September 13, 2019

Mini-Musings: McGillis Is Creating a School Culture of Caring

By Sarah Davies

The McGillis values are the foundation which drive our teaching. Derech Eretz, having respect for all, can only be achieved when we have respect for ourselves. Utilizing social emotional learning (SEL) curriculum to support students in exploring their inner landscape allows us to raise McGillis Magpies that are better capable to be resilient, caring human beings. Implementation of the TOOLBOX curriculum in our Lower School (K-5) allows our faculty to have a common language in which to support ourselves, and our students, in better understanding our emotions and gaining skills to navigate our daily interactions with ourselves and with others.

TOOLBOX is a research-based, community tested, SEL program targeting elementary-age youth that fosters the development of resilience, self-mastery, and empathy for others. TOOLBOX honors and strengthens children’s innate capacity to manage their own emotional, social, and academic success by giving them the tools to empower them. McGillis will use TOOLBOX to help students increase agency and self-mastery, improve their relationships with peers and family members, and effectively manage interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” CASEL has identified five interrelated social and emotional competencies:

  1. self-management
  2. self-awareness
  3. social awareness
  4. relationship skills
  5. responsible decision making

The skills and practices of TOOLBOX directly build these five competencies.

The foundation of TOOLBOX is 12 human capacities that reside within us all. The simple metaphor of “Tools” form the basis of a strengths-based common language, which brings forward a set of skills and practices that help students access their own inner resilience at any time, in any context. Children learn the 12 simple yet powerful Tools. With practice, these Tools become valuable personal skills and strategies for self-awareness, self-management, and relationship-building, which, in turn, foster responsible decision-making. Because the techniques are simple and the language is shared, children adopt the Tools and master them quickly.

TOOLBOX begins with a teacher providing instruction on how to use the Tools. Through modeling and daily classroom practices, the teacher supports children in using their Tools to build self-knowledge and self-trust. Schools note rapid improvements in communication, civility, and conflict resolution in the classroom, on the playground, and across the entire school community. Providing parents and caregivers with the Tools and information on how to incorporate the practices into the home setting allows for continuity and reinforcement of skills for students.

TOOLBOX is an inquiry-based model that promotes connection and well-being in relationships, where children learn to trust adults and adults learn to trust children. Asking, “What three tools could you try?” empowers children through an embedded message that they have the knowledge and the skills necessary to solve their own problems. Students perform better and are more committed when they have the freedom to choose to participate and contribute in a meaningful way. This is a shift away from the teacher being the problem-solver towards being a coach or supporter. When an adult tells a child what to do, it produces an external reliance on the adult reinforcing an external locus of control in the child. Adults who believe in children’s internal capacity instill in them confidence in their own ability to thrive and succeed.

TOOLBOX teaches children how to:

  • realize their innate goodness and intrinsic wholeness
  • belong and contribute their uniqueness
  • achieve emotional balance and emotional intelligence
  • be proactive rather than reactive
  • organize and understand their internal experiences (self-knowing)
  • care for themselves and experience empathy for others
  • understand and make sense of what is going on around them
  • find their voice and speak up
  • listen to their inner voice non-judgmentally and make fair self-assessments
  • let the little things go
  • use time wisely
  • be grateful and give thanks from a place of authenticity
  • be forgiving and when it is time
  • apologize when aware of harming others
  • understand the value and intelligence of patience
  • be courageous when others are not using their Tools

Lower School classrooms have already begun teaching Tools and incorporating TOOLBOX language into their interactions with students. We are already noticing students spontaneously using Tools as they are interacting with peers. Approximately two tools per month will be taught in the classroom.

Parents can expect to see interactive (parent/child) TOOLBOX materials in Friday folders as specific Tools are being taught. These worksheets will explain the Tool and give guiding questions to engage parents and children in a conversation about the specific Tool. It is very common for students to bring the TOOLBOX language home, often suggesting to family members what tools to use in different situations.

A parent TOOLBOX education opportunity will be held at our October 17th Coffee Klatch & Conversation gathering. We look forward to welcoming you to our TOOLBOX journey!