Ms. Miller-Sims is one of our grade 3 Learning Expert Teachers on the Brooklyn campus. She graduated magna cum laude from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, majoring in modern languages with a focus on both Italian and French. After graduation, Ms. Miller-Sims went on to receive a Master of Arts degree in foreign language education then a Master of Science degree in general and special education grades 1–6.
A few months ago Ms. Miller-Sims led lessons in her grade 3 class that effectively helped students learn how to deal with a common problem in school and in life in general: how to handle emotions when someone accuses you of being in the wrong. We thought our families might appreciate knowing more to help practice and reinforce at home during summer months.
The "Handling Accusations" lesson comes from Second STEP, the program that our faculty use to address social emotional learning.
You spoke to your students about strategies for calming down if they recognize they are having a strong emotional reaction to an accusation. Can you share some of what was discussed?
Miller-Sims: The program we use teaches children to recognize when they are experiencing a strong emotion by noticing how it makes their body feel— face gets hot, stomach upset, chest feels tight, general feeling of discomfort. Once they recognize that they are experiencing an emotional reaction, they need to name the feeling (embarrassed, upset, angry, frustrated) and choose a strategy to calm down to manage the emotion effectively. These strategies include belly breathing (breathing so deep you feel the air press your belly out), counting down, using positive self-talk, and visualizing.
Can you provide a bit more information about how you spoke with students about reflecting on the situation at hand.
Miller-Sims: Once you have calmed your emotional reaction, you need to think about the situation calmly and honestly. In the Second STEP example, one student accuses another of copying her work. Once he calms down he reflects on the situation and realizes he didn’t understand the assignment and was looking at the other student’s paper. He decides to take responsibility and apologize and instead raise his hand to ask the teacher a question. In many situations involving an accusation at school (skipping in line, cheating at a game, etc.) stopping to honestly think if any part of your actions did line up with the accusation can help work through the problem or, if they did not, help explain the misunderstanding.
How did students respond to the discussion of taking responsibility for mistakes? This is hard for people… as is talking through a misunderstanding.
Miller-Sims: They responded well to the discussion—of course, this is all much harder to implement in the moment than when we are using pretend situations in a classroom setting. It has given us all a common language to discuss problems when they do arise, however. (For example, I often find myself saying, “You are too upset right now to handle this calmly. You need to first use a calm down strategy, and then we can work through this problem together.”)
Is there any interesting take away from the lesson that could be used with older children or even adults?
Miller-Sims: I try to give real-life examples to the kids of how these same strategies apply later in life. I often use myself as an example (with either true or made up situations) to help the kids see how important emotional management is. So, I might use an example like someone taking my lunch out of the teacher fridge and how I would naturally feel very upset and hurt, but that I have to stay calm and professional so I can still do my job.
Thank you to Ms. Miller-Sims and all our other wonderful Learning Expert Teachers who help support our children in growing academically while also supporting social-emotional development throughout the school year!