By Barbara Gruener
Maybe you’ve heard the expression, Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future. Might it follow then that if you showed me the halls and walls of your school, I’d know everything there is to know about your core values and your commitment to children’s social-emotional well-being?
Look around your school, your child’s school, or the next school you have the privilege to visit. What does the writing on the wall say about that school’s vision and mission? How might your favorite learning space visually incorporate social and emotional learning (SEL)?
Here are ten ways we’ve nurtured and enriched our students’ SEL experience and growth.
On our first day back after winter break one year, a fifth-grade student stopped me in the hallway and enthusiastically shared that she had read the Jon Gordon book about the One Word Challenge. She’d chosen the word effort, and she wondered what my One Word for the year was. After I shared that mine was enough, she suggested we all choose a focus word—something that we want to get better at, kind of like a resolution or a goal—so during our next leadership lesson, students illustrated their words for this What’s Your One Word? visual display.
After my family went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the boys’ excitement about the movie’s theme that paralleled our school’s core values got me thinking about connecting a popular, high-interest film to engage our learners. Cut out some stars, download the Star Wars font, and be a force for goodness.
You needn’t restrict your bulletin boards to movie themes. The Pokémon GO frenzy sparked this playful visual. Go to the Chamber of Commerce for a map of your town, download the Pokémon font, and catch a little character with this design.
This wall-size calendar serves as a reminder that kindness knows no calendar. Keep it up all semester and switch out the daily ideas at the end of every month. Click here to download our school’s prompts to use for your first month, then let students group themselves, brainstorm ways to show kindness to self and others, and select the month they want to be in charge of decorating. Encourage them to get creative as they help infuse intentional acts of kindness into your character building.
How can you use a visual to pique your students’ interest in postsecondary schooling and careers? When our daughter was a senior in high school, we created this alphabet board of traits based on her reflections of what it took to get her from preschool to senior year. That September, Canadian teacher Jennifer Runde used it as a goal-setting resource. After reading the ABCs to her fourth-grade students, she asked them to each select one of the traits and set it as a goal they wanted to work on. Their only homework that night was to discuss that goal with their families.
How do you help your students learn what it takes to be a good friend? Let students help with this board by brainstorming action verbs that make up their recipe for friendship: listen, share, help, show kindness, understand, apologize, forgive, keep your promises, tell the truth. Provide precut colorful hearts for students to write their ingredients on to make this uplifting Friendship Is in the Air display.
This student-created bulletin board illustrates what author Carol Dweck told school counselors in Denver at ASCA 2017: We are a hybrid of both fixed and growth mindsets. So we asked our students to write or illustrate their fixed-mindset thoughts and then how they might unlock those thoughts to show growth-mindset thinking. Ask an artistic parent to draw a picture of the brain. Shade one side in color and the other in black, white, and gray. Find a border that’ll complement both sides, then let students do the rest.
The seed for this Wall of Fame sprouted and grew from an invitation to parents and caregivers at back-to-school orientation night to fill out a You Can card and share their hopes and dreams for their child. We kept the wall up for a semester, then returned the cards to the students for their portfolios. One of my very favorites? You can be a rainbow of joy!
This sunburst is an adaptation of the brilliance of Dr. Susan Fuller, Pennsylvania school counselor and author of the Entirely Elementary blog. She designed (and generously gave away) a back-to-school BE Yourself board, which has gone viral since she shared it six years ago. Encourage students, staff, and stakeholders alike to grow into a better version of themselves every day as they work with intention to BE their personal best.
A final idea to make SEL come alive in your halls is to take a student’s favorite motivational quote, precept, or adage and enlarge it to put the writing on the wall. How might this inspiration mobilize your school family to be joy-makers and do good? Start collecting those words of wisdom and challenge your students (or parent volunteers) to create beautiful, eye-catching SEL exhibits.
Click here for a gallery of our past bulletin boards. Happy decorating!
Currently in her 34th year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.
We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.