Building Positive Foundations: Social Emotional Learning at Pilgrim

By Meagan Mesirow, Social Worker

You’ve probably heard that Pilgrim offers “Academic Excellence with a Heart” – and part of our “heart” is helping students develop the social and emotional management skills that will help them succeed both in the classroom and later in life.

Learning About Feelings and Friendship

As a social worker, my role is to carry out Pilgrim’s “whole-child” approach to education through Social Emotional Learning (SEL) instruction in the classroom. In addition, I provide extra support to individuals or groups of students as needed.  

While interacting with children, I’m helping them learn to navigate friendships and feelings, and grow self-esteem.  My SEL curriculum addresses CASEL’s 5 areas of competence (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making). This framework has aided our students in acknowledging their personal growth beyond grades and test scores. 

The incorporation of SEL into the classroom is research-based.  According to Edutopia, students are more successful in school and daily life when they:

  • Know and can manage themselves
  • Understand the perspectives of others and relate effectively with them
  • Make sound choices about personal and social decisions

These skills are the direct result of SEL, and they lead to the following long-term benefits: 

  • More positive attitudes toward oneself, others, and tasks including enhanced self-efficacy, confidence, persistence, empathy, connection and commitment to school, and a sense of purpose
  • More positive social behaviors and relationships with peers and adults
  • Reduced conduct problems and risk-taking behavior
  • Decreased emotional distress
  • Improved test scores, grades, and attendance

It’s rewarding to observe how taking care of our student’s emotional well-being positively impacts their learning every day in the classroom.  Students are better learners when they are able to manage their emotions and navigate social situations with peers.  

Coping with the Covid-19 Pandemic

All children were affected by the pandemic in some form. Our SEL lessons during this time provided students with the opportunity to discuss their feelings surrounding this challenging experience, and learn strategies to help them cope with unprecedented events. We heard that many Pilgrim parents built on the conversations started in our classes to further explore their children’s feelings and help them process their emotions around the pandemic. 

Some of my favorite moments throughout this tough year were when whole classes joined together via Zoom, and shared their feelings and ideas with peers.  We created a culture of connectedness, even as we navigated in-person, hybrid, and remote learning.  Kids were able to hear that they weren’t alone in their feelings about the pandemic because it was hard for everyone. SEL classes were an ideal space for this kind of open dialogue. 

Supporting All Students

In the fall, Pilgrim will continue to make SEL a key component of our whole-child approach to education through the following:

  • Weekly classes for preschool through fourth-grade students that incorporate topics like emotional identification, self-awareness, executive functioning and responsible decision making 
  • Parent, teacher, and social worker communication, as we incorporate a systems approach to SEL
  • Personal safety discussions, including those based in “Erin’s Law”, to help ensure our students are good advocates for their bodies and their choices
  • Bi-weekly workshops with fifth- through eighth-graders to continue to explore SEL core competencies and practical applications to previously learned skills

The message I want Pilgrim students to take away from our classes together is that it’s GOOD to experience all feelings…even the uncomfortable ones. Feeling angry or sad will not last forever, and there are ways to cope with these emotions while they are “visiting.” I also want to show students that it’s ok (it even feels good!) to talk about these feelings with the people you trust.  

The very first book I read in my SEL classes for lower-grade students is called The Way I Feel by Janan Cain.  It really helps students get comfortable identifying and discussing various emotions.  As the book says, “Feelings come and feelings go, I never know what they’ll be. Silly or angry, happy or sad – they’re all a part of me!” 

The focus on social emotional learning to support students and their families sets our school apart, and contributes to making Pilgrim a very special community.