6. Community-Building and Vulnerability in the Classroom with Kristie-Anne Opaleski

Social emotional learning is not just for elementary school. What does SEL look like in high school? In this episode, Sara speaks with Kristie-Anne Opaleski, an educator and teaching coach who currently teaches high school English, to learn more about what social emotional learning looks like in a high school classroom. 

In the Saracast, Sara uses Creative Exercises to ground herself & her guests before each interview. We can bring moments of intention and creative expression to our day in small ways, like at the start or end of meetings, or as we transition from one activity to the next, to feel centered, grounded, and present as we move through our days.

Creative Exercise: Sound Expression

Identify how you are currently feeling. If your feeling was a sound – what would it be? If your feeling was a word or a phrase – what would it be? Share sound and mirror back to one another. Finally, share your word or phrase. 

“Instead of ‘I teach English’ or ‘I teach math’ – no, I teach students English or math…” -Kristie-Anne Opaleski

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Resources Mentioned

Equity in Action TED Ed Talk with Kristie Opaleski

Learn more about Kristie-Anne Opaleski

 “Equity is more about meeting the student where they’re at and giving them what they need to be successful. That’s how I tie it to social emotional learning…the main analogy that I like to use is that SEL is the plate. We have all these things, food groups, that go on the plate, that is the student. Their home life, their community life, their extra curriculars, their academics, their identity, all of these things are on the plate. But if you don’t have a solid foundation – if they don’t feel like they belong, if they don’t feel safe, if they’re hungry, okay, if they’re angry, it doesn’t matter all the other facets that are on the plate, it’s just going to fall apart. You need that solid foundation.” -Kristie-Anne Opaleski

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About Kristie-Anne Opaleski

Kristie-Ann Opaleski has spent twenty years teaching at the high school level and four years at the college level. Her work has been published by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and Highlights magazine. She also won first place in the Institute of Children’s Literature short story contest and has earned an Honorable Mention in the 2018 Writers-Editors Network’s International Competition. After a successful career coaching teachers on student engagement, Kristie now advises them on how to create a safe space to build students’ self-awareness, social awareness, and self-management skills. Recently, she broadened her writing and speaking to include parents of teens, in an effort to guide them on how to communicate more effectively with their children.

 “I do a lot of community building and that’s the big priority for my district and any district I’ve spoken to this year. Going back in, you can’t start with content. I don’t care who you are and if you’re teaching 3 year olds or 18 year olds, you have to start off with the people. You have to bring them back to being in school with these restrictions of wearing a mask and social distancing, and the idea of being in a pandemic, knowing that these kids may have had a parent out of work, knowing that they themselves may have been – in my case, a lot of students had to work or pick up hours because their parents got laid off. Or, someone in their family had COVID, and knowing that’s in your room and addressing it instead of just pushing it to the side because that’s not the skill we’re working on today.” -Kristie-Anne Opaleski

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Kristie is the Past President of the New Jersey Writing Alliance, a member of NCTE and NJCTE, and a member of two Department of Education committees – the NJ State Program Approval Committee (SPAC) and the Teacher Leader Network.  Visit www.kristieopaleski.com for more information and check out her recent TED Ed Talk on Equity in Action here.

 “Once you get to high school, I realized, there are few and far between programs. Are you just saying it’s for high school but it’s really for middle school so it only goes up to 9th grade? Because what works for a 14 year old does not work with an 18 year old.” -Kristie-Anne Opaleski

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“My first piece of advice, if I were to give one, if you’re looking to start a social emotional learning program is to figure out the strengths of your building, of your staff, and going from there.”-Kristie-Anne Opaleski

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