Emotional Literacy: From School to Home

March 17, 2003

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As a teacher and a mother, I understand how important it is for your child to have emotional literacy skills to navigate their big emotions in school and beyond. We’ve had lots of emotions in my home over the years, let’s face it, school is A LOT! It’s not just academics our kiddos face each day at school, wondering if they’re “smart enough” or “doing it right”, it’s also the social-emotional stuff they have to navigate with friend groups and peer expectations. Thankfully, schools have become a lot more than just a place to show up each day and learn academic content. They are evolving into holistic, whole child centered communities, where teachers are working on implementing emotional literacy strategies that will be used for a lifetime. 

Emotional literacy is the ability to recognize, understand and express emotions in a healthy way. In the classroom, teachers strive to create safe spaces where students can share their emotions and learn how to regulate them. While the first week of school is usually focused on this “settling in” and “community building” phase, it’s gone beyond that. Social emotional learning is now integrated into daily classroom time, being embraced as pillars of school mission and visions, and recognized as a foundation of what kids really need in life. Today, I would like to discuss how we teach emotional literacy in the classroom, and how you can continue this work at home.

Big Emotions in School

Firstly, as you know, your child probably has a range of emotions at home. We’ve all seen it, and sometimes we’re left baffled as to the trigger. One minute they’re happy go-lucky, the next minute there’s tears. These emotions don’t stop at home! It is important to understand that our students have a variety of big emotions day to day in school too. I’m often asked  by parents, “how does my child act in school?” It’s not uncommon for kids to act one way at home, and another at school, and the emotional triggers can be different in each contextual situation. From happiness and excitement to anger and sadness,students experience a range of emotions that can sometimes be overwhelming. Be it anxiety over a math test or a dispute on the playground, stuff happens. What’s important is, does my child have tools to help regulate these emotions?

Our role as teachers is to help students identify and understand these emotions, at ANY age, and learn strategies for shifting into another mindset. Schools are now using different  tools such as Skodel, which I was fortunate to use, and other practices such as mindful journals, meditation breaks and open check-in times as a class. One of the first steps in developing emotional literacy is to help students understand and identify their emotions. In the classroom, we teach students how to recognize their emotions and give them the vocabulary they need to express complicated emotions effectively, and identify and communicate them effectively. For example, we may teach students that feeling frustrated is different from feeling angry, and help them understand the physical sensations that come with different emotions.

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Understanding and Identifying Emotions with Skodel

One of the ways school administrators and teachers are working towards understanding their students' emotions is through the platform Skodel. Skodel is a company that provides digital well being check-ins and monitoring for students. It’s quick, simple and the students actually look forward to doing it. I had students remind me that it was Skodel time when I had forgotten and started the morning lesson! It's a great tool for both students and teachers because it helps us stay connected and informed about how students are feeling. Skodel checks-in with students at those predictable moments in the school schedule where wellbeing can be challenged. It helps students reflect on how they are feeling and equips them with support to manage those feelings. This is a great step in asking a child to stop, reflect on possible triggers or anxieties for the day, and acknowledge them. 

“As we grow, we improve our communication skills through speech and text, but for many of us, our emotional literacy – the vocabulary we use to describe feelings – stagnates. Often behind anger lies feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability. Expanding the vocabulary we use to label emotions provides a specificity that empowers us to identify and target their cause constructively.”- Ian Fagan, Director at Skodel

As teachers, we immediately receive a summary of the responses, which helps us identify students who may need additional support. For example, if a student reports feeling very anxious, we can follow up with them and provide resources to help them manage their anxiety. I could respond to a student within the platform as well, acknowledging their feelings that day, asking if they wanted to talk further or needed to speak with the school counselor just to get some emotions out.  They loved the privacy aspect of this way of expressing emotions. Skodel also provides valuable data that helps us understand how our students are doing emotionally over time. This helps us create a more supportive and responsive learning environment for all students, and really adds to the school’s safeguarding program. Overall, Skodel is a great tool for promoting emotional literacy in the classroom. By providing regular check-ins and monitoring, we can better support our students and help them develop the emotional literacy skills they need to succeed.

Teaching Mindfulness

We also teach mindfulness in the classroom, which helps students regulate their emotions by focusing on the present moment. Mindfulness practices such as breathing exercises and visualization can help students calm down when they feel upset or anxious. Using apps on the smartboard, such as Calm, MindYeti, MindFi and Go Noodle, were great ways for the students to practice mindfulness. You can use these at home with your child too! For example, we may start the day with a quick mindfulness exercise to help students set a positive tone for the day. In my class, we had a mindful journal. As part of our morning settling in time, students would take out their journal and do a few things: write what they were grateful for, respond to a reflection prompt and fill in their color wheel of emotions for that particular day. They would revisit the journal after lunch, as by then, they’d had time to reflect, spend time with friends and see if any of their concerns were addressed or if feelings changed. 

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Emotional Self-Regulation & Expressing Emotions

Another important aspect of emotional literacy is teaching students how to regulate and express their emotions. All too often, I had students stomping into my room after recess or lunch, angry, visibly upset and either unable to talk about what happened, or immediately come to me loudly blaming someone else for what had happened at recess. It could be that a child was just feeling overwhelmed by the academics, or feeling unsuccessful at a particular task. That’s normal! But, as part of our emotional literacy education, we would practice ways of self-regulating, calming down, and using words which were productive to the conversation in order to get the help needed. My students were learning tools such as deep breathing before coming into the classroom or in a quiet corner, positive self-talk and finding the words for expression, and taking a break when needed, knowing that everyone needs a break here and there and it was a part of our classroom environment. It was a non-judgement space. By giving students these tools, they can learn how to manage their emotions in a healthy way. It was then that we’d be able to talk about the frustrations, work through them, and move on as a classroom community.

Supporting Emotional Development at Home

As parents, you can continue this work at home by normalizing the concept of emotional literacy. Encourage your child to express themselves in a safe space and use positive self-talk when facing challenging situations. You can also read children's books together that deal with emotions, such as these recommended ones on the concept of emotional literacy:  "The Color Monster" by Anna Llenas, "In My Heart" by Jo Witek, and "What Should Danny Do?" by Adir Levy. Additionally, you may enjoy: "Raising Emotionally Intelligent Kids" by John Gottman and "The Power of Showing Up" by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson.

In conclusion, emotional literacy is an essential skill for students to develop, and more and more schools are embedding programs which help address and equip students with this super power. By understanding and identifying their emotions, practicing mindfulness, learning emotional self-regulation, and expressing their emotions in a safe space, students can better navigate their big emotions, both at home and at school. Let's work together to create a safe and supportive environment for your child to grow emotionally.


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