How Creating a Zen Classroom Can Improve Social Emotional Learning
Social Emotional Learning (SEL) has become one important component of school education at all academic levels. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), there are 5 core social & emotional competencies that all children and adults should learn: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. These elements affect how we manage emotions, set and work toward positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, cultivate positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
For children who experience trauma or chronic stress, social and emotional learning (SEL) can be absolutely vital to their development. It impacts their ability to grow and develop emotionally, and therefore their ability to learn and achieve academically. Some aspects of Zen philosophy have proven, through research, to be helpful in cultivating an effective environment for learning these positive skills in schools. Let’s look at how creating a Zen classroom can contribute toward effective SEL.
Teach a Growth Mindset
First things first, a teacher must continually instruct their students in a growth mindset. Without this component, even the best academic curriculum and classroom design will not be as effective as it could be. A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence can be developed, that it’s not a fixed trait. Without this mindset, students can get stuck in the belief that they don't have improvement skills, especially if they are struggling academically. Students with a growth mindset are more likely to seek out help from adults, parents, teachers, or peers when they are struggling. The overarching mentality is “I can improve”, “I can move beyond this”. This mindset alone goes a long way to alleviating the negative effects of stress and trauma and primes students for learning the elements of social and emotional learning.
Include Natural Elements
Another easy and significant aspect of the Zen Classroom is incorporating natural elements into the design. According to the University of Technology in Australia, students with plants in their classrooms had significant improvements in spelling, math, science, and memory. And by giving students the job of watering them and making sure they have enough natural light, plants can also be used to learn responsibility.
Speaking of natural light, exposure to consistent natural light has been shown in research to increase productivity and improve mood among students. Making more natural light available to students can help cultivate positive attitudes, which in turn can improve work habits and academic performance. Products like Versare’s Medi-QuickWall Privacy Divider are useful tools for a teacher who wants to ensure there is a distribution of natural light throughout their classroom. With its semi-transparent polycarbonate window at the top, this portable divider can help maintain natural light throughout the room even when it’s necessary to partition part of the room off for small group discussion or other activities.
Incorporate Mindfulness Activities
Mindfulness activities teach students self-regulation, an important component of self-management. In addition to calming and refreshing the brain, activities like meditation, deep breathing, or journaling can teach students to gain control over anxiety and difficult emotions. Yoga or other calm movement can help students develop self-confidence, self-expression, and body awareness while also calming anxiety. Yoga can also help students transition from high-energy activities in a quiet and peaceful manner. These are great and easy activities to include in your classroom management, and will help you make the most of your time in the classroom. These activities are great for creating an inclusive environment for all students too.
Create a Zen Corner
A Zen Corner, or Calming Corner, can be especially effective in providing resources for self-regulation. Self-regulation skills help students manage stress, move past negative thoughts and emotions, and decide how to respond to difficult situations. A Zen Corner allows them the chance to go through that process, and spend some time in a calm atmosphere, without having to leave the room. To create a Zen Corner, you will just need a small section of the classroom, partitioned off using partition walls, where students can go when they need a moment to calm themselves. It should be secluded enough to give the student privacy, yet still visible to the teacher.
Fill your Zen Corner comfortable with seating (like bean bag chairs, for example), post calming statements on the walls, include instructions for breathing exercises or other mindfulness activities, and include either notepads and writing utensils or a whiteboard and marker. Students can use the notepad or whiteboard to do a “brain dump”, where they can write all of their negative thoughts out. During this activity they should identify thoughts, events, and situations they have control over, decide how to manage the emotions they are feeling, and make a plan to respond to any difficult situations they are facing. Then the teacher can find solutions based on where the student is identifying pain points.
Incorporating these elements into your zen classroom will greatly enhance your students’ social and emotional learning, which in turn will improve their lives both in and outside of school. For more ideas of how Versare’s products can help you create a more effective classroom and improve social and emotional learning in your school, follow us on social media and shop our online store here.