social emotional learning: mindfulness, zones of regulation, and growth mindset

Social and Emotional Learning in the Catholic Classroom

By Allison Delach, Tecaher, and Kelly Purcell, Teacher  – St. Anthony School

As any teacher perusing today’s education blogs, teacher instagrams, or the latest professional development articles and conferences has seen, words like mindfulness, growth mindset, and zones of regulation are everywhere. But what are these buzzwords? And should teachers work to implement them in today’s Catholic classroom?

social emotional learning

Social and Emotional Learning

First, all these three terms fall under the topic of “Social and Emotional Learning” or, in other words, the self awareness of one’s emotions and the understanding/skills of how to deal with them in an appropriate and successful way. In the classroom, appropriate and successful usually means helping the student create a mindset ready for learning, “feel and show empathy, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” By teaching students to identify their emotions and emphasizing that our brains and attitudes are not fixed, but rather can change and grow, students become healthier and better prepared for a positive school experience.

  • Mindfulness: paying attention and active awareness of one’s feelings/emotions and how they impact thoughts and actions
  • Self Regulation: ability to respond to the one’s experiences with a range of emotions in a way that is socially tolerable and flexible to context of the situation/experience.
  • Zones of Regulation: an approach used to teach self-regulation skills by organizing emotions and states of alertness into 4 color-coded categories.
  • Growth Mindset: Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts
growth mindset

Introducing Social and Emotional Learning Concepts

To introduce these terms, we start with books, video clips, and familiar movies. Picture books are a fun way to start regardless of grade level. We began with the picture book The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires. This lovely story focuses on a girl trying to invent “the most magnificent thing” and the emotions and the process she has to go through.

Growth Mindset

After reading the story, we discuss with students how the main character felt at different points, specifically when she had her idea, right before her tantrum, after her tantrum, and at the end when she has successfully created her “magnificent thing.” We ask students to identify what the character is feeling and why; we also ask students what the consequences would be if she was acting in such a manner in different locations (school, church, etc). After a discussion on her emotions, the reasons for the emotions, and her ultimate success, we introduce the term “Growth Mindset” with one of videos below, some of our favorites include:

We recommend then comparing the brain to a muscle or a skill…we only get better if we use that muscle or skill! After the video and showing a poster/definition or two about growth mindset, we reread The Most Magnificent Thing and discuss the mindset shown within the book. I also like to ask students how the characters emotions and reactions helped or hindered her mindset as a way to preview “zones of regulation.”

Growth Mindset Resources

There are many posters and resources that illustrate this “growth mindset” or idea that we can become better with effort and focused, diligent practice. Depending on teacher familiarity and comfort level, using terms like “neuroplasticity” and “neurons” can be useful at this time. For resources on terms and pictures, we highly recommend Angela Watson’s “Growth Mindset” packet on Teachers Pay Teachers or The Growth Mindset Coach by Annie Brock. Both have specific activities and worksheets that help support and expand the idea that by changing our mindset, we can change out outcomes; in other words, if we decide that challenges are temporary and able to be addressed through our hard work, we will be successful in the long run.

Zones of Regulation

After discussing and teaching lessons about growth mindset, we introduce “Zones of Regulation”, referring back to the picture book read earlier or a new one, and encourage students to become aware of what “zone” they’re in. We like to introduce each zone with images (see below) and then follow up with a video clip from the popular movie “Inside Out” and have students discuss what that zone feels like and looks like.

Zones of regulation

From there, we have students create their own reference materials; for example “paint strips words” in the color scheme that matches each level and allows the student to reference words to help them describe what they are feeling or thinking. We also recommend using pipe cleaner, construction paper, and bead to create a “self-rater” that allows students to easier show where they are in the moment-are they blue, green, yellow, red? They can move the bead to the colored area and teachers then have a quick visual assessment of their class.

Social Emotional Learning in the Catholic Classroom

Once the initial introduction and lessons are complete, it is useful to continuously incorporate the strategies into lessons. We have found that the elementary religion classroom lends itself to this. Why? We can grow toward God by becoming more aware of one of God’s greatest gifts – the gift of life! We are all sons and daughters of God, and by learning more about how we “work,” we can therefore understand God’s plan for us better. We also help students discover God’s gifts for them and build self confidence by teaching lessons and reading books such as The Best Part of Me by Wendy Ewald and I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont. Also, through Bible verses, we teach our students how God leads us toward a more peaceful and mindful way of life by paying attention, not worrying, and trusting God.

Mindfulness Skills

Integrating mindfulness and gratitude into religion class is incredibly relevant and applicable. Jesus was incredibly mindful. By teaching students mindfulness skills we are empowering them to grow closer to God by calming their mind, body, and worries. God wants us to be peaceful, and these are tools that we can use to quiet our mind to more fully connect to God, ourselves, and others, and discover God’s purpose for our life. By teaching students these skills, we make our classrooms more accessible for all students including students with special needs and students who have experienced trauma.


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This is Allison’s 9th year of teaching. Throughout her career, she has taught all grades from 5th-11th in subjects ranging from religion to science to social studies. Allison has her Bachelor of Science and Master of Education degrees from the University of Portland, where she is also also currently enrolled in the Neuro-educator program. When not busy lesson planning or teaching, Allison is out hiking in the beautiful Pacific Northwest or searching for the perfect latte.

Social Emotional Learning in the Catholic Classroom

This is Kelly’s seventh year teaching elementary school. She have experience with pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students, but primarily third grade. Kelly has her Bachelor of Science degree and Master of Teaching degree from Oregon State University. Her passion for social and emotional learning has inspired her to take courses to learn, share, and teach as much as she can. She has completed the Mindfulness Fundamentals course and Mindful Educators Essentials course through Mindful Schools.She has also completed a Trauma Informed Outreach Certification and attended a workshop called Mindfulness, Trauma, and At-Risk Youth. Her hope as a lifelong learner and educator is to empower herself, her students, and others to live as the highest version of ourselves.

Social Emotional Learning in the Catholic Classroom

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