Our WHPS elementary social-emotional learning/civics framework is based on Connecticut Social Studies Standards, PreK Early Learning and Development Standards and the CASEL Framework and guides elementary curriculum development. The framework has four focus areas for student learning including:
Standard A: Develop a positive self-concept
Standard B: Identify, understand, and regulate emotions of self and others
Standard C: Develop an understanding of rules and responsibilities within communities
Standard D: Develop positive interpersonal relationships
Decades of research confirm that social-emotional learning has a positive impact on student overall well-being and mental health, school behaviors and academic learning as well as long-term benefits to individuals and communities (see https://casel.org/fundamentals-of-sel/what-does-the-research-say/ as well as information on SEL and gender identity from Harvard Graduate School of Education and the American Academy of Pediatrics for more information).
Our Approach to SEL/Civics Teaching & Learning
West Hartford Public Schools has a robust elementary social-emotional learning/civics curriculum.
The Second Step Social-Emotional Learning program is a core component of our SEL curriculum along with development of classroom community through daily Morning Meeting greetings and sharing, establishment of class and school safety expectations, and learning about digital citizenship.
Over the past four years, teacher-leader teams and library-media specialists have developed book resource lists as companion texts for Second Step and other SEL/civics lessons. Educators and parents, including those representing Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) groups across the district, informed the expansion of our book resources to represent the diversity of West Hartford students and families. These books include over one 100 titles that support student understanding of their emotions, developing interpersonal relationships, and understanding each of our responsibilities within the communities in which we live.
During Summers 2020 and 2021, new K-5 social justice lessons aligned to social justice standards of identity, diversity, justice and action were designed by WHPS teachers for each grade level with input from parent equity workgroups. These lessons reflect our refinement of PreK-12 curriculum to align with the district commitment to educational equity. Books focusing on identity and diversity reflect the diversity of our community including race and ethnicity, family structures, religion and cultural tradition, and gender identity. Students also hear read-alouds and discuss examples of children and adults acting with kindness and advocating for self and others in situations where stereotype or injustice are present.
When students feel emotionally and physically safe in school environments, they are better able to learn and grow both socially and academically. The Second Step curriculum, a classroom-based series of 22-25 lessons taught in Grades PreK-5, promotes development of students’ social-emotional awareness, empathy, self-regulation and problem-solving skills. The Second Step curriculum provides consistent language, resources, and structures for SEL teaching and learning across all elementary schools.
In West Hartford Public Schools, we implement a Morning Meeting format in all elementary classrooms. This daily routine, adapted from the Center for Responsive Schools, has several overarching goals:
Set a tone for respectful and engaged learning in a climate of trust
Create a positive community, fulfilling students’ needs to belong, to feel significant and to have fun
Model and practice social and emotional skills
Merge social, emotional, and academic learning
Over the course of the first month of school, students learn and practice morning meeting greetings, a key component of this community-building structure. The second core component of Morning Meeting is student sharing. Students are invited to share during the morning meeting to build their learning community throughout the school day. Students learn about each other as well as how to listen and share their narratives and emotions. Finally, students engage in a group lesson or activity and review a morning message closing to reinforce a SEL/Social Justice message and/or set-up for the academic day.
This year, Morning Meeting has supported students in their transition back to school from either in-person or remote learning environments. “Morning Meeting allows for a predictable time for students and teachers alike to build community in the midst of uncertainty” (Center for Responsive Schools, 2020, p. i). Teaching our students Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and Social Justice lessons within the morning meeting format is a critical action in our districtwide commitment to building a safe, equitable, anti-racist learning community.