Everyone has big feelings sometimes. Even our littlest students.
Probably no one knows this better than the Social-Emotional Learning Team at Stone Robinson Elementary School. Made up of Don Landis, Ali Harshaw, and intern Megan Ludwig, this team works with students in the school to help them regulate and process their big feelings so that they can better focus on learning.
“What we really try to do is empower our students by helping to give language to their feelings,” Don said.
The team at SRES work within Zones of Regulation to give their students that vocabulary and keep the messaging consistent throughout the school.
During the 2021-22 school year, Ashley Redmond, then a special education teacher at SRES and now the assistant principal at Baker-Butler Elementary School, worked with third-grade teacher Liza Hamlin to implement a pilot of the program. Since then, it’s turned into a schoolwide initiative to normalize big feelings like anger, frustration or anxiety and help students work through those feelings so that they’re not distracted during the school day.
“This program is how we tell our kids, ‘Every day you’re going to feel a big feeling, and it’s normal and OK to have those,’” Ali said.
The Zones of Regulation works by grouping “big feelings” into four categories assigned to colors: Blue Zone, Green Zone, Yellow Zone and Red Zone. Each classroom in Stone-Robinson is equipped with posters that list several big feelings that might fall into each category, like sad or bored in the Blue Zone, or worried or annoyed in the Yellow Zone. Then, working with their teacher or a social-emotional counselor, the students can create strategies that will help them move back into the Green Zone.
“Having these charts handy is really helpful for kids who might not know how to express their feelings with words, but they can do it with visuals,” Megan said, “They can just point to a chart and let us know how they’re feeling.”
But students aren’t the only benefactors of this program. Our teachers, too, the team said, benefit from these charts as well.
“It gives the teachers the right language and tools to use with their students,” Don said, “but it also empowers them to work through their own emotions.”
They can use these tools, Don said, to be transparent with their class about how they feel as well. If they’re frustrated or sad during the day, they can share that language with their students and begin to work through these emotions.
This program also allows the team to introduce consistent language that families can use with their students when they’re at home to identify what they’re feeling and what strategies might help, Ali said. This helps create a bridge from things they learn in school to their everyday home life.
“One of the most important things parents can do is model emotional processing for their children,” she said, “So they can take this tool and use it at home to say, ‘Hey, I’m in the Blue Zone today,’ and be transparent with their children about how they process that.”
With everyone on the same page, the team said, begins to normalize recognizing the emotions we all feel and expressing those emotions.
“When we do that, we’re setting up our kids for success,” Don said.
If you are interested in using these tools in your classroom or school, please contact Miles Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.