Children have many big emotions! Preschoolers are learning to name and manage them. They are also learning friendship and other social skills. And sometimes, their behaviors are challenging. Many behaviors are appropriate for a child’s stage of development yet are found challenging by adults. This may be one of the biggest pain points for educators in early childhood. We’re taking a new approach to support educators who want to build positive social skills and decrease challenging behaviors in their classroom – Reflectable SEL.
In early childhood, we have always focused on social and emotional learning. We know that high quality social and emotional skills are linked to all other areas of children’s learning and critical to their success; skills like empathy, regulating behaviors and emotions, and problem solving. It can be challenging to supply the support preschoolers need to develop these important skills.
Every Pre-K teacher that I have met is deeply invested in the growth of their students. They want to send children to kindergarten ready to succeed in school and in life.
How Early Childhood Teachers are Feeling Today
At this moment, teachers are worried about the state of children’s social and emotional growth. There is an increasing number of challenging behaviors in the classroom that they must deal with, like emotional dysregulation, difficulty building relationships, or coping with change in routine. These challenges affect the mental health of both teachers and children in ways we haven’t seen before.
The recent pandemic highlighted the vital role early childhood teachers play in families’ success and how under supported they are. We know educators experience high levels of stress—and when they are stressed, children show more challenging behaviors. And the cycle of worry, frustration, anger, and dysregulation repeats.
In a recent visit to a child development center, I asked teachers, “What do you need to help children grow and learn skills like empathy, sharing, friendship skills and regulating their emotions?” Their answers:
- We need support that is focused and specific to the work we are doing.
- We need support that helps us respond to challenging behaviors in the moment during our daily work.
There are many valuable frameworks, curricula, and learning models for promoting growth and preventing challenging behaviors. Their use creates lasting and positive effects on children. But it is hard to apply frameworks, curricula, and special resources to guide a teacher’s practice day to day in real time.
Applying a Human-Centered Approach to Problems of Practice
At the Early Learning Lab – where we combine human-centered design and early childhood expertise with data and technology – we asked: How might we help practitioners quickly recall the strategies they learn in training to make it easier to use them with children? How might we provide easy mindfulness supports?
To answer these questions, we used a discovery process to create a new tool and bring it to teachers to get their ideas and input. These pilot teachers helped us make the experience one that would be helpful to them. With guidance from these educators, we built the first Reflectable tool to supply focused and specific bite sized actions in simple and easy to apply language. This put the power in the teachers’ hands. They were able to reflect on the topics that mattered most to them. This made it easier for teachers to practice the skills they learned during training in a way that made sense for their unique needs. In turn, this helped educators make quick choices for how to best care for children when challenging behaviors appear.
“I didn’t realize I had the power to really change things!” – Pilot Pre-k Teacher
After using this simple, new tool to reflect on practice and set weekly goals, teachers said they:
- felt valued as experts for the work they were doing
- could thoughtfully make choices that help children’s growth
- made meaningful mindset shifts for themselves
- experienced less stress themselves and saw fewer challenging behaviors among children
A New Tool to Support Reflective Practice
The result of testing and refining this tool is Reflectable® and its Social Emotional Learning content module. Reflectable’s online, guided 10-minute weekly reflection, helps educators see the power of taking small, intentional steps. These steps improve their social emotional learning practice in the areas they decide matter most and positively impact children.
Reflectable is a helpful pause for educators to take time for themselves and give children the attention and support they deserve. In turn, this boosts outcomes, morale, self-efficacy, and job satisfaction.
It’s time to rethink support tools for the early learning workforce. They are a precious resource, and their job is tough. The early learning workforce deserve to be heard and valued so they can listen to and value the children in their care.