You might think you have a really good job, but Bailey Station Elementary School counselor Ann Taylor says she has the absolute best.
“There are many favorite parts to my job, but helping young people develop the social and emotional learning (SEL) skills that will allow them to become the very best versions of themselves is right at the top of the list,” the Tennessee counselor said.
In order for her students — who are at risk socially, emotionally, and academically — to be successful in and out of the classroom, Ann believes they need to practice these SEL skills. She therefore continuously searches for resources that further enhance her efforts in teaching them.
Funding for SEL resources, however, is limited.
So, Ann decided to start a project titled “A Multi-Tiered Approach to Enhancing Children’s Mental and Emotional Health” on DonorsChoose.org to raise money for learning supplies that would provide instruction and skill practice in the five areas of SEL: self-awareness, self-management of one’s feelings, social awareness and empathy, relational skills, and responsible decision making. Specifically, her project focuses on using a combination of therapeutic games and small group therapy counseling sessions to help students develop these skills.
“Students who struggle with emotional and mental health issues often experience a sense of isolation from their peers,” she said. “Small-group counseling sessions help students counter these feelings of isolation because they can literally see that they are not alone in their struggles.”
The use of fun board games also helps students become more willing to engage in counseling. The games Ann specifically chose, such as “The Feelings Wheel Game” and the “Let’s Get Rational Board Game,” provide prompts for discussion, which guides students in opening up without feeling scared or threatened.
After spending time using these games, Ann has seen improvements in the way students share and communicate with each other. They additionally practice taking turns, fair play, and good sportsmanship.
“Gameplay gives rise to many emotions and is relational in nature, so students have many opportunities to recognize, process and understand their emotions, and to practice a variety of relationship skills,” she said. “Ultimately, these small-group counseling sessions become a human laboratory in which SEL skills can be practiced in real time and in real situations.”
The games will be used for years to come, and each year, they will help between 60 to 100 students develop SEL skills, which Ann emphasized, are central to every part of our lives.
“SEL skills allow us to develop a healthy self-concept and to manage our emotions in healthy ways,” she said. “Strong SEL skills are implicated in our ability to persevere and help us achieve the goals we set for ourselves. Individuals who master these skills have healthier friendships and family relationships. And finally, SEL skills allow us to be more successful in school and the world of work. They are as essential as any other skill taught in school, and I would argue the most essential.”
With this project, Ann also aimed to enhance her students’ mental health. Although her students are only elementary-aged, teaching them SEL skills will help them learn how to appropriately express themselves and communicate their feelings as they make their way into their adolescent years. It is during these years that mental health issues among students are especially prevalent.
In fact, the National Association of Mental Illness estimates that 1 in 5 teens will experience a mental health issue, that half of all mental health problems show first signs before the person turns 14 years of age, and that only 20% of children with diagnosable mental health issues receive the treatment they need.
By nurturing open and honest counseling sessions, Ann is also helping students break down the stigma surrounding mental health problems. Doing this, she said, “is important for many of us in terms of self-acceptance, self-love, and to access needed mental health services for intervention and healing.”
Ann added that breaking down the stigma also helps students develop empathy and compassion for others who may struggle with mental health issues or any other personal issues they may be having.
Ultimately, Ann said the project “will help my students become kinder, more compassionate individuals, who will become the leaders of what I hope will become a kinder, more compassionate world.”
To learn more about Ann or donate to her DonorsChoose.org projects, click here.