Growing Sunflowers

“If I were a flower.. I would be a sunflower.
To always follow the sun, Turn my back to darkness,
Stand proud, tall and straight even with my head full of seeds.” – Unknown

In order to improve school safety, the St. Tammany Parish School System took steps to include School Resource Officers and full-time Mental Health Providers (MHP) at each school for the 2018-2019 school year. Both initiatives, I can easily celebrate in my blogging. However, I would like to focus on the impact of our new MHP for this blog.

I first met Woodlake’s new MHP, In Gyu Jang, at a “Back to School Barbecue” for the faculty. Within ten minutes of meeting Ms. Jang, I knew that she would be a blessing for the students of Woodlake Elementary School. What I didn’t realize was that she would also be a blessing for our entire faculty.

At the beginning of the year, Ms. Jang was busy getting to know students, teachers, parents, and school routines. Each grade level has a Professional Learning Community or PLC meeting once a month. Ms. Jang attended all the grade level PLC meetings while officially joining the Enrichment Team which includes the Art, Music, Library, Guidance, and PE teachers. In September, Ms. Jang told me about an approach to social and emotional learning called Conscious Discipline, and she explained all the ways this approach would benefit our students- especially the students that have been through serious trauma. She then asked if she could introduce information about Conscious Discipline to the Enrichment Team at our next PLC meeting. My immediate response was, “Yes”.

In her first presentation, Ms. Jang introduced Conscious Discipline along with teaching about mirror neurons and breathing techniques. The meeting was over far too quickly, and the Enrichment Team left energized about these new approaches to social and emotional learning. The next day was the meeting for our Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS) Team. There, Ms. Jang was asked to share a little bit about this new approach. By the next week, interest had greatly grown and the Sunflower Club was formed.

sunflower food
The delicious food shared by Sunflower Club members at our meetings.

Why “Sunflowers”? While brainstorming names for the club, I happened upon a blog, The words in the blog resonated with the purpose of the club. Our goal was to foster collaboration and empower faculty members to through S.E.L.F.-C.A.R.E (Social and Emotional Learning Fellowship- Collaborative Adventure of Relationship Building and Empowerment). Basically, we are encouraging each other to become a positive light that will guide our students through their social and emotional needs. The Sunflower Club is open to all faculty and staff members of Woodlake and meets twice a month after school. In the meetings, Ms. Jang shares tips and techniques for social and emotional learning through Conscious Discipline methods. The attendees brainstorm ways the tips can be implemented in the classroom. Following the meeting, the participants apply the ideas within the classroom and school community. In our next meeting, we share results.

sunflower tips
A Sunflower Club Tip from Ms. Jang

While I love that the Sunflower Club is building a positive culture of collaboration, the best part is being able to witness the impact our new methods are having on students. We now have common signals, words, and actions that students understand. Recently, I had a student with a behavior disorder that was shining a small light into the eyes of other students while I was on morning duty. While this boy has often reacted negatively to things being taken away in the past, I was able to utilize the breathing techniques I knew he’d learned with Ms. Jang to get him to calmly hand me the light. What a huge difference!
I eagerly look forward to the Sunflower Club meetings. I’m thankful for this opportunity to grow in my teaching practice even as we are building a strong, positive school culture. While the teachers are becoming sunflowers, Ms. Jang is our sunshine. She is a positive beacon of light guiding us along our journey of self-growth.

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