We’ve Come A Long Way: A guest post by Jen Minnelli, SLP
Looking back over the year at everyone’s social development gives me hope for an even better year next year. We have gone to amazing places with our social thinking. Many of our children have come to us as veterans of social skills and manners groups, but they came lacking the thinking skills to generalize beyond the social scripts. Therefore, there was work to be done in knowing and really understanding what is appropriate, based on the setting and the others in the group.
We started by talking about everyone’s invisible buckets. Everyone learned how we fill a bucket, by saying or doing something kind and helpful, and how we dip out of a person’s bucket. Some of us needed help with keeping a lid on our buckets, so that others would not have the power to dip out of our buckets, and make us feel bad. Realizing that people who dip out of buckets are usually those who are already feeling really unhappy with themselves helped us keep our own good thoughts about ourselves, so that we can continue down the bucket-filling path.
Dealing with the Bullies: A Community Solution
As with every school community, we had our episodes of bullying this year. People, in turn, played the roles of target, bully, and bystander. We called upon the excellent work of Trudy Ludwig and Kim John Payne to sort things out. In our community, we understand (and research is bearing this out) that children who bully have been the victims of bullying, and should not be rejected, punished or kicked out of a community for acting this way. We have seen that this has been a cry for support, and the adults have worked to provide appropriate consequences and compassionate support for the children who have acted in the role of bully. For the target or victim, we have helped them put together a Power Anti-Bullying Toolkit, with strategies for dealing with bullies, like telling them to STOP, using an I-statement, asking a grownup for help, or making a joke, when that feels safe and comfortable. The bystanders who see this going on know that they are not tattling when they see a person getting hurt by someone else. The bystanders now know the important distinction between tattling and reporting.
The Four Steps of Social Communication (based on the work of Michelle Garcia Winner, 2010)
We have a diverse group of children who are grappling with social communication at all stages. We have used the Social Thinking TM methodology (Winner, 2010) to support everyone’s development along the continuum.
Step 0.5: When you go to school, you realize that you share space with others.
Sharing space has been a biggie. Many of our children have come from more structured environments, and many have come from being home-schooled. Part of sharing space is making the appropriate sensory adaptations so that people can feel comfortable around others. Some children wear earphones to dull the ambient noise. Some children require more movement to learn. They have been comfortable sitting on ball chairs, chilling out in the tent, standing up to do fine motor activities, and walking around to stimulate their thinking. Some children have needed to leave early on some days because sharing space for 6 hours straight is a big challenge. Our community can handle this.
Step 1: When you share space with others, you have thoughts about others, and they have thoughts about you.
We have called on Winner’s SuperFlex curriculum to help the children recognize the thoughts that they are having about others and to realize when we should keep certain thoughts inside our heads.
Step 2: Since we are sharing space with each other, we wonder what the other person’s/people’s plan is.
Many of our children have been working on using their detective skills to understand others’ plans. We use our eyes, ears, and brain to notice things about others, make inferences about others, and then make choices based on those inferences. It has been really okay and helpful to ask questions like, “Does it bother you when I do this?” And, if you are doing something that bothers others, our community offers you support and encouragement, rather than stigmatization.
Step 3: We realize that people are having good thoughts/uncomfortable thoughts about us based on choices that we make.
At times we have used the social behavior map system with children who are having trouble understanding why their choices and actions are unwanted. Usually, when people, especially teachers, are having uncomfortable thoughts about us, we end up having very unhappy feelings. It has helped many of us to see the direct, visual connection between our choices, others’ feelings, the consequence we receive and then our own feelings.
Step 4: Since people are having thoughts about us when we share space, we try to adjust our behavior to keep others having good thoughts about us.
Ever so slowly, the adults have seen a shift in how we all treat each other. This final step is a work in progress. We are all actively engaged in supporting this step with our kids. We repair a goofy thing we might have said. We offer an authentic apology. We think before we speak. We use an I-statement to help others hear our perspective. We stay out of something that does not concern us. We take deep breaths and say, “I hear what you are saying, and I have a different opinion.” This is the work of this community.
Looking Ahead to an Amazing Place
In a few short weeks, I am heading out to the Social Thinking Providers’ Conference, where I look forward to being inspired by the work of my peers and mentors in the Social Thinking world. I will get to hear Dr. Ross Greene, Harvard professor of Psychology, and author of Lost at School and The Explosive Child, offer concrete strategies for Collaborative Problem Solving. I will get to hear Michelle Garcia Winner talk about the latest in Social Thinking research. Professionals will talk about incorporating Social Thinking into daily narratives, casual conversation and physical education. SuperFlex will be there with new strategies to defeat the Unthinkables. I hope to be able to share with others one of our student’s brilliant ideas: a brand new team of “Thinkables” who help a person get through the day with social competence.
I feel blessed to be among a community of parents and teachers who see the direct connection between academic success and social cognition. As we target these important cognitive linguistic goals over the next year, we are preparing our kids for productive, connected lives outside of JRA. Building our community in this way is what defines us and sets us apart from other independent schools.