Childs ’20MEd Uses Social-Emotional Learning to Encourage Empathy in Students

By Caitlin Burns | September 14, 2020
Arcadia University student Jess Childs

As Jess Childs ’20MEd prepares to teach her first year as a special educator teacher at MaST Community Charter School in Philadelphia, she’s making sure to focus her teaching style on inclusion and emotional-social learning. 

Emotional-social learning is focusing on teaching healthy ways to interact socially and manage emotions, with key aspects of social-emotional learning being self-awareness, empathy, and compassion—or as Childs describes it, “things that really aren’t explicitly taught.” As a special education teacher, Childs believes emotional-social learning will help her students develop social skills that help them understand social cues and facial expressions, which in turn will help them learn to react appropriately.

“They really have to learn how to help one another, how to be supportive of one another and learn about students’ differences,” said Childs, who previously worked as support staff at MaST for special education, where students with ranging emotional and academic needs are taught in one classroom. “I feel so strongly about having a curriculum for the teachers to follow that teaches these skills. There needs to be a system for students to learn about their emotions, learn about other people’s emotions, and why there are certain triggers for some kids.”

Childs plans to institute social-emotional learning in her classroom through a unit plan that she developed for her thesis. Childs hopes to combine what she learned with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Ursinus College with her educational knowledge to build a social side of education. An example she notes is spending a few minutes in the morning associating emojis or colors with how each child in the class is feeling. For older students, she believes these lessons can be incorporated into discussions about key aspects, and then involving them as mentors for the younger students.

“Put the power in their hands,” said Childs. “Now that they have the tools and resources, have them go back to the classroom and teach their younger peers.”

With the first eight-weeks of the academic year online, Childs anticipates challenges, but hopes that everyone will learn to support one another through this difficult time. 

“So as long as we’re open as educators and as people of being mindful of other people, it will make such a difference in everyone getting through these struggles together,” said Childs. “I definitely think going virtual, we have to be more mindful that kids are going to need those breaks and those times to come to us and say ‘we’re having a hard time.’”