California or The University of British Columbia in Canada), we cannot assume that all educators have them in equal measure. Some of these skills might come naturally to some teachers, while others might require more attention and additional development. Like our students, we all have strengths -- and some challenges!

Research has found that students learn better in safe, supportive environments. The same is true for adults. SEC are influenced by context. If your work environment is full of gossip and complaints, you will tend to display more negative behaviors; while if you work in a supportive, welcoming school, you will be more inclined to successfully manage stress and ask for or offer help when needed. Think about your current workplace. How is it affecting your behavior and the ways in which you relate to students and colleagues? Are you able to show your "better self"? Being aware of how your work environment affects your behavior will help you make different choices if necessary.

Why Should Teachers Develop Their SEC?

Based on current research, there are three ways in which teachers' SEC affect students and the learning environment:

1. Teachers’ SEC influence the quality of teacher-student relationships.

Teachers who are calm, positive, and content are more likely better equipped for treating students warmly and sensitively, even when students behave in challenging ways.

2. Teachers model SEC for students, intentionally or not.

Teachers navigate stressful situations every day -- and students are paying attention! They learn from how their teachers manage frustration, deal with conflicts, or maintain control in the classroom.

3. Teachers' SEC influence classroom organization and management.

Teachers must maintain a sense of calm, be organized, and develop social trust if they want a well-organized classroom that encourages creativity or student autonomy.

How Can Teachers Develop Their SEC?

Six Seconds, the Emotional Intelligence Network, has an action plan for using emotional intelligence (EQ) in daily life. This EQ model begins with three important pursuits: to become more aware, more intentional and more purposeful.

Know Yourself means clearly seeing what you feel and do, knowing your strengths and challenges, and recognizing your behavior patterns.

Choose Yourself means proactively responding to situations instead of reacting on autopilot.

Give Yourself means putting your vision into action, knowing your purpose, and doing things for a reason.

We experience emotions all the time, but we rarely pause to reflect on what emotions are or how they affect learning. In this EQ model, the first step is to develop and cultivate self-awareness. Emotional awareness starts with our ability to identify how we feel, not only the surface feelings (those that are obvious), but also the ones that are hidden.

Try this. Choose a recent situation that was emotionally charged and reflect on the following prompts:

  • How did you feel during this situation? Name the specific emotions that you felt. Dr. Dan Siegel, well-known speaker and author of The Whole-Brain Child, often says, "Name it to tame it," as naming emotions reduces their intensity.

  • What were your emotions telling you? Emotions are data, providing information about ourselves and the world around us. Exploring the meaning of our emotions is an important step toward developing self-awareness.

  • What did you do about these feelings? We often hide, ignore, or deny uncomfortable feelings, such as shame, fear, and anger. But ignoring these emotions won't make them go away! Emotions drive us to take action, and we might feel the urge to respond to certain situations in non-constructive ways. Taking time to name our feelings and explore their meaning will help us make better decisions.

  • Based on these reflections, what would you do differently the next time you're faced with a similar situation?

Teachers’ social and emotional skills are important in helping them avoid burnout, increase well-being, and create a positive learning environment. Teachers can start developing their emotional intelligence by cultivating self-awareness. When we are mindful of our emotions, we feel more in control and make better decisions.

On Display

The hallways at ECPS are colorful and bright! It is exciting to see the curriculum come to life on creative bulletin boards in the hallways.

Our staff was so grateful that we had to add an inspirational tree as a continuation to collect and share our positive thoughts.

Our social committee has also been busy with highlighting our furry family members. Please see examples below.