At EduMais, we teach a broad curriculum of English, Sport, Web Design, Art and Entrepreneurship. But for a child to thrive, these subjects are of limited value without the bedrock of social and emotional skills crucial to navigating everyday life. We aim to cultivate the whole child, by keeping a clear focus on integrating social and emotional learning into our academic curriculum.
And this couldn’t come at a more important time. Now more than ever, the favela community of Pavão–Pavãozinho–Cantagalo needs to ensure that the next generation is equipped with the resilience, empathy, and self-esteem to be able to face the harsh realities of an ever more violent and unequal Rio de Janeiro. We are certain that social and emotional nurture will be the key to a bright future for the children that we work with.
A lot of thought and planning goes into ensuring that all of our programmes are driven by social and emotional learning principles. Here are the five principles we seek to embed:
Good communication is the key to healthy relationships throughout life. In our English classes, we train the children in ‘active listening’ by having them converse in pairs and repeat back to the group what their partner told them. We as teachers also aim to model the active listening skills that we want to foster in our students, by providing both verbal positive reinforcement and non-verbal signs of active listening, such as smiling and eye contact.
Our classroom activities are centred around messages of inclusion, acceptance and compassion. We base our English lessons on role play conversation tasks, in which children are required to take the perspective of another person. By putting themselves in someone else’s shoes, they are practicing developing empathy for others, at the same time as improving their English speaking skills! For the older students, we explore and debate controversial topics in English. It’s important that students learn the necessary social skill of respecting different points of view. By understanding that everyone sees things differently, acceptance and tolerance are cultivated, and classroom relationships can flourish.
We deal with a brilliantly lively and verbal bunch of young people! However, working with vulnerable learner groups means that we are often also faced with challenging behaviour in the classroom. At the beginning of each lesson, we check in with how each student is feeling using a ‘feelings chart’. Enabling them to identify and recognise their emotions is a first step towards effectively managing them. If a child is feeling overwhelmed, we encourage time out for deep breathing exercises.
Self-awareness is a skill that is fundamental to recognising our own strengths and weaknesses, as well as understanding how our behaviour affects others. Our Entrepreneurship course for teenagers begins with a reflective analysis of how the students view themselves. We provide them with strategies to interrupt negative thought patterns, such as having a mantra. For the younger children, we employ a simpler method of self-reflection – the students rate their behaviour after each lesson on a scale of 1-10 and explain why they picked this number. This routine gets the children into the habit of integrating self-awareness into their learning process, as well as taking accountability for their own actions, decisions, and behaviours.
At EduMais we believe that making mistakes is the best way to grow and learn, so we actively encourage our children to slip up… and our teachers too! With their less-than-perfect Portuguese, our volunteer English teachers demonstrate to the children that taking risks and making mistakes is crucial to learning a new language. Using positive and restorative language, we create a safe and supportive classroom culture in which children are not discouraged by the mistakes they make and praise each other for trying.
During my 9 months at EduMais, I saw a tangible shift in classroom behaviour, as well as better student attitudes towards themselves and their learning. For our most at-risk students, who live in poverty and have suffered traumatic experiences, our programme has been an extraordinary tool for repairing emotional damage and building lifetime coping skills.
Students have become more aware of their strengths and have been empowered by the process of learning how to communicate skilfully – some of our older students have even actively sought out work experience as a result. With each child better equipped with social and emotional capabilities, the future of Brazil looks that little bit brighter.
EduMais offers a unique and groundbreaking learning programme that I feel proud and humbled to have been a part of. I left EduMais a much more resilient, empathetic and self-aware person myself – social and emotional learning in the classroom definitely works both ways!
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