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Social Emotional Learning at Havern

By Stephanie Evans, M.A. CCC-SLP

At Havern, we recognize the importance of serving the whole child and celebrate the fact that social emotional learning is integrated into all that we do.

When we use consistent language for social emotional learning and behavior response throughout a child’s time at Havern, it is easier for them to carry-over skills into all aspects of the learning environment. Additionally, students know that the expectations are similar with all adults, which reduces anxiety and increases predictability. A school-wide goal for Havern staff this year is to use consistent and common language for social emotional expectations by adapting ideas from The Social Thinking Methodology by Michelle Garcia Winner.

“Social thinking” refers to a process we all go through in our mind as we try to make sense of our own and others’ thoughts, feelings, and intentions in context, whether we are co-existing, actively interacting, or figuring out what is happening from a distance (e.g., media, literature, etc.). Our ability to think socially is a part of social emotional learning that begins at birth and evolves across our lifetime. Social thinking, in this context, is also referred to as social cognition, and has a deep and rich base of support in developmental research. Havern students are receiving targeted lessons during social skills classes each week utilizing the common vocabulary, and teachers are carrying-over this language into the classroom.

To help our students develop social thinking, we first have to help them develop better abilities to observe the social situation and analyze the “hidden social rules,” as these help to define how we behave and what the social expectations are in any given situation.  As we figure out the hidden social rules, we can group social behaviors into those that are “expected” and “unexpected.” We use the terms expected and unexpected in lieu of appropriate and inappropriate because behaviors are often not black and white or rule-based. For example, it’s expected that at recess, you shout out loud to other people and run around with friends. That same behavior is unexpected during a math lesson.

Expected behaviors are those things that people do or say that make other people feel calm, happy, comfortable and pleased (have “green thoughts”). When others feel positively, they tend to respond to the person who produced the behavior more calmly and positively. As a result, the person who produced the expected behavior feels better about himself or herself and others in the situation.

Unexpected behaviors are those things that people do or say that make other people feel stressed, upset, confused, uncomfortable or weird (have “red thoughts”). When others feel uncomfortable, they tend to treat the person who produced the behavior more negatively. In response, the person who produced the unexpected behavior experiences these negative reactions, and tends to feel upset with themselves and possibly more discouraged about the situation.

As Winner shares, “The goal in all of this is to help our students learn to observe social situations more carefully and understand that behaviors are linked to others’ emotions, and how each of us feels about another’s behavior affects how we treat each other. At the end of the day, when we do expected behaviors it makes us feel better about ourselves.”  Michelle Garcia Winner, “Why Do We Use the Expected-Unexpected Social Thinking Vocabulary?”

In addition to expected/unexpected behaviors, our lower school students have been practicing “whole body listening.” We teach that the whole body (eyes, ears, mouth, hands, feet, bottom, brain, etc.) are important parts of the listening/attending process. All of this language is being used to guide conversations and support positive behavior in the classroom and beyond. 

Havern highly values social emotional learning competencies as a part of developing the whole child. Here are some ideas for exploring these concepts at home with your children: 

  1. Discuss characters from their favorite books or television shows. Are they showing expected or unexpected behaviors? Help them notice how other characters reacted as a result.  
  2. Help your child build awareness of their own emotions.  Are they experiencing red thoughts or green thoughts?  What does that look, feel, or sound like?
  3. Help underscore the importance of context.  Explore with the idea that certain behaviors might be expected in some contexts and unexpected in others.   Wearing a swimsuit might be expected at the pool but unexpected for a day of skiing.  Engage your child in thinking of silly scenarios where a normally expected behavior might be unexpected and vice versa.
  4. Model “whole body listening” for your child and narrate your actions and decisions.  “I am going to put my phone down and turn my body toward you so that you can tell that I am listening.”
  5. Reinforce the positive.  Look for times when your child shows expected behaviors.  Compliment then and point out how people responded to that behavior positively.  

We are excited to be using this common and consistent language and look forward to sharing more with you in the upcoming months!  For more information on Social Thinking, visit www.socialthinking.com


Stephanie Evans, M.A. CCC-SLP

Ms. Evans is beginning her second school year as the Associate Head of School at Havern. She holds a M.A. in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Akron, a M.A. in Educational Leadership from Northeastern Illinois University and a Director of Special Education endorsement. Ms. Evans says, “I am passionate about advocating for students and families of diverse learners, and building the capacity of educational teams to best meet the needs of all students. It is a privilege to work at Havern, where children can come to school each day feeling happy, safe and supported.”

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