Heart-Mind in Schools: Part 1 Q&A With Franklin Elementary School

Thanks to the generous support of the Vancouver Foundation and the Edith Lando Foundation, our Heart-Mind in Schools Project is in the final stretch of its third and final year. Pilot schools were given a 4-part Social Emotional Learning (SEL) workshop series along with support to implement their learnings, offering staff members evidence-informed, practical guidance on how to infuse SEL and Heart-Mind Well-being into their school’s culture. Sir John Franklin Elementary, located in Vancouver, is among these school pilot sites. Sally Ruus, Franklin’s Heart-Mind Champion, kindly took the time to respond to our questions about Franklin’s experience as a Heart-Mind School. This is Part 1 of a 3 Part series.

1. What have been some highlights of Franklin’s involvement with the Heart-Mind in Schools project?

“Heart-Mind in Schools has helped to focus our collaborative efforts as a staff and school community. We were able to incorporate Heart-Mind Well-Being into many of our ongoing discussions as well as our planned ProD days. We especially enjoyed our Pro-D workshop opportunities with Jennifer Westoby (the Heart-Mind in Schools Program Coordinator), as she brought such a positive, well-planned, and engaging approach. Jennifer helped us to reflect on our current strengths as a school community as well as areas to focus on to strengthen our students’, as well as our own, social-emotional development.

During those workshops, we examined the strong rationale for including Heart-Mind and other SEL curriculum, which really motivated us to get involved and incorporate the ideas into our teaching on a daily basis. Teachers were all encouraged to choose some favourite lessons and ideas from the Heart-Mind Online website for each domain of the Heart-Mind Well-Being Framework (Compassionate & Kind, Secure & Calm, Alert & Engaged, Gets Along With Others, and Solves Problems Peacefully) and share them with the rest of the staff.”

2. How has the Heart-Mind in Schools project impacted your students at Franklin?

“Heart-Mind in Schools has helped our students to understand and appreciate that it is possible to learn and improve SEL skills in each Heart-Mind domain, just as they learn any other skill at school. We’ve been able to use a great variety of activities to show them how the Heart-Mind domains all contribute to their ability to learn effectively at school and to their overall success, both academically and socially. We’ve seen that students have become better able to label their emotions as a range of vocabulary has been explored. Students have learned effective strategies for calming themselves and regulating their own emotions, so that they are able to learn and play effectively. We’ve seen an overall increase in students’ empathy for others, as they have become more aware of the wide range of emotions and difficulties that others may be experiencing. If a student is upset or in need of help, we’ve seen countless examples of another student taking the initiative to offer help.

Students have also benefited greatly from Heart-Mind activities that help them practice positive and constructive interactions, and we’ve noticed that they have become even better at working and playing collaboratively. If a peer conflict does occur, students and staff have a powerful common language that they can use to identify each student’s feelings, discuss their needs and reach a resolution together. To help facilitate this, we organized Peer Leaders, who are older volunteers helping younger students resolve minor problems on the playground using Heart-Mind language. They were coached in strategies to help students regain a sense of Secure & Calm, to talk about their own feelings as well as to feel compassion and kindness for how others might be feeling in the situation, and to work together to solve problems peacefully. Overall there has been a very positive effect on students’ emotional development and social interactions in the school community.”

3. What have been the key activities your school has engaged in as a result of Franklin’s participation as a Heart-Mind School?

“We created a whole-school plan to focus on one Heart-Mind domain each month, with staff sharing ideas for use in individual classes. Each month’s focus was highlighted through assemblies and student announcements, and communicated to parents through newsletters, with suggestions for connecting learning in that Heart-Mind domain at home. During one year, all students were acknowledged with a certificate for demonstrating qualities that exemplified one of the Heart-Mind domains. In another year, students created a Wall of Kindness. Each student was given a paper heart to write thoughts about kindness: ways we can show kindness for others, how it makes people feel, and how it improves our world. These hearts were used to create a wall in our front foyer, which became a focal point that month. As well, an ongoing Gratitude Tree was constructed outside our office. Students are encouraged to write or draw things that they are thankful for and add them to the tree.

We tied our focus on Compassionate and Kind to our Pink Day anti-bullying efforts. A school-wide display of paper t-shirts was created, with each student designing a t-shirt and writing messages about kindness, inclusion, and compassion for all others. This was celebrated with a pink lemonade stand, run by our Gr. 6-7 leadership group, with lemonade and cookies for all!

As an example of Compassionate and Kind for all living creatures, a group of our students took the initiative to organize a “Treaty Paws” sale. They baked homemade dog and cat treats to sell, with proceeds donated to the SPCA. A group of students also extended the idea of Compassionate and Kind into an environmental focus. These students initiated Waste-free Wednesdays in an effort to protect and care for the planet, its trees and all living things. We also created a School Garden, which helps foster a feeling of community where we all have a part in caring for something together. Classes each plant seeds and take turns watering and tending to the garden as it grows. In years past we have enjoyed sharing our Harvest Feast together.

Most recently, our focus on Compassionate and Kind has been magnified greatly with the sad news about Kamloops residential school. Our students created 215 orange hearts to honour the children lost, with student messages of caring and respect that were displayed outside around the school.” 

4. How has Heart-Mind in Schools influenced Franklin's approach to staff self-care?

“Heart-Mind in Schools has highlighted for us the importance of self-care, something that educators often don’t attend to. We have realized that compassion and kindness can only be fully demonstrated for others when we show that same caring for ourselves. We share this idea with students and lead them through activities such as self-reflection and personal inventories of strengths and interests. We emphasize with students the importance of taking care of ourselves and making sure our basic needs for sleep, food, hygiene, love, and play are met. This is not only to ensure our own well-being, but to make sure we are able to access all 5 of the Heart-Mind domains: if our basic needs are not met, we simply won’t be ready to use them.

This thinking is encouraged for our staff as well, through weekly messages of support from our Principal, Maureen McDonnell, random acts of kindness for each other, and equally shared responsibilities so that no one is overloaded. We have an extremely cooperative and caring staff, and we genuinely appreciate the support we give and get from each other. We often use open conversation and humour to support each other. We can have a good laugh together and always know we have someone to talk to. In these stressful times, it is an ongoing work in progress, and something we need to continually remind ourselves and each other not to forget!”

A heart from the Wall of Kindness (left), and one of the 215 orange hearts to honour the 215 Indigenous children lost at the Kamploops residential school (right).

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