Why Training Teachers in Social and Emotional Learning is Just as Important as the ABC’s

Blog Post
Sept. 5, 2017

Children come to school with more than just their backpacks. They often bring worries about whatever’s going on at home, or anxieties about being in school or interacting with their peers. It’s the teacher's job to help them learn to regulate these feelings, get support, and be ready to learn. Addressing children’s social and emotional needs is one of the hardest parts of any early learning teacher’s job. Yet it’s not something typically included in teacher preparation programs nor is it a priority for many principals.

The Franklin-McKinley School District in San Jose, Calif. is trying to change that through a unique series of professional development trainings for its early childhood teachers designed to build teachers’ skills in early literacy and social emotional development.

Franklin-McKinley chose this approach in close consultation with their early childhood teachers and staff who felt that they needed more strategies to help children learn to self regulate, communicate their emotional needs, and get along with their peers. The teachers and staff worked in partnership with California’s Early Learning Lab and the New Teacher Center to develop a professional development model that integrates best practices in early literacy with social and emotional learning strategies. The district is using the Teaching Pyramid model from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL), which they adapted to fit their specific needs with the help of its designers.

The Teaching Pyramid framework is geared towards early learning settings and can help teachers promote social and emotional development, provide support for children’s appropriate behavior, prevent challenging behavior, and address problematic behavior effectively when it arises. Essentially, it equips teachers with strategies for responding to children’s social and emotional needs in the classroom. When done well, the Teaching Pyramid can enable teachers to create classrooms where they have strong and supportive relationships with their students. Students learn to feel comfortable talking about their feelings, keep their emotions in check, and begin to solve their own conflicts.  

In addition to professional development to support teacher implementation of the model, Franklin-McKinley teachers also received weekly coaching on social and emotional learning and early literacy strategies, and support in engaging families.

As a transitional kindergarten teacher in the district, Thuy Kropp often has students in her classroom who have never been in school before. And a big part of her job is to get these students ready for kindergarten.

In this video, Kropp tells the story of one child, who was bright and creative, but was disrupting the classroom with hitting and throwing things. Her first stabs at helping him had been unsuccessful. But while participating in the training program this year, Kropp created a chart and story from the book “Tucker Turtle Takes Time to Tuck and Think,” one of the social stories used in the Pyramid curriculum to help children understand social interaction and expectations. She also provided a copy of the book to the boy’s family and some suggestions for them to use with him at home.

The book and chart helped the child understand the expectations for him in the classroom, which Kropp says made a big difference.  “He started to say things like: ‘Ms. Kropp, today I did not hit anyone. Today I did not throw anything around.’ He actually internalized these concepts and the incidents were reduced,” she said.

Melinda Waller, Franklin-McKinley’s director of early learning, said the district is collaborating with California CSEFEL to adapt the Pyramid model to include early literacy along with social and emotional skills. While the district wanted to teach social and emotional skills, they didn’t have time in the day to teach it as its own content area, she said. This approach allowed them to include both.

The district is also working on training elementary principals in early learning and childhood development, including the importance of social and emotional learning, Waller said.

Thuy Kropp said the skills, strategies, and resources the model provided have been invaluable to how she teaches.

“Someone said: If a child doesn’t know how to swim, we teach. If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach. But when a child doesn’t know how to behave, we punish,” she said. “So why not teach them these foundational skills?”

* Post updated on 9/11/17 at 8:50pm to correct the model FMSD is using