The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 27, 2014

Pre-school program bolsters emotional vocabulary

Model being rolled out in Mankato classrooms

By Amanda Dyslin

---- — MANKATO — Each pre-schooler was parked on his or her own carpet square in a half moon shape surrounding their teacher, Sally Gallaher.

Before they could work on letters, Gallaher had some business to attend to.

“Friends, I need some help. What do we check for at circle time? What kind of body?” she asked.

“A listening body,” one of the kids says.

“Yes, we call it a ready body, don't we,” Gallaher said.

The behavioral instruction to sit legs crossed, hands in lap, mouths quiet, seems to be a small measure. But it's part of a larger framework of evidence-based practices to improve social-emotional outcomes for youth developed by Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children or TACSEI.

The TACSEI model was incorporated a couple of years ago in a Head Start site in Mankato and has been slowly rolling out to other sites, said Denise Schumacher, Early Childhood Family Education coordinator. Now the model is being used in two Head Start classrooms and two ECFE classrooms, including Gallaher's room at Rosa Parks Elementary School.

“We want it to be community wide,” Gallaher said. “So our pre-schools and Head Start programs and special education, eventually we would like to have it in all (classrooms).”

Elements of the model can be seen throughout the classroom. A large cardboard box is decorated to look like a beehive where students can climb inside when they want alone time. There are paper plates with pictures of emotive faces and the name for the emotion underneath.

“Feelings are such a big part of this,” Schumacher said.

Gallaher works with the students to identify the feeling, such as nervous or frustrated, and then she asks the students what makes them feel these things. Gallaher becomes emotional when she thinks of how well the students have been able to grasp those concepts.

Having been a pre-school teacher for 10 years or so, she said students used to come in feeling frustrated about something and just be able to say they were mad. The teacher instinct was to try and get them to not feel that way.

Now, she said, thanks to the TACSEI model, her students have the vocabulary to understand that what their feeling is frustration. And instead of directing them away from that feeling, she says that it's OK to feel frustrated, and they talk about what they can do about the problem.

“It is about teaching them the different array of emotions and how to handle them, teaching them it's OK to have different feelings,” she said.

Gallaher said some of behavioral practices associated with TACSEI are things most pre-school teachers use with their students. But the model makes it so “we're a little bit more intentional about it.”

The model focuses on reinforcing positive behavior instead of negative, which serves as a good precursor to the K-12 Positive Behavior Intervention Supports system in the district, Gallaher said. Basically, instead of giving kids a list of rules for behavior at certain places and times, they're given consistent behavior expectations that apply throughout the day in all aspects of student life at school.

Since incorporating TACSEI, Gallaher said she's seen an improvement in communication and vocabulary, and they're more independent about taking care of their own needs and making decisions. The model also is giving students a good foundation in social skills and learning to affirm each other.

“They almost learn more from their peers,” she said.