“When I am in math and on a hard problem, I take deep breaths,” said Robin Atkins, a sixth grade student at Tillicum Middle School.  Taking deep breaths and regulating emotions are part of social emotional learning (SEL) students are learning in the pilot year for middle school SEL in Bellevue School District.  In addition to piloting SEL curriculum, Tillicum has added a new yoga class and continues the building focus on mindfulness.

SEL Pilot: Choosing a Curriculum

SEL is being piloted this year at all middle schools in Bellevue, and more than 60 teachers are participating.  Bellevue Schools Foundation is funding the pilot and focus on middle school SEL with a $75,000 grant.

“We are elated that we have all buildings piloting the curriculums and we have all content areas included,” said SEL curriculum developer, Randi Peterson.

The pilot program is two-fold, with participating teachers using Casel’s RULER one quarter, and the Hawn Foundation’s MindUP the next quarter.  “We are creating teacher champions within the building,” said Peterson.  “They can make a recommendation on what’s the best fit for students.”

RULER is designed to promote emotional literacy, including Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing and Regulating emotions, according to Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning.  The curriculum teaches strategies such as taking deep breaths, and being aware of your feelings, as well as others feelings, by using the mood meter.

Similar to RULER, MindUP teaches students to self-regulate their behavior and mindfully engage in focused concentration required for academic success, according to the Hawn Foundation.

Houston Kraft Assembly at Tillicum

In tandem to the SEL curriculum being piloted, each middle school will have the opportunity to listen to motivational speaker, Houston Kraft, this year.  He focuses his message on students building their character muscle.  Kraft will speak at assemblies at all seven of the district’s middle school in December and January.  He will also lead evening parent workshops for each of the schools, to help involve parents in the work that the district is doing around SEL at the middle school level.

Kraft has eight essentials that he encourages schools to work on together.  These are similar to random acts of kindness, said sixth grade teacher Kristen Bieler.  Tillicum welcomed Kraft on Dec. 8, and kicked-off their essentials beginning with humility.

“The goal is to inspire kindness for teachers and students,” said Peterson.  “Students and staff will have this shared experience that they can connect back to and relate the work that we’re doing to, and walk away from that experience a better person.”

The school hopes to build upon Kraft’s message throughout the year, said Bieler.

The middle school SEL adoption committee is scheduled to meet March 30 to review recommendations from teachers for a curriculum selection.  At that point, the committee hopes to select and adopt the chosen curriculum, with a complete rollout for the start of the 2016-17 school year.

Integrating SEL into Tillicum: Mindfulness and Yoga

Last year Tillicum formed an SEL team, to further support students and staff.  The focus last year was on mindfulness, which is geared at becoming more aware of the present moment and less caught up in what happened earlier or what’s in the future.

The school first introduced the topic to students second semester last year, and it continues to play a large part in the social emotional culture at Tillicum.  Mindfulness was rolled out to all seventh grade health classes this year.  It aligns well with the health curriculum, said health teacher Jennifer Genoway.

Alex Crawford, a seventh grade student said, “Mindfulness is like mental yoga.  You have to be practicing.  The more you practice the more flexible you get.  And as you get more flexible the more things you can do, and you get better at doing it.”

Although Crawford admits he is not always excited about deviating from the next lesson in his health curriculum, he understands the value in mindfulness.  “Sometimes I go into it with not such a great attitude, and come out with a better one,” said Crawford.  “You just have to embrace it.”

Yoga Class

Mindfulness is also impacting the way teachers deliver class material.  “It makes our teaching more mindful about what we’re teaching and how we’re teaching,” said Kim Hay, special education teacher.  “It makes our interactions with students more meaningful, more mindful of what the student might be feeling or might need.”

This year, the SEL team is focused on a sense of belonging and inclusion.  Kraft’s work with the eight essentials is bringing the team’s goal to life.

SEL team member and sixth grade teacher, Kristen Bieler said “Kraft’s message to choose love is something that we hope to build on the rest of the year.”

Bieler has been with the district for 17 years, but is new to the SEL team this year.  The team is providing her the opportunity to develop and support students in a different way than she has in the past.

She said, “curriculum is good, and I have had a lot of opportunity in the district to work on curriculum, but I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to work on developing of the whole student, so that really called to me.”

Tillicum also extends SEL beyond the typical classroom setting, with its new yoga elective.

“Yoga develops social emotional awareness and skills,” said Tillicum’s P.E. teacher and yoga instructor Sandy Simpkins.

“It promotes relaxation, attention, mindfulness and self-regulation.  It also fosters physical fitness and character development,” she said.

Other middle schools have weight training and dance, but because Tillicum didn’t have P.E. electives, they decided to offer yoga.  Simpkins has been practicing yoga on her own for years, and was excited to teach it at the school.

Students who have chosen to take the yoga elective at Tillicum are recognizing that it relates to SEL too.  “I see yoga connected to social and emotional learning because it calms the mind and it helps people control their feelings and emotions,” said eighth grader Kriti Vidya.

In addition to teaching yoga poses, Simpkins encourages students with positive talk by saying and having students repeat, “I will be energized.  I will be inspired.  I will be confident.  I will be strong.  I will be healthy.”

Vidya uses yoga strategies outside of school.  “Sometimes in life when I am stressed out, I calm down by breathing and listing to yoga music,” she said.

Applying SEL Strategies

Social emotional learning, yoga and mindfulness are all teaching students strategies to regulate emotions and behavior, which can be applied at school and at home.

Crawford calms down and regulates his emotions by closing his eyes.  “It might take a while, kind of like a bathtub or something when you pull the plug and water slowly goes down the drawn, and it takes a while,” he said.  “But when it’s all in the drain it’s better, and it feels good.”