By Maria Lantz, SEL4IA
Sarah Ohms is an academic interventionist at Stowe Elementary School in Des Moines, Iowa. Stowe provides many engaging opportunities for students, including an outdoor classroom. As an authorized International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme, Stowe focuses on the development of the whole child as an inquirer, both in the classroom and the world.
Sarah knows the importance of adult SEL and emotional resiliency and is working to bring total adult wellness to Stowe so educators can thrive! Check out SEL4IA‘s interview about her great work.
How does the work you’re doing align to best practices in social emotional learning?
As an educator, it is important that I am thinking about the five competencies of Social Emotional Learning. This awareness must extend beyond my students and myself. After taking a class with Jill Johnson from Drake University that centered around SEL best practices, I immediately implemented these actions for my students. First, I give each of my reading groups two minutes of reflection time when students can write in a notebook any thoughts they might have that could potentially block their learning for the day or anything they might want to share. They have the choice to let me read and respond or not. Through this mindful practice I was able to establish strong relationships with my students and meet their individual needs daily because I was more informed of their social awareness. During small reading groups, each student also has a goal sheet with six choices. At the start of each group, the students can set 1-2 goals around reading that they want to focus on for our 30-minutes. At the end of our time, we reflect on these goals and decide if there are things we need to improve on for the next day. Through this activity I can help my students begin the process of making responsible decisions.
Adult SEL is equally important. As Stephen King, a former educator, was quoted saying “Teaching is a lot like having jumper cables attached to your brain, it drains all the juice out of you.” This inspired me to take on the role of wellness champion at Stowe Elementary since I saw many teachers, including myself, drained of their passion. I created a series of Wellness Wednesday emails that helps promote a variety of healthy topics to start conversations around self-awareness, self-management and responsible decision making. Because when teachers are less stressed, students are less stressed, and can begin to display greater proficiency in all subjects along with developing stronger problem-solving skills.
Where do you see the biggest impact of your work regarding the SEL competencies?
My biggest impact has been around self-management, self-awareness, and responsible decision making for my staff. I am often found promoting self-care strategies to help guide my colleagues through difficult times and build on our resiliency that we naturally have. I want teachers to not just have physical tools but also emotional and mental tools when trying to cope with things like compassion fatigue, PTSD, stress, and/or anxiety. When our teachers are equipped to be more self-aware, have better self-management and can be in the right state of mind to make responsible decisions, our students will exhibit stronger emotional self-management skills, leading them to make healthier decisions themselves.
What are you most proud of in the work that you’re doing?
I am proud to say that I have inspired some of my colleagues to become advocates for their mental and emotional wellness. It is important for teachers to take care of themselves. When teachers do not have the proper support and tools in their emergency kits, we see lower retention rates and lower resiliency. When teachers are neglected, students are neglected. One of the changes I promoted in my teacher leadership presentation was more information on stress management and self-care. I have been able to do this through my Wellness Wednesday emails along with various activities and challenges that I present to my colleagues as their Wellness Champion. When I think about the health of our teachers, I think of Keith Herman, a professor at the University of Missouri, who said, “I’m surprised that few people seem to connect the dots back to their own children. When I think of my daughter, I know that I don’t want her to spend an entire day with an adult who is feeling overwhelmed, under-appreciated, and mistreated.”