This guest blog is written by Monique O'Keefe, Specialist Educator with Samaritans. In this article, Monique shares her experience teaching Second Step in a cluster of schools in the Central Coast region of Australia.
The importance of Social Emotional Learning
Ever since I was a young and newly graduated teacher, I have valued investment in a child’s social and emotional development. I have always believed that children are better able to cope in life, school and learning when their social and emotional skills are made a priority.
I reflect on my time teaching preschool and school readiness programs in previous roles. Part of my role was guiding parents to understand that ensuring their children knew all their colours and numbers, could write their name and recognise sight words, although valuable, was not the most important skill for entering and coping with primary school or to get them through life happily. What would carry them through life and learning was social, emotional and resilience skills.
I still believe this today and love what I do in teaching Second Step to primary school students. I have been teaching Second Step for a few years now and although the program is new to me, the skills that Second Step teaches have resonated with me for my entire teaching and parenting journey.
Samaritan’s Circle Program
In my role as Specialist Educator with Samaritans, I teach Second Step in five targeted primary schools on the East coast of Australia. The program receives the ‘Communities for Children’ federal funding. I have had an exciting journey in delivering evidence-based wellbeing programs including the Social-emotional learning program, Second Step to primary school children in many group formats. I teach small to medium (tier 2) and full class sized (tier 1) groups.
Throughout my time as a Specialist Educator with Samaritans, I have developed some fantastic networking and educative relationships within each school community and value these very much. I believe that ‘iron sharpens iron’ – we can strengthen each other by working together.
I believe in what I am teaching in the Second Step program, as I have seen the success in applying these principles personally throughout my working life and watching children find success when using these skills.
Ease of Teaching the Program
Second Step provides all resources required to teach the program and makes teaching these principles accessible and easy to understand. Teaching in five schools every week keeps me busy and I need to be organised. The lesson plans make my preparation so straightforward, with all of the preparation done for me for each lesson. The mobile materials and the ‘getting started’ page of each lesson ensures that every student receives high quality delivery and learning of these essential life skills.
Teaching different Second Step lessons across several schools and grades per day is made easy due to the 'Teaching the Lesson' section of each manual. If I forget something (like a DVD or poster), I go straight to my Second Step online Dashboard and readily access online versions of the resources that I might require. When COVID-19 impacted on schools, learning, and teaching models, I chose immediately to teach Second Step to each school I am involved with by pre-recording lessons for students to engage with via online learning.
Second Step in Action
In many ways, I see Second Step as an early intervention program as I witness ‘light bulb moments’ each week for students who have never seen or heard of some of the skills taught in Second Step. Not only do the Second Step lessons provide learning of foundational social and emotional skills for better relationships in life, they provide hope for an opportunity of change beyond the school gates and in their future.
One of the lesson formats that I really enjoyed was where two schools chose a group of 16 students in Stage 3 and I took these two groups through the entire Second Step curricular (including the Bullying Prevention Unit). I was able to get to know these students very well and was provided a window into their lives beyond the school gates. Sometimes I would need to debrief with colleagues about the children’s lives, sometimes I could be overwhelmed with what I knew they faced beyond the classroom, but I was also encouraged to know that through Second Step lessons, these students now have the knowledge and practice of choosing more positive options when relating to others.
The lesson on ‘being assertive’ is one where I have often seen children have a ‘light bulb moment’ – a sudden realisation that there are different ways we can behave to have our needs met. I am certain that witnessing these moments brings a sense of satisfaction to all teachers. Children who have witnessed significant aggression in their out-of-school life will usually only have brainstorming ideas that are aggressive or passive aggressive in their nature – even though they truly are trying to think of ideas that are assertive.
In having children practice and learn about being assertive within the lesson and then see them use and develop these skills within following lessons provides immediate and positive feedback of learning outcomes for the program.
One student in particular comes to mind when thinking about the impact of Second Step and specifically the lesson on 'being assertive'. This child was truly blown away that there could be another way to speak to and relate with others besides using aggression. I know that his life did not change immediately due to this lesson, but I do know by witnessing and observing his change of behaviour and understanding of this and subsequent lessons that he now has another choice of how he relates to others and himself.
I have seen similar breakthroughs for shy and passive children who have experienced bullying. These children can become quite overwhelmed while practicing being assertive in a safe environment for the first time, but in the weeks following there is often a difference in how they relate to their peers in class, as well as to myself and school staff.
The impact of Second Step
During my school visits, I always allow time for chatting with staff and for children to have the opportunity to interact with me before and after lessons. I often arrive during the lunch break in order to sign in and set up my projector, laptop and teaching resources. While there are hundreds of children running around the playground, invariably my past and present students will come to me and tell me skills that they have put into practice as well as anecdotes of when they used them. What some of them do not realise is that just the way they are holding their body or speaking shows me that they have learnt positive and successful ‘skills for life’. I often have teachers share anecdotes of the skills that children are using in the classroom and around the playground as well.
Various schools have me teach an entire class Unit 1 of Second Step each term, with the aim that the whole grade will have be taught all lessons in Unit 1 by the end of the school year. The teacher stays in the classroom to not only manage any behaviours that may arise with a visiting teacher, but to witness and then follow up the Second Step lesson during the week and to further their own understanding of the skills taught in Second Step.
I often prepare the classroom teacher for small role plays that we can deliver in order to show students the skills in action with adults too. Kids love to see their teacher involved in a lesson of course the teachers are always good sports.
Often participating classroom teachers will share their own anecdotes, such as the time one teacher shared her experience with 'understanding different perspectives'. She shared with the class that she had judged a person at the Deli counter at the supermarket for pushing in front of the queue. She explained that she has made an assumption about this person and became frustrated at the other lady for pushing in. Then she decided to look at the situation from another perspective as per the Second Step lesson. The teacher shared how she came to realise she was making the wrong assumption – the other lady had not seen her waiting and there really was no obvious line up – just like the video in the lesson on ‘understanding different perspectives’ teaches us.
Sometimes school staff who have witnessed my Second Step lessons catch me in the hallway or playground and share with me how they put the skill I taught in previous weeks into practice and I also share anecdotes of my life experiences with staff and students. It is always fruitful to share successes and times we wish we had chosen a better way of handling challenging situations. I like to keep it real as I find this is how I achieve the best engagement in the classroom.
As I mentioned, many of the students I teach have a very different life once they leave the school gates. During lesson times, and usually near the end of each Second Step lesson, I have had many a student say words to the effect of "I wish my dad/mum did this" or "my mum/dad needs to learn these skills". It is not unusual to have children reflect that the Second Step skills are great, and they want them in their life, but using them will not change the other people in their household. I always plan time for discussion around the truth of these statements. We chat about how we only have power over our own behaviour and choices, including our response to non-desirable behaviours in others. I always open discussion for how they feel after using Second Step choices compared to using other behaviours. I talk to them about taking homework sheets home to do with or show to household members or just pop in a common area of the house. This is an opportunity for them to bring the skills they are learning into their home.
The homework sheets (Home Links) are not compulsory but I always encourage children to take them home and put them near the kettle or on the fridge because it may help someone else in their family. I communicate with my students that they now have a skill in their ‘toolbox’ and are able to teach and model it to others in school, at home, and in their community.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, I have been in constant contact with each of the five schools that I teach in. My first question to them was "Do you want Samaritans to continue to teach Second Step in your school?" The response was a resounding yes… but how? After lots of brainstorming, pre-recording the lessons was decided as the best option. It has been a wonderful experience to have school staff support and encourage me through the development phase of teaching via video.
COVID-19 has allowed a greater unity between the Samaritans team and each school as we have worked together to support the classroom teaching staff and children through this uncertain situation. Schools have decided that alongside numeracy and literacy, Second Step lessons are the top priority for students each week. Social isolation brought about by COVID-19 has highlighted more than ever that social and emotional competency is extremely important for life.
The resounding response and feedback from all who have viewed my Second Step video lessons is that these are such important lessons and prove to be a great reminder for adults as well. Many adults who have viewed the videos of Second Step lessons have shared with me a time that they have used a Second Step skill recently.
The social-emotional competencies taught in Second Step are skills for life and for every age group, whether learning it for the first time or being reminded of its value as an adult. I am passionate about teaching Second Step and thankful for the opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of so many students.