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How Are You Feeling? Local Educator Emphasizes the Impact of Social and Emotional Learning

How do we know that 2+2=4? Don’t overthink it. It’s not a trick question…

It’s because someone taught it to us, be it a guardian or a teacher. Someone taught you how to count, then how to add—and poof, you know math. Good job! We didn’t hop out of the womb understanding basic arithmetic, but you know what we did know how to do? Cry. According to psychologist Silvan Tomkins’ Affect Theory, humans are born with nine innate, biological responses that produce emotion and personality when combined with life experiences.

By now, I’m sure you’re wondering what this has to do with simple addition. Stay with me… I’m getting there.

We aren’t born with the natural ability to compute, but we are born capable of learning how to do so when taught. The same can be said for reading, writing, and all other subjects featured on standardized tests. But how do we learn to regulate feeling, something we are naturally wired to do? When emotions are high, how do we bring things down from a 10 to a 2? Chris Reid, Director of Vision at Compass Community Schools, believes it’s a life lesson worth teaching.

“You know… the bad thing about new books is that people stop reading the old ones,” Chris said. “People hear phrases like ‘mental health education’ and ‘Social and Emotional Learning,’ [SEL] and think it’s ‘that’ new type of learning—that it’s very in right now. But in reality, when you or I think about the teachers that really hit home, it was the ones that nurtured all sides of us—the academic side, the side with past traumas, the side that’s discovering different sides of themselves in terms of race and gender identity.”

All those sides, and more, make up “the whole child,” an approach to education that “prioritizes the full scope of a child’s developmental needs as a way to advance educational equity and ensure that every child reaches their fullest potential.”

Chris didn’t always have the most current terms to define the motive behind the journey he’s taken throughout his career—between studying psychology and education at Christian Brothers University, working as a camp and school counselor, a PE teacher, a principal, and even in his current position at Compass. However, the intent to give students the intellectual ability, and the social, emotional, and mental capacity to make the world a better place has always been there.

“From the time students walk out at the end of the day to the time they return the next morning, there’s no telling what they are going up against, ” Chris said. “That’s why ‘How are you feeling?’ is such an important question. Within the past two years, because of Covid, social distancing, and remote work and learning, there’s been this influx of social, emotional need—not just from students, but teachers too.”

That’s why Chris has introduced the concept of “dosing”—the pausing of regular class time to check in on students’ mental health throughout the day—to the Compass Community staff.

“I latched onto this idea of “therapeutic dosing,” coined by Dr. Bruce Perry, as a way to encourage emotional regulation throughout the day—and with these mini, mental health check-ins, we are able to deescalate those ground level emotions like annoyance and frustration before they rise to more difficult levels.”

Each “dose” welcomes a chance for school officials to not only check in with students, but to mentally asses where their own mental and emotional capacity is at—in hopes of getting themselves back on track to continue doing their best work, or being mindful of the fact that they might not be able to perform to best of their abilities, and that’s okay.

Outside of affordability, it’s hard enough to admit when something is wrong—and growing up in the Black community, in which mental health care has historically been viewed as weakness, directly correlating with the “survivalist mentality born from systemic oppression and chronic racism,” it’s even harder to seek treatment or lean into alternative methods to manage psychological stress.

“It’s been interesting, but rewarding, being a man of color [in this role]” Chris said. “SEL has had a phrase attached to it recently, and that phrase, or word, is ‘whitewashed.’ For a long time, SEL equated with the question ‘How can we make those kids behave?’ In the end, it has nothing to do with benefitting the classroom. I mean it does, but that’s not why we’re doing it. We’re not doing this to make sure everybody sits up straight with a smile on their face. Let’s be more real about it. We’re doing this to help our people learn more about themselves—and in Memphis, it feels like I’m at the helm of this work.”

Compass Community School’s vision is taken directly from Dr. Martin Luther King’s “The Purpose of Education.”

‘Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.’ It goes on to say “our vision is to provide “true education” within a supportive, joyful, and hopeful school culture to prepare all students to be positive agents of change in our communities.”

“MLK died on those words in Memphis, ” Chris said. “The Sanitation Workers strike was monumental in Memphis. This city has a huge stake in creating agents of change, and advocating for the rights of others. That’s why our work is so important. We stand in front our of future everyday that we stand in front of the classroom. Teachers, you are needed. Don’t let yourself get bogged down. Instead rise above to reach the goal. After all, there was probably a teacher that did that for you once.”

Are you a teacher who’s looking for a job at a school that values mental health? If so, maybe Compass Community Schools is right for you.

Take a look at their open positions on their website here.

You can also see what other teaching opportunities are out there via the Teach901 Job Board.

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