October 18, 2019

Coffee Klatch & Conversation: Social-Emotional Learning Programs at McGillis

By Stephanie Duffy, President, Parent Association 

New this year, we have combined what we used to call PA (Parent Association) meetings with our monthly Coffee Klatches. All Coffee Klatches will be on Thursdays - some with organized conversation, while our traditional event will be a more informal social time in the Gathering Space.

For our first Coffee Klatch & Conversation of the school year, Sarah Davies, Tim Campbell, and Mary Kimball discussed two new social-emotional learning programs at McGillis – TOOLBOX in Lower School and Kehilah Crews in Middle School. Both programs align with the McGillis values and build on what The School has been doing conceptually since its inception, but they provide a structured vocabulary and common language that can be shared by students, faculty, and parents. The mission for TOOLBOX, as well as Kehilah Crews, is to help students build resilience, self-mastery, and empathy for others by proactively giving them tools to understand and manage their emotions and actions.

About every other week this year, Lower School teachers will introduce a new tool through modeling and daily practice. Equipped with a name and a hand gesture, each tool has a specific purpose. For instance, slowly rubbing one’s hands together represents the Patience Tool, and helps students realize that they are strong enough to wait for a moment or two. With the Garbage Can Tool, students illustrate the motion of throwing something in the trash, as a metaphorical way to let the little things go.

Through this common language, as well as practical application of the tools, the students -- and the teachers -- are quickly learning strategies for handling a wide range of feelings and situations. The approach is inquiry-based, giving kids a chance to figure out on their own, which tool would be useful in a given situation. When a teacher asks, “what tools could you use right now?” it empowers the student to be self-aware and take control of his or her situation.

Both Ms. Davies and Mr. Campbell have had experience working with TOOLBOX, which is a research-based, community-tested program, and they have witnessed how quickly students can pick up and master the strategies. Their presentation included video testimonials from students who have used TOOLBOX, and credit the program with teaching them to be more self-aware, communicate more effectively, resolve conflicts, express empathy for others, and so much more.

In addition to helping kids build resilience, self-mastery, and empathy, TOOLBOX can also help teachers and parents recognize and react to emotions and situations more effectively. As we embrace the philosophy and use it in multiple environments, it will become more and more valuable for all.

Learn more about TOOLBOX

McGillis will be providing numerous opportunities for parents to learn about TOOLBOX and apply it at home. The School will host a TOOLBOX Parent Training session on Tuesday, October 29th from 8:30-9:30 AM in the dining hall. And TOOLBOX information is occasionally included in your child’s Friday Folder and on their class Canvas page.

Social-Emotional Learning in Middle School

Because TOOLBOX is geared toward younger students, McGillis Middle Schoolers are taking a different approach to social-emotional learning. They have begun gathering twice a week in small groups of 10-12 students, called Kehilah Crews. Led by a mentor, the groups are engaging in discussions and activities designed to check in with how they are feeling, teach them social awareness, and help them practice decision making and relationship skills. One goal of the Kehilah Crews is to give students a stronger sense of belonging. Mr. Campbell reports that students are finding comfort in having a cohesive group where they feel welcome, wanted, respected, and safe. Each group has enjoyed designing a Kehilah Crest to symbolize their bond.

Throughout the year, the Kehilah Crews will engage in specific tasks and projects through the Kehilah Quest. For instance, they recently beautified their outdoor classroom and embarked on undirected excursions outside the school to practice problem-solving and teamwork. The groups will also be role-playing different situations -- such as a recent dilemma with tensions in the long lunch line -- in order to learn healthy communication tactics.  

In general, social-emotional learning programs across all grades are preparing McGillis students for more than just academic success. TOOLBOX and Kehilah Crews are the embodiment of The McGillis School mission: to instill in our students a love of learning and the abilities to think critically, live ethically and appreciate the value of each individual.