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Beyond the Holidays: Creating a Culture of Caring

Peace on earth, good will toward men (and women and children). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could carry that message through every single day of the year?
Creating a climate of caring in our schools and in our homes is a benefit to all, especially our growing and developing children. A study published in the Review of Educational Research suggests that school climate is something educators and communities should prioritize — especially as a way to bridge the elusive achievement gap.  Research on the impact of social and emotional learning comes from multiple fields: neuroscience, health, economics, and more. Compared to students who did not participate in SEL programs, students participating in SEL programs showed improved classroom behavior, an increased ability to manage stress and depression, and better attitudes about themselves, others, and school.
As reported in Education Week, for the first time ever, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to include non-academic factors — like school climate — in how they gauge school success. Earlier this year, the Department of Education released an online toolbox to help administrators better measure and understand the school climate.
A 2015 national study published in the American Journal of Public Health found statistically significant associations between SEL skills in kindergarten and key outcomes for young adults years later in education, employment, criminal activity, substance use, and mental health. Clearly, SEL should be integrated with the science, technology, engineering, art, math, and language arts curriculum foundation in schools.
In a recent interview on National Public Radio, Joaquin Tamayo, director of strategic initiatives at the U.S. Department of Education, admitted that improving school climate is “tough, it's tedious, it's incremental. But when folks can do it right, and when they really put not just their mind but their heart into it, it's just such a beautiful thing."

SEL Connections:
Throughout this holiday season and as we approach the opportunities of a new year, consider these SEL connections to help students, parents, and teachers create a climate of caring at home and at school. 

Self-Awareness: Do you generally focus on your strengths or weaknesses? What changes might you make to approach challenges more positively? Who can you look to for help? 

Self-Management: How do you choose to spend your free time? Do your time management and organizational skills allow you to complete tasks and assignments in a way that reduces anxiety and stress? 
Social Awareness:  It is human nature to sometimes remember negative experiences more thoroughly than positive ones. In what ways might you behave in a more positive way to others? Are your texts, posts, and phone calls positive in tone?
Relationship Skills: How do you relate to the accomplishments of others? Do you feel jealous, competitive, or resentful? Can you find happiness in the success of others? How can you help lift someone else up when he or she is feeling down? Why does that make a difference?
Responsible Decision-Making: What are some of the things you can do to make your school and your home a more supportive, positive environment? Who can help you to do this? Who can you help? 

CASEL Social and Emotional Learning Core Competencies

•  Self-Awareness
•  Self-Management
•  Social Awareness
•  Relationship Skills
•  Responsible
•  Decision-Making

Gifts That Keep on Giving

At holiday time and anytime, there are inexpensive ways we can work together to create a caring community. Shoveling a snowy walkway, raking leaves, cleaning up around school or at home are all appreciated tasks that might take some time and effort, but not a lot of money. 
U.S. News and World Report shares these mostly free gift ideas that can be created at home or as part of the school day:

Give the gift of ... letters.
Write letters to someone special (mom, dad, grandparent, sibling) and create a special scrapbook. Letters can focus on a particular topic – from favorite dinners, special or favorite memories – the little things these important people do not know you think about.
Give the gift of ... rocks.
Find rocks at the beach, park or in the woods, paint them and write a special note or quotation on them with a Sharpie pen. 
Give the gift of ... pictures.
Photos or drawings of family or friends can be priceless gifts.  Mount them on card stock or place in a scrapbook.
Give the gift of ... time.
Kids can create coupons for their family and friends offering "free" services to babysit, read to a sibling, help with homework, clean up the kitchen or straighten a closet. The list is limitless! Creative teachers can put this to work at school, as well, allowing students to draw from a box filled with activities to help out around the classroom, lunchroom, or school hallways.  


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