Social Emotional Learning Integrated in Mulberry’s Curriculum

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”


How Mulberry Integrates SEL in its Curriculum and Academic Environment

The mission of Mulberry School is to inspire children to a life of learning and a positive contribution to the community. By weaving creativity and social emotional learning into every day, we foster intellectual and social success for a lifetime.

Mulberry students are not passive receptacles of information but drivers of their learning. Our children learn by doing, through experience and active problem-solving. Assignments require they strive for personal excellence and meaning. With aspects of emotional intelligence built into the curriculum, students not only study math, science, language arts, and social studies but are also encouraged to understand their personal growth as learners.

Integration of SEL enables Mulberry to create:

  • Experiential learners
  • Curious explorers
  • Confident scholars
  • Collaborative leaders
  • Compassionate citizens

Examples of SEL can be as simple as a check-in after giving instruction: “On a scale of fist (zero) to five, how confident are you that you understand what you need to do next?” The kids hold up their hands, showing the appropriate number of fingers. Asking that, then following up with those who are still confused, allows students who are ready to begin working while providing support to those who need additional help. It also informs the teacher when more group instruction is necessary; if everybody is at a zero to two, the teacher understands they need to do a better job explaining or scaffolding the task.

Social emotional learning is a long game; it involves building authentic relationships with students that recognize them as individuals with individual preferences. When a teacher launches an assignment they know will be challenging for a particular student, they can acknowledge this in a one-on-one conversation. “Hey, I know you don’t like writing non-fiction. How can we use some of your poetry superpowers to write about (icebergs, koalas, baseball, etc.)?”

Below are other ways in which Mulberry students experience social emotional learning in all grade levels.

A few ways Mulberry integrates SEL into our preschool curriculum is by letting children explore their thought processes by asking open-ended questions and encouraging them to work with their peers and adults.

Providing a nurturing Positive Discipline environment promotes mutual respect between adults and children. Our “yes” environment allows children the confidence to explore freely. Children feel comfortable asking for support and help when needed.

With our low student-teacher ratios, we can readily guide children into identifying their needs and collaborating to meet them. At Mulberry, these skills are woven into almost every daily interaction. Being seen, heard, and respected for who they are and how they are feeling sets the stage for emotional safety and social-emotional learning.

SEL is integrated into teaching through class meetings, habits of mind, reflective writing, and family involvement. Mulberry emphasizes the importance of the school-home-community connection and every child’s role in the world.

Opportunities for social-emotional learning happen consistently throughout each school day. Students are shown skills to regulate emotions. Class meetings encourage listening, validating, and acknowledging feelings. Open-ended questions help promote conversation, communication, understanding, empathy, and perspective-taking.

We know that feelings happen and that these emotions are important. Providing a safe and supportive environment and developing problem-solving and communication skills gives students essential tools to express and handle these feelings.

SEL is part of Mulberry School’s daily routine in Kindergarten. As a group, we begin the year by developing agreements to keep our hearts and bodies safe.

We have an SEL Word of the Week (WOW), such as kindness, patience, or empathy. As a group, we discuss the meaning of the word, expanding to how we can be kind, patient, or empathetic at school, at home, and the community.

Opportunities for social-emotional learning present themselves several times a day. For example, recess is much less structured; toys may not be shared correctly, a game gets scary, or someone feels excluded. We can talk about real-life situations, explore feelings and perspectives, and find solutions together.

At the start of the school year, teachers model finding solutions, and within a few months, students can come up with resolutions with minimal guidance. Our Kindergarten day is filled with reminders about being kind, showing respect, and embracing “stop and think” moments.

As students begin their lessons, teachers check in to ensure they understand the instructions or give support. Supportive feedback is given daily using “I notice” statements or asking them to explain their ideas and work. When lessons include an artistic facet, the class may do a gallery walk to see others’ work and share positive feedback.

Toward the end of the year, students compare self-portraits, writing samples, and handwriting with examples from the start of school to allow them to notice their progress visually. Another project identifies the areas of learning (domains) that they find easy and fun and areas that are challenging. By self-identifying their learning at an early age, they can articulate their learning goals and strengths. The overarching idea is for them to feel good about themselves as learners and have agency with their learning.

  • Conferencing with students during writers’ workshops about their writing
  • Begin the practice of students editing each other’s writing helps build communication, perspective-taking, and delivering and accepting feedback
  • Meeting with students individually for reading assessment to help them identify the books which are suitable for them
  • Presenting lessons in several ways (visually, verbally, learning by doing)
  • Looking back through morning journals every few months to see personal growth
  • Reading assessment helps students identify just-right books for practice reading
  • Peer editing for writing as well as teacher conferencing
  • Discussions on learning strengths and struggles which nurture intellectual curiosity, stimulate personal growth, encourage critical thinking, and promote a lifelong love of learning
  • Book clubs are introduced to share a wealth of understanding and perspectives
  • Time to develop a meaningful curriculum based on student feedback

In higher grades, teachers assess and determine SEL and curricular effectiveness for current students through responses during class meetings, instruction, and self-assessments.

Class meetings involve all students in discussions about community and problem-solving issues.

Students take turns contributing creative ideas to find solutions to problems in a respectful and safe environment. This helps cultivate a classroom community where students help each other and learn critical social skills essential to social and intellectual success for a lifetime.

Students view this as a positive contribution to the classroom community. Mulberry’s service learning projects extend this opportunity to positively contribute to our school-wide community, local community, and global community. The incorporation of the STEAM curriculum not only allows students to show their intellectual creativity through hands-on, collaborative projects and provides teachers with valuable informal and formal assessment through observation, written work, presentations, and products.

SEL is imparted in the classroom through:

  • Conferencing with students while they are working: Students learn to partner with their teacher, taking an active role in all aspects of their learning and work projects. Students begin to formulate and ask themselves questions such as:
    • How do I approach a task?
    • What more do I want to know about this specific “umbrella” (e.g.) climate change?
    • What support do I need to get started, complete, publish, or present my work?
    • Was my project “successful;” did it meet the criteria? (Metacognition)
    • What would I do differently next time? Did I learn more from this project; what do I want to learn next?

“Students are encouraged to explore, research, and study areas of interest. At a recent parent meeting several alums also attended, we prompted attendees to think of a time they’d gotten lost in learning more; what was the topic? One of our alums, now a senior in high school, explored the catastrophic side of nuclear energy. He is entering college as a Nuclear Engineering major.”

  • Creating projects that students have opportunities to demonstrate and apply their newly gained knowledge
  • Students conferencing with other students
  • Small group work
  • Multiple ways of representation of solutions/ideas
  • Self-reflections and goal writing in intrapersonal and interpersonal skills
    • Reflecting on quotes such as novelist Kazuo Ishiguro’s “There was another life that I might have had, but I am having this one.” Students contemplate three areas of their lives that they wished were different and found reasons to be grateful for each.
  • Students take surveys to determine “how I learn best,” including
    • Areas of strength and challenge in multiple intelligences (Howard Gardner)
    • True Colors personality traits survey (short version of a Myers Briggs) and how these differences and similarities enhance or detract from our interactions and performances as well as those in a collaborative group

When students engage in many aspects of their learning and assessments, a deep sense of intrinsic motivation is fostered. This “intellectual ownership” is integral in creating lifelong learners.

Social Emotional Learning is Key to Lifelong Success

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” -Aristotle

Students experience success when they can understand and manage their emotions, recognize perspectives different than their own, relate effectively and empathize with others, and make sound personal choices and caring, responsible social decisions.

Social emotional emphasis is cultivated through a positive discipline philosophy. All grades hold class meetings that practice problem-solving and critical thinking skills through student-led communication and collaboration. By the time students graduate from Mulberry, they have a deep understanding of and can effectively apply the four C’s of 21st Century learning– creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.

Kara reflects again on the recent parent meeting where alums were guests. “Several alumni stated that while they were students at Mulberry, they didn’t understand the importance of social emotional learning and self-advocacy growth. When they moved on to middle and high school and discovered that many of their friends – and sometimes teachers –  didn’t possess these vital skills, they realized how special and unique their Mulberry education really was.”

Our alums choose career paths they are passionate about because Mulberry celebrates student strengths and uniqueness, encouraging them to think independently and make choices grounded in SEL practices that benefit them and the greater community.

Mulberry has alumni that attend prestigious colleges, study around the world, serve in the military, teach in the Teach For America program, and work in various design industries. Continued alum connection to our community reveals their positive and successful learning experience at Mulberry School.

At Mulberry, we strive to help students achieve personal and collective goals by acquiring and applying knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities. Social emotional learning is a core competency that ignites a deeper understanding of self and others, ensuring every child can reach their full potential.

Learn more about Social Emotional Learning (SEL).

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“Students are encouraged to explore, research, and study areas of interest. At a recent parent meeting several alums also attended, we prompted attendees to think of a time they’d gotten lost in learning more; what was the topic? One of our alums, now a senior in high school, explored the catastrophic side of nuclear energy. He is entering college as a Nuclear Engineering major.”

– Kara Riordan, Head of School –