Social Emotional Learning


First, A Story

“I’m so STUPID!!!” Anton cried in frustration, throwing the box of crayons across the room.

Upset by his outburst (but not surprised because it happened a lot), his friend and next door neighbor Sarah asked him, “What are you trying to draw, Anton? Can I help?”

“No! You can’t help! I’ll never learn to draw a bird. NEVER! I just can’t draw! That’s it!”

Calmly, Sarah walked over to her Saturday playgroup bucket and brought it to the table. She began bringing out pieces of paper, one by one, laying them in a row facing Anton. Through his fingers, Anton peeked at what Sarah had brought over. “You kept all my stupid bird drawings? Are you trying to make me feel bad? Look at them! They’re so ugly! It’s like a 5 year old drew them instead of an 8 year old! Put them away!” Crossing his arms on the desk, he slammed his head down and started howling.

“Anton.” No response but the crying. “Anton!...ANTON! THESE AREN’T YOURS! THEY’RE MINE!”

There was silence for a few seconds, and then Anton raised his head, peering suspiciously at the drawings. “No way. These aren’t yours. You’ve ALWAYS been great at art time.”

“No, I haven’t, and yes, they ARE mine. See? This one is from our first day of playgroup this year. Here’s the next week, the next week, and here’s today’s. Look at the wings. That’s what I’ve been trying to make better since the beginning of the year. See how much better they are today?”

Anton studied the drawings, and then looked confusedly up at Sarah. “You only worked on the wings? But the whole drawing is better.”

“Well, thanks, but I think the wings just make the whole bird look better. I just picked that one thing to work on every week, and every week I got a little better.”

“But the first week’s picture is horrible. Sorry, that wasn’t very nice. What I mean is, this week’s wing is so much better. How did you do that?”

“I dunno. I just tried to do it a little different every week until something worked.  You can always get better at things.”

“Well, maybe YOU can. I can’t. I just can’t draw.”

“You’re right.”

Anton snapped his head up, shocked at this statement from his usually kind friend.

“You can’t, if you think you can’t. If you think you can, you’ll get better. That’s what I did. I really thought that I could draw a better bird. So I did.”

Thoughtfully, Anton looked at his bird drawing. He glanced over at Sarah’s drawings, and then back at his own. Quietly, he stood up, retrieved his thrown crayon box, and came back to the table. “What do you think I should work on?”

“I think you could start with the head. See here? It looks like the beak might be in the wrong place, and that makes the whole head look weird.”

Anton stuck his tongue out of the side of his mouth, a signal that he was concentrating hard. He put his crayon to the paper and began to draw.

Sarah watched him quietly, and then looked at her and Anton’s moms sitting at the kitchen table, listening to the conversation. Anton’s mom looked shocked, but Sarah’s mom was giving Sarah a proud, but knowing, smile.

“What. Just. Happened?” Anton’s mother asked.

“SEL just happened,” Sarah’s mother responded.


“Sarah’s grade at Ferndale Upper Elementary is on Growth Mindset in their Social-Emotional Learning curriculum this week. Since she’s in 3rd grade, she’s learned about it every year, though, so this year is really just a review and working on some more advanced habits of mind.”

“What’s Growth Mindset?”

“How about if I let Sarah tell you? Hey, Sarah - could you come here for a minute?”

Module One - Creating A School Family

Module Two - Brain States

Module Three - Growth Mindset

Module Four - Executive Functioning

Module Five - Mindfulness

Module Six - Character & Values

After Sarah returned to drawing, her mom admitted, “I have to say, I was skeptical when I first heard about SEL. I thought it was fluff to take up the day. But when Sarah’s thought processes started changing in first grade, I began to realize that the SEL curriculum was making some positive changes. Sarah used to get as frustrated as Anton does when she couldn’t do something.”

“No way. Not the Sarah I know!” Anton’s mother said incredulously.

“Oh, yes. Before you guys moved in next door, she melted down almost every day at school. She would give up and throw herself around, and she thought she was bad at everything. Now, she realizes that she can get better at things if she keeps trying. That’s Growth Mindset.”

“Anton doesn’t believe that about himself. How do I teach him?”

“I just build at home upon the things that her teachers do in the classroom. You’ll have to ask them what they do specifically.”

“But we don’t go to Ferndale Schools. And I don’t think there’s anything like that at our elementary school.”

Sarah’s mom looked at Anton’s. “It’s not too late, you know. He could always transfer.”