Enhancing Social and Emotional Learning through Art

by Dr. Kim Gulbrandson

I don’t know about you, but I feel a little out of my element when art is involved. In our team’s continuous efforts to form collaborative relationships with community agencies to better meet the social and emotional needs of our students, my colleague has recently been involved in a partnership with an nonprofit arts organization. This organization brings community artists into the public schools to strengthen the connection between arts and academics. I’d like to share some of the neat things they have been doing and hopefully ignite the creative spark in all of you!

At each school that partners with this nonprofit, a group of students is asked to come up with a theme based on something they feel they can do to make a positive impact on their school. This school year, many chose the topic of bullying. The students then worked with various artists on projects around this theme. Many projects supported existing efforts in the school.

The student work was displayed at the agency’s art gallery for two months, for the community to see. The kickoff event was during a Downtown Gallery Night, when local art galleries open their doors to the community for gallery walking and art viewing.  During the evening, high school students performed live readings of poems about bullying.

Here are some examples of the student and artist work:

   Using the concept of six-word memoirs,  a series of six-word quotes about bullying were projected onto the wall during Gallery Night.

This group of high school students created a video. They used the same video to show  three different perspectives: bystander, child bullying, and target of bullying. People  could watch the same situation from all three perspectives.

A professional filmmaker worked with another group of students to create Public Service Announcements about bullying.  They were led through the process of creating storyboards before filming their videos.

This Empathy Box was created by a group of elementary students, to fit with the song “Walk Walk, Walk,” from the Empathy Unit of the Second Step curriculum. Students decorated shoes and wrote about their experiences of walking in someone else’s shoes.

Another group of students read the book The Giving Tree and wrote their own stories about how helping others makes them similar to the giving tree. Students also created their own giving tree. They made leaves, and on each leaf they wrote down examples of things they do to show care and concern for others.

 These are friendship circles made of ribbon and fabric. Throughout this  project, students were asked to talk about things they could do to make and  keep friends.  These quotes are printed on circles, interspersed in the banners.

My favorite project was called the Bystander Booth. I was asked to enter an enclosed booth and sit in front of a computer with a webcam. A video of a bullying incident began playing, and I was instructed to click the mouse when I wanted to intervene. After that, the bullying situation was replayed alongside a video of me watching the incident. This booth was designed to show people how they look when they are a bystander and witness a bullying situation. It was interesting to watch my own reaction to something inappropriate going on.

What experiences have you had in forming partnerships with others to promote social and emotional learning (SEL)?  How have you used art to extend learning about SEL? Did these great projects give you any new ideas?