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We can find more and more opportunities for joyful teaching, learning, and building social-emotional intelligence, if we allow ourselves to think more and more out of the box. For instance, although our physical environment and schedules certainly have parameters within which we have to function, there can be some leeway with both. As an example, we can encourage our students’ individual explorations with material by our openness to unique uses of the classroom space.

One way to approach the use of space is by creating centers to support the variety of approaches the students will take with the material being explored. Examples of centers to encourage and accommodate various activities include a “research center” filled with computers and resource materials, an “arts center” filled with supplies and visual inspirations, and a brainstorming/collaborating center, filled with an easel with large sheets of paper, post-it notes, and writing materials.

We can also allow for some flexibility in our schedules. There will be times when ideas and questions cannot be contained within the initial time allowance. When possible, we can borrow some time from other activities to capitalize and build on the generated excitement.

We can explore unique ways to increase our students’ connection with the material we are covering, while also building confidence. One way to do this is by giving them opportunities to share the fruits of their inquiries. We can continue to expand our notion of how space can be used, helping our students share their work in a variety of unique contexts.

Examples of this include the creation of a gallery, or an interactive installation. In the Oregon Trail example used in the previous blog, the students could create the trail and a wagon train in their classroom. They could invite other students and staff and interact with them as if they were the pioneers.

We could extend the scope of their sharing beyond the school. For example, we could give students the opportunity to meet with elders in the community and interview them about their familys’ experiences with immigrating. They could then create and disseminate a newsletter about their findings. When students have impact beyond their class, it is motivating for them. It reinforces the notion that what they do in school has meaning and importance.

We can also extend the work that we do to support the development of our students’ social-emotional intelligence. The work I have supported thus far has centered around providing the information and opportunities for rehearsing social-emotionally intelligent choices. However, we can also provide pathways for students to be able to take action on these choices.

We can create and support opportunities for students to be involved in activities such as tutoring and mentoring younger students; becoming peer mediators or student leaders; getting involved in school governance, and taking part in service learning activities in and out of the classroom. Our out of the box thinking can lead to more and more joyful, inspired learners-learners who are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and opportunities with which to make and act on socially-emotionally intelligent choices.

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