This is the first of nine installments about how I attempt to teach the whole child. Last week’s blog dealt with my Why I teach Physical Education and Health and not Math, Science, or Social Studies or other areas of teaching. It also discusses how I believe it is every teacher’s duty to teach the entire child. After writing last week’s blog, I received feedback from Shrehan Lynch (@misslynchpe) that there are currently nine dimensions of wellness that are being taught at the collegiate level. Armed with that feedback and the encouragement of Mel Hamada (mjhamada) this has now morphed into a nine-part blog series. I fully expect that I am derelict in my teaching of several areas of wellness. This blog series will allow me to highlight those areas I need to improve.
The first dimension that we need to master in order to be well is Emotional Wellness. “The emotionally well person can identify, express and manage the entire range of feelings and would consider seeking assistance to address areas of concern.” Link That is a large range to cover in pre-K to 6th-grade but I try!
The first way I teach emotional wellness is explicitly in Kindergarten Health. We talk about emotions as well as act out what each emotion looks like. I teach emotional wellness again in 5th grade when we discuss conflict and use I statements. I statements force the child to identify their emotion. An I statement looks like this: I feel ______ when you _____ because_____. This allows the student to identify their feeling.
During my physical education class when there are low-level conflicts the students must talk to each other on the side and figure out what happened and attempt to come to a conclusion on their own. This allows the students to work on developing their emotional language. If the students are not able to do this I step in and ask one student how they were harmed. The harm may come in the form of physical or emotional harm. They will have to identify which it is and state it. I will then ask the other student how they were harmed. This gives both parties the opportunity to analyze the situation and identify how they may have been emotionally harmed.
This is also where the students are expressing their emotions as well as identifying them. They are provided an opportunity to explain what they are feeling and why. I may prod them with questions such as how did that make you feel which allows them to express their emotions as well.
Another way they can express their emotions are during circle time. This occurs after their instant activity as well as at the end of class. Circles may also be called if there is an issue that we need to discuss as a class. The beginning circle is a simple share out time. This is when they can tell me about something they have done in their lives or something they are going to do. Happiness and joy are evident in their stories. The final circle time they have the choice of saying something they are thankful about in class or reflect on their learning during the period.
The other circle that happens much more infrequently is when we have a student or students whose behavior is affecting the whole class. We will circle up and talk about how the students feel that their time is being thrown away or how that child’s actions are affecting the entire class. We make sure to tell the child that we love them but their actions are harming the class in a certain way. I took the circle approach directly from restorative justices practice. If you would like to learn more about them I would suggest you contact Ken Johnson (@kenjohnsonusa). He has written multiple books on it and trains teachers in restorative justice practices.
The managing of the emotions is tricky. In retrospect, I usually only address anger or frustration. This is when a child reacts to a situation in a way that the school or class deems inappropriate. We speak about how to get our anger out in ways that won’t cause harm to others or ourselves. This can include grabbing the break card off of the door, getting a drink, or taking a lap around the gym to cool down. I do not speak about managing any other emotions. That may be something we can discuss on the SlowchatPE group on Voxer.
I would be remiss if I did not mention instilling a growth mindset in this blog post. Sports skills have the ability to teach you growth mindset like no other. Everyone messes up. It doesn’t matter who you are. We talk about baseball players failing to get a hit two out of every three times and still being legendary. I make sure that our language is phrased in a way that we aren’t putting ourselves down. We say things like I can’t catch yet or I can’t cross jump rope yet. That word yet is powerful. It tells our mind that we will get there eventually. Understanding that it’s ok to mess-up is natural to the area of Physical Education.
Cooperative learning also helps us look at things positively. I now worry less about the outcome of my students and more about their journey. Together we figure out different ways to solve problems in groups. The students learn how to speak to one another when they are frustrated. I will set up scenarios where if one person does not complete the task the whole group has to start over. This can create conflict and tension. It can also teach my students how to accept making mistakes and learn from them. I have the same conversation with multiple groups about the tone of their voice and how berating or belittling a student doesn’t make them want to work harder. These are all skills an emotionally well person needs to equip themselves with when they are working with other people. Remaining positive and helping a student instead of putting them down is in the best interest of the group as well as the student.
The final way I teach emotional wellness is allowing the students to understand when they need to seek assistance from me, the social worker, or go to their parents. In Health we talk about depression and suicide. This is a subject that I take very serious. My community, like most, has been rocked by suicide. We discuss what to do when someone tells you they are thinking about committing suicide as well as what the signs and symptoms are. This lesson and my emotional abuse lesson are two of the hardest lessons I teach all year. There is very little room for humor and most kids don’t see the need for the lesson. None of that matters if I am able to reach one student. I am willing to teach that lesson for 30 years if I believe that it can serve even one student now or in the future.
Depression is a subject that is not easily broached with either students or adults. I know many physical educators that suffer from it who have not made the public aware. We do not have to share everything on social media but I believe that if we talked about depression a little more it would raise awareness as well as destigmatize it. Social media isn’t always about putting your best foot forward.
Emotional Wellness is an area that Physical Education and Health can help nurture in our students. We have many opportunities to allow the students to identify their emotions and give them ways to accept and understand them. It may occur when we discuss the difference between celebrating a victory or pushing it in the face of others. It may occur when we attempt to calm a child down that is emotionally charged or feels they have been harmed. All of those instances are opportunities to discuss what the students are feeling and how to understand and deal with them.
Our Health standards address conflict from K-12 grade. How we deal with conflict is emotional wellness. A lot of subjects that are broached in Health elicit emotions. As teachers, we are charged with allowing students to express them while still remaining respectful of those with differing opinions.
I feel that I do a solid job with helping my students learn and grow emotionally. I tell them that I love them and make sure that I address their behaviors as being an issue not them. They will hopefully leave my classes with self-confidence, optimism, and self-worth. That alone may be the most important reason to teach there is.
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These are helpful thoughts, Justin. Spelling out so many of the ways we can encourage and build emotional wellness in our PE classes reminds me of how much of our success is wrapped up in managing emotions in various situations.
Just last week I had to recognize a need to attend more carefully to my own emotional wellness as a couple of in-class incidents made painfully clear. Thanks for stirring the reflection pot, so to speak.
Justin, you have made me take another look at how I work with other teachers as an Instructional Technologist and Designer. To help them see the importance of growth mindset in today’s society it priceless to me.