Cameron threw his PVC pipe onto the ground and screamed “this is stupid!” I quickly scanned the demeanor of the other 11 students and announced a snack break. Team Cloud had been working on the gutters challenge for over an hour. Gutters is a teambuilding activity where each student gets one short length of half pipe, and the group must work together to roll a ball down the pipes from start point to finish. I went to check on Cameron, cheese stick in hand and asked him how he was feeling. “This is so stupid!” he again screamed. I told him it sounded like he was feeling frustrated, to which he agreed. I reminded Cameron of how influential his voice was during the process of gutters. Students were following his directions this contributed to each attempt getting closer and closer to the cup. Cameron shared that although there was progress he was tired and wanted a break. I told him in the future he could always use a calm voice to let me know he was feeling frustrated and that a break would be beneficial. Team Cloud accomplished gutters in soon after that. The smile on Cameron’s face was worthwhile.
Due to the nature of environmental and outdoor education we often have the ability to focus on social and emotional development with students. Social and emotional development plays a large role in their learning. In fact, “research shows that social and emotional learning (SEL) increases prosocial behaviors, improves student attitudes towards school, and reduces stress among students” (Durlak et al. 2011). By spending time on SEL educators will spend less time on behavior management, increase group morale, and prepare students for the real world. According to The Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), there are five SEL core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. For the purpose of this article we will be focusing on self-awareness.
Self-awareness is the ability to understand how one’s emotions, thoughts, and values influence behavior. In order to comprehend these connections students must be able to identify and assess their own strengths and limitations. A favorable method of integrating SEL into teaching is facilitating a teambuilding exercise at the start of the teaching week. This exercise will act as an anchor lesson for SEL, and will be referenced throughout the rest of the week. A few examples of teambuilding activities are ropes course, tarp flip and of course gutters. The following are key SEL practices to utilize during the facilitation and debrief of the lesson.
Build Emotional Literacy
Student behavior ties into their emotions. If a student it unable to articulate how they are feeling it becomes challenging for them to solve their problems. Educators can help students construct emotional literacy by verbally identifying the emotion the student is trying to express. For example, when I told Cameron it sounded like he was feeling frustrated. This acknowledged his emotion and provided him the opportunity to talk about it.
Recognizing strengths of students not only builds rapport but it helps students better understand their abilities. To be successful educators must be explicit when recognizing strengths. For example, when I reminded Cameron that his voice was helping guide his peers to a more successful gutter run. By connecting actions to results students are able to construct a strong understanding of how they are achieving these abilities. Another great strength recognition practice is asking students to share out skills they noticed of their peers. This cultivates a positive group dynamic and gives students a well-rounded view of their strengths.
Identify Growth Areas
Asking students to analyze themselves to identify their growth areas is difficult. To ease this process, ask students to scale back and look at what was challenging for the whole group. This can be done aloud with the whole group present. Next, ask students to identify their own areas of growth. To make it the most comfortable this can be done as a written activity. Make it clear if other students will or will not be reading this information. In the case of Cameron, it was easy to identify responding to frustration as a growth area. Constructing a plan for addressing future frustrations provided him with concrete next steps.
Social and emotional development is a crucial component of student success. When self-awareness if focused on students are empowered to be mindful of their behavioral choices. By helping students build emotional literacy, recognize their strengths and their areas of growth instructors are preparing students for real life situations beyond the classroom.
Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions. Child Development,82(1), 405-432. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01564.x