Monday, February 21, 2011

Social, Emotional and Behavioural Skills

In teaching kindergarten, we spend most of our time on measurable skills - reading, writing, and counting, primarily - and it's easy to forget that the first few grades are absolutely critical in terms of developing the children's emotional skills. Emotional skills include how to interact with each other, with the teaching staff and the school, and especially how to do so when they are experiencing strong emotions they may not entirely understand themselves – and which can become a barrier to their social and academic success. 

I feel that these issues are most easily addressed early in the child's school career: any issues are still relatively overt, because the child has not yet learned to conceal feelings well; few non-constructive coping mechanisms have developed yet; and the children are open to learning coping strategies and tactics that will serve them in later years. 

The teacher's perspective and goals differ significantly from those of a psychologist: while a psychologist is focused on “problem” behaviors, a teacher must address the problems that can arise when relatively “normal” behaviors are triggered in the classroom. Conversely, a teacher should not be expected to - or try to - address serious behavioral problems.

In an international school, where there is an unusually great amount of diversity, there are in some ways more triggers and opportunities for emotional and behavioral problems - which is a good thing, if we hope to teach constructive coping skills early! In addition, from time to time individual children can turn out to be a greater challenge than we had originally anticipated.

As a teacher, I have found it especially rewarding when I can show a child how to deal with confusion, alienation, frustration or anger in more constructive ways – whether the child is simply an over stimulated “normal” child, or a somewhat “hyperactive” one, or even one with an autistic spectrum disorder such as Asperger's.  

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