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Collaboration Begins with Social and Emotional Development

According to a recent Education Week article, “collaboration in the classroom can help students think more deeply and creatively about a subject and develop more empathy for others' perspectives. At its worst, group tasks can deteriorate into awkward silences, arguments—or frustration for the one child who ends up doing everyone else's work.”

This led me to think about my collaboration experiences in high school, college and the workplace. It seems that the statement above still holds true today, and may eternally exist unless we consider our approach to teaching youth how to effectively collaborate. In fact, the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that more than 80 percent of employers look for collaboration skills in new hires—but fewer than 40 percent of them considered new graduates prepared to work in teams. Considering that collaboration most often requires working with peers, it makes sense that building strong relationships will ultimately improve any, and all, collaborative efforts.

Fortunately, teachers and educators already identify best practices to help students evolve from individual learners to a community of educated collaborators. Many teachers incorporate peer and group work to help encourage collaboration in the classroom. A key challenge, however, is that it takes time to teach students the social and emotional skills (SEL) needed to become successful collaborators – and time is a commodity that teachers often find in short demand. Rain of Hope supports students and teachers by honing in on social and emotional skills (SEL) that help students develop and understand various communication and listening skills.

Teaching collaboration is successful when students are taught to clearly communicate, express themselves, and actively listening to each other. It is vital to teach these skills before asking students to work collaboratively. Rain of Hope’s curriculum dedicates five one-hour lessons to communicating, self-expression and active listening – leading into lessons on empathy, perception and compassion. Our curriculum results in youth communities ready to collaborate.

One of my favorite Rain of Hope lessons focuses on a skill at which they are already experts – emotional communication! From eye rolling to sarcastic tones, students express them through their emotions on a daily basis, without necessarily understanding the impact their actions may have on the listener. We focus on the fact that it’s not what we say, but how we say it. Through fun games, like “Toss-A-Tude”, we create a safe space where students “bring their biggest ‘tudes” and have a little fun. However, the game in and of itself is not enough. Much time during our lesson is spent relating our attitudes and actions to experiences they have in the classroom and community; asking students how others’ actions impact them and how they believe their actions impact others.

A 60-minute lesson on emotional communication might sound like overkill. However, it’s one thing to tell students that eye-rolling and sarcastic tones are disrespectful, and another to provide youth the space, time, and opportunity to explore how they feel when others portray the same actions.

Towards the end of our program at a New Haven Public School, a 4th grader asked, “So, what you’re teaching us is that we use emotional communication to show how we feel, active listening to really listen to each other, empathy to understand how each other’s feeling and then compassion to help them?” YES, this 4th graders nailed it! When a student can put the lessons together to show how communication and listening lead to action, progress is achieved.

Through programs filled with engaging activities, Rain of Hope students continually asks for more. In fact, our middle school student surveys show that a majority of students want either longer lessons or to meet more than once a week. Students are learning how to build community – and having a blast doing so! And any teacher knows that students excited to learn equate to students willing to learn and take action.

Rain of Hope partners with schools and teachers because we understand that teachers’ time is already overbooked, and teachers are under enough pressure as is. So teachers, our million dollar question is, how can we collaborate with you and serve your youth?

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