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Guest Blogger Maryam Shabani: Recess – A Time For Social Emotional Learning

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As Elementary School Dean, a primary focus is on conflict resolution. The playground is a perfect environment for social emotional learning.

My staff and I frequently hear/see iterations of the following:

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“He/she cut in line!"

“He/she doesn’t want to play with me!”

“He/she took the ball away from me!”

“Teeeaaachhhheerrrrrr……!!!”

In each case, we ask ourselves what is the best way to handle the conflict. While it’s natural to want to jump in and fix the problem for the students, and there are certainly situations that require immediate and direct adult responses, we want to provide our students with the tools to be able to solve disagreements on their own and prevent conflict escalation.

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When students spend a lot of time together, it’s an active balance between friendship and disagreement/conflict. This is inevitably part of their learning and development process. Teaching children positive ways to resolve their disagreements is an important part of their social emotional learning and helps them throughout their lives.

Our trained recess staff works with and coaches students to come up with reasonable solutions when they are involved with a conflict. Of course, there is not one stereotype model of problem-solving, as many factors should be considered, but there are basic guidelines:

  • Let/help children cool off if they are upset.
  • Giving them attention and clarify the details.
  • Empathize and validate children’s feelings.

We also ensure that everyone involved in the conflict understands and agrees to 4 very important rules:

  • No name calling, blaming, or put downs allowed.
  • No interruptions. Everyone will have a turn/chance to talk, and will be protected.
  • Be honest.
  • Students address each other and not the teacher or supervisors.

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Sometimes, students have a hard time verbally expressing their feelings. More often than not, it’s a vocabulary issue, and we try to help them find the words to express themselves. It may take a few tries before both parties express themselves appropriately, and recess supervisors know to repeat everything to the students one last time so everyone is on the same page.

In conflict resolution, once everyone understands the problem, it’s time to think of different solutions. We help students find answers to the following:

  • What should you do or say to make a difference?
  • What are your options?
  • How do we arrive at a win-win (a solution that everyone is happy and comfortable with)?

Following up on the solutions is the vital, final piece. Within a few days of conflict resolution coaching, we ask the students involved, “how’s the plan going?” Most often than not, we notice that even before we ask, their behavior towards one another has already changed.

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