Compassion in the Classroom: It Works!

By Suzan Mullane, MS.Ed. 

Need a compassionate meta-cognitive approach to social emotional learning? Discover Peter Yarrow's, (from the folk-singing trio,  Peter, Paul and Mary): "Don't Laugh At Me Curriculum." It's fun and it's free! Why would kids love it? It's infused with: art, music, reflective deep discussions prompts, human bingo games, and curriculum connection ideas that can be woven into the Common Core Standards. The Don't Laugh at Me Curriculum will become a classroom favorite with the added bonus of teaching kids to think about what they "say and do."  

Already have a social emotional learning (SEL) program implemented with your health teacher or counselor? Consider Yarrow's program as a supplement for the regular classroom. When everyone participates in the teaching of core values, such as compassion, using multiple mediums and not just specialists, those core values are far more likely to become entrenched in the school community's culture.

A compassionate school community doesn't just happen; it's created. Principals need a plan, a safe harbor for some of the brutal storms that can sadly occur at school. A plan, where everyteacher is empowered to create peaceable classrooms, where students do not cruelly use peers as vessels for their own entertainment, or to extract malicious power through bullying.

Need to justify the time for social emotional learning in this testing-crazed culture? It's truly all in the data. Credible research shows that SEL programs, when done with fidelity, are not fluff; they provide the groundwork for learning. 

What's the connection regarding SEL and brain research? Students who have stressed-out amygdalas from peer harassment are far less likely to have fully functioning working memories and cognitive flexibility.                                

If children are afraid, lonely or experiencing undue distraction, learning is impeded, they get stuck, and so it is if the classroom has an under-current of tension created by a culture of peer oppression. Furthermore, teachers who have constant interruptions in peer conflicts have less time to teach. Seems obvious. But how can a Yarrow lesson tie into CC?              

Briefly, "Don't Laugh at Me" can be connected into literature, non-fiction texts or even primary documents. The "Power Shuffle Lesson" for grades 2-5 for instance can be integrated into a lesson with a unit on the 19th Amendment, The Women's Right to Vote. There are many primary documents from the web related to this theme--themes for close Common Core reading instruction that include complex vocabulary. Consider too, "The Ridicule-Free Zone Constitution of Caring," lesson for grades 6-8. Use it as a prelude to an expository essay on the Freedom Riders, or MLK's March on Washington. Other ideas to infuse SEL to Common Core can be found on the web. 

Need a culturally sensitive book that explores Native American traditions and justice from oppression? Read Spirit Bear by Ben Michelson--a story of transformative change in a troubled bully through discovering his own survival skills in nature. Students can compare and contrast changes in ecosystems, and human behavior through the use of a basic Venn diagram.

End units with the Don't Laugh at Me Song or principals can sing it after the pledge. No solos required! Indeed, there is power in multiple voices for the common good of all students.

"When people sing together, community is created. Together we rejoice, we celebrate, we mourn and we comfort each other. Through music, we reach each others' hearts and souls. Music allows us to find a connection." ~~ Peter Yarrow

"Music has positive effects on people's emotions and creativity.When we sing together, we synchronize our breathing and feel more connected. Words paired with music are far easier to retain as well." ~~ Don McMannis

Source: NAESP Wow Ed!, August 2013 Newsletter