An Emotional Sandwich: understanding the difference between SEL and Emotional IQ


pbjLast week I had the opportunity to join my fellow Pollination Project grantees to talk about the importance of social change and making a difference. There were a flurry of buzz words floating through the air during our conference. Our batteries were recharged, our passions reignited, which is especially helpful given our current events lately. In talking with other grantees, it dawned on me that social emotional learning and emotional intelligence are thrown around quite casually both in and outside schools lately, but too often we, both as parents and educators, make the assumption that people can distinguish between the two.

Simply put, social and emotional learning refers to the skill set of developing the fundamental skills to manage emotions and apply those emotions in the areas of empathy, setting positive goals, and behavior management. In contrast, emotional intelligence is identifying, labeling, and applying your emotions.Since I teach a class of first grade fidgets, I like to think of these two buzz words like a sandwich, because everyone starts of with bread.


Now no one’s two pieces of bread will be the same, but the sandwich has to start somewhere, right? Once you have the bread, you have to first recognize your emotions. Am I feeling sad, angry, elated, depressed, happy or excited? That is emotional learning, or the peanut butter of your sandwich. It can be as simple as you want ( one emotion, like sadness) or clumpy (two emotions, being filled with angst and frustration). Next, we add the jelly, or social emotional learning, which is the process of applying these emotions to the areas of understanding others or empathy. I am feeling anxious in class because I realize my friend did better on her test because she studied harder than I am. Without the two ingredients, you would just have bread, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich has to have both ingredients, right?

The tendency in today’s society is to intertwine the two, mixing social emotional learning and emotional intelligence. And although you can’t have one without the other, alone they make pretty odd sandwiches. Both need each other to have a successful learning environment, both emotionally and academically to create a community where students feel self-love, a stronger sense of purpose and compassion for others.

If this is done correctly, by using each ingredient of the sandwich together instead of just with the bread alone, it will make one fantastic sandwich, that teachers and students alike will reap the benefits of for quite sometime, at school, at home, and for years to come.


The Power of Words




If you have been following along with me on Instagram, I have tried to stress the attention and emphasis you place on the quality of time you spend with the child or children in your life. Regardless of the title that you have in their life, whether it be a teacher, aunt, uncle, or parent, you are the star in that child’s life. What you do or say matters in their world 1000% percent, so shouldn’t you give that same amazing amount of energy and focus to them as well?

As I have said before, I am the mom of two Troubles and first grade teacher to a class of fidgets. During the day, I treat and talk to my fidgets just as I would do if they were my own. Of course the flurry of teachers at any school can provide their two cents about what is best for you our your classroom, but when it all comes down to it, you, the adult in the child’s life, knows what’s best.

With all that is going in our adult world of musts and must nots, when it comes to working with our children, they should be your number one priority. Period. I know that this is easier said than done, but the words that they hear from adults are just as important as the words we tell them.  The next time you begin to feel the stress and angst of the noise from the outside world, whether that’s politics, office or school drama, fill in the blank, remember that your words matter, the words that you repeat, and the world that you tell to the child or children in your life.

So don’t you want the words that you tell your children, regardless of the title you hold in their life, to be ones that can they remember and repeat or spark a journey of growth and empowerment?


To Calm is the question




Like all working moms and elementary teachers, I too was one of those that got sick over the winter break. It would have been convenient if I was the only one who felt bad in my house, but it turns out my two little Troubles got sick as well. It just so happened that they got sick on Christmas Eve too when no one was open. So needless to say I have been relying heavily on using the strategies that I write about even more so lately in the classroom.

As with any break, you feel like you are getting your sea legs, finding the perfect balance between what you know and what you feel, or connecting your head and your heart. A while back I wrote a post using my REACT© strategy ( if you haven’t gotten a chance to read it, or are new, welcome! ), and I realized that I should probably ask to take a step back before implementing the REACT© strategy and let me tell you why.

When anyone has a reaction that is an imbalance that is both physical and emotional, they feel it emotionally and sense it physically. Sometimes you can stop it before it affects your day to day happenings, which is ideal, and sometimes, it causes a road block in your ability to learn and focus. For example, let’s say you walk in the classroom late, upset and frustrated. That negative energy begins to float over you, like a fog in a good Saturday morning cartoon. It starts in the back of your forethoughts, festering and growing that you can’t shake of. As the sense of helplessness gains momentum, so does this inner sense of defeatism and negativity which you begin to think in your thoughts and feel physically. You may become antzy or daydream because really, what’s the point?

Enter the next strategy…. C-A-L-M©. Before you allow the fog of negative emotions was over you (think of the steam coming out of Yosemite Sam’s ears), try to refocus that into being C-A-L-M©. Now I must admit that this also comes in mighty handy when you are super frustrated with your class because they have forgotten how to listen over the weekend. Last week was one of those moments, when none of the tricks of the trade were working, and I simply said CALM, and this is what transpired: whatever chaos that happened froze, the noise became silent, their bodies into whatever calming position was comfortable for them. The majority of them ( including myself) sat down wherever they were standing, crossed their legs, and begin the following process:

    C=  can this (whatever this is that I am struggling with) really have this much power over                    what I am doing?

A= actively recognizing that I have lost my role in the learning process and how it can affect                or effect others and our enviornment 

L= what lesson can I learn from this moment in time, what can I take care away from                              it?

 M= make a connection between how your mind is thinking or processing this reaction to how            your heart is feeling right now 

If you notice, it is not just the textbook definition of taking a deep breath and refocusing, or the tried and trued ancient classroom discipline tool of turning the lights on. You are reminding the students that they have a chance to change how the role that the issue ( or whatever this is) plays in their current moment right now. If it does correctly, the current of energy goes from the image of steam coming from Yosemite Sam’s to a flurry of hearts that Peppe le Peu feels when falling in love.

A flurry of hearts and positivity is what we want for any child we teach or raise, regardless of our role, and all it takes is for us to take a deep breath, a tiny step back, and to stay       C-A-L-M.


Please remember if you like this post and think it may help others, please pass it on. We can only help our children, if we learn to help or share the knowledge we learn.



It’s A Matter of Perspective



This week has been a whirlwind, with the death of two screen icons and the start of school back in the new year. My heart was heavy with loss as I grew up watching Debbie Reynolds in Singing In The Rain on the couch with my grandmother as well as the loss of her talented daughter, Carrie Fisher. I will admit I am not the most epic fan of Star Wars, but the awareness that she has brought to both the image and identity of addiction and mental heath is astounding.

So, back the my classroom of first grade fidgets…

As with the new year, just when all the ebbs and flows are settling in, I get a new student     (which I will admit comes in perfect timing as  it merits a review of rules and procedures for us all). One day as my fidgets were working, he came up to my table and said “Ms. Kohl, I have the hookups”. I tried to contain the giggles growing within myself, and responded “You mean the hiccups, don’t you?”. His response is one I will never forget, “Nope, they are heavier than the hiccups and they hook me up in my thinking”.

The newest member of the fidgets had renamed his hiccups based on how they made him feel, scrambling and interrupting his learning process. As the day progressed, I reflected on the role that perspective can play on a child’s own role in their learning. How much of their learning is fully comprehending and applying and how much is it a response or reaction to what they perceive to be happening?

There are many things we cannot control in life of a child especially how they perceive the events in their life, but we can adjust the quality of what we present to them. Think back to my new fidgeter, he fully believed he had renamed a mundane annoyance because of the role that it played in his learning. What else do children rename simply because they get pulled down by what they perceive? Self worth, love, success.

I know that the road blocks are heavy and hard to adjust or maneuver in the lives of our children (both taught or raised), but with a little prior preparation aren’t we able to replace their perception with a reality that is full of hopes and dreams, rainbows and butterflies?



Wiggle in the New Year

In a traditional classroom setting long, long ago, teachers sat students in rows of five or six, in perfectly straight columns to maintain order and where all students were treated the same. Guess what? No one is the same, and if we were, it would be a pretty boring world to be in (not to mention those children who were learning in such a dull environment).

As my passion for connecting learning and emotions has begun to evolve, I have embraced the thinking outside the box, the not sitting still, and yes, the wiggles. The wiggle seat, or sensory seat as it sometimes referred to as, allows students to move around at a pace or rhythm that is comfortable with them that often helps with focusing and concentration.

If you can get past the constant bobble of heads, the end result is beyond worth it. Research has shown that students begin to fidget more when they are asked to process and comprehend new information rather than just hold on to it. 


As a teacher or parent, it is just a matter of getting past your comfort level of having a little background movement going on while the learning process is under way. It may not be the best fit for everyone’s learning style, but it allows the student to begin to understand the power they can have in creating an environment that empowers them to look within themselves to be successful.

So if it’s just a matter of adjusting our comfort levels, aren’t the benefits worth their weight in gold?