Social and Emotional Learning Soars in this Nashville School

How One Teacher is Making His Mark Through Music

by Kristin Clark Taylor

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When’s the last time you snapped a selfie? Last week? Yesterday? This morning?

And if you’ve never taken a selfie, you certainly must know what one is, right?

Not necessarily…

There’s an innovative elementary school teacher, Tad Sekeres, in Nashville, Tennessee, who’s come up with his own new definition of the word (only he spells it, “SEL-PHY”) and Tad’s version is way, way more exciting than the traditional definition.

Tad’s definition doesn’t involve awkward poses or forced smiles or “selfie” sticks. His version involves learning, interaction, creativity, and engagement. 

Consider this:

Sekeres taught physical education at Nashville’s Eakin Elementary for four years until the school principal challenged him with an exciting new task: to weave his background in P.E. into the larger fabric of a groundbreaking new focus on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL).

Now a “related arts” teacher, Tad is excited about the school’s fresh, new emphasis on social and emotional learning. His “stand-alone SEL classroom,” as he refers to it, provides the perfect opportunity to teach his young students a wide array of SEL skills in a way that no other curriculum can.

One way he does this is through music.

His enthusiasm for this innovative, new teaching model shines as brightly as the sun. You can hear it in his voice!

“I like to call the program ‘SEL-PHY,'” he explains, “Because it combines the essential elements of SEL with my background in Physical Education.

Quaver’s New SEL Curriculum: “The Perfect Vehicle!” 

Tad’s overall goal, he says, is to teach the students in his classroom the value of teamwork, creativity, compassion and positive communication — the
basic components of a Social and Emotional Learning rubric developed by the Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) – and he uses music, movement, and elements of physical education to accomplish this goal.

Quaver’s curriculum, he says, is “the perfect vehicle” to teach his young students (primarily kindergarten and 1st grade) valuable lessons about kindness, respect, and how to identify and manage their emotions, using music and interactive lessons to get the job done in a way that no other curriculum can.

“What I like about the Quaver’s SEL curriculum,” he explains, “is that I can use as much or as little of it as I need to on any given day. “It’s very user-friendly, and I can customize the lessons in whatever way works best for me.”

Tad uses Quaver’s “Prepare Your Body” to get his class moving and ready for the day

Humming in the Hallway

Sure, Sekeres obviously loves the curriculum, but he’s eager to make another important point:

“The kids love it, too!” he says happily.

“Even though this is a new focus for our school, I still see my students picking up the terminology and recognizing some of these important SEL themes – kindness, compassion, teamwork – and Quaver’s curriculum really helps reinforce these themes.

I recently heard some of my kids singing some of these SEL songs outside of my classroom, and I said to myself, ‘Hey! Wait a minute! I know that song!’”

“What really made me happy was hearing them sing the songs outside of the classroom, because it tells me that they’re carrying these themes with them once they leave my class!

And Sekeres says his students definitely have their favorite songs:

“We Should be Friends,” — with the dog and the cat – that’s one of their favorites, for sure! It’s very hip-hoppy and really catchy.”

Find “We Should Be Friends” in the SELMusic Library!

He ticks off a few others:

“’We are Working as a Team’” is another great song because it’s so simple and has such a positive message – and the fact that it’s set to ‘London Bridge Is Falling Down’ makes it immediately familiar to my students, which makes it even easier for them to pick up.”

Find “We Are Working as a Team” in the SELMusic Library!

“Positive Mindset” is one that we’re working on this week,” Tad says. “It’s got a lot of great harmonies.”

Find “Positive Mindset” in the SELMusic Library

Cross-Over is Critical

To Sekeres, the cross-over appeal of these new SEL songs is an important teaching tool:

“Because the students really enjoy the songs, they’re excited to take the message beyond our classroom. And when these lessons are spread throughout
the building,” he explains, “the direct result will eventually be the reduction of conflicts and an environment that is kind and cooperative.”

Fortunately, Eakin’s music teacher also uses QuaverMusic, which is extremely helpful because it provides an important sense of continuity from class to class,
Tad points out, “Which makes the overall lessons more engaging, right from the get-go!”

This “double-dose” approach – where the students enjoy the benefits of the Quaver curriculum in both the stand-alone SEL classroom and in the music classroom – gives young people (and their teachers) a head-start AND a leg up in their social and emotional development.

Sekeres is quick to point out that this fresh, new focus can be beneficial not just to the students, but to the adults as well! Teachers stand to learn as many vital new lessons about social and emotional growth as their students – a win-win for everyone involved!

Ease of use is an important aspect of the new curriculum, he says. “These SEL lessons are valuable to the teacher who is completely new to the curriculum as it is to the teacher who’s very familiar with the material, which really makes a big difference.”

Home-Town Home Run! 

Sekeres is excited about the home-town connection, too: “I know that Quaver’s SEL curriculum is being used some in Miami and other areas, but it’s exciting to work with the curriculum right here in Nashville, because Quaver is right here in our home town!

The right-in-your-backyard benefit is huge, he says. “It’s really cool to be part of such an exciting new project!”

Sekeres is as enthusiastic about learning as he is about teaching:

“I know that I’ll continue learn a whole lot more about the curriculum as I spend more time with it and become more familiar with all of the lessons, and I
can’t wait to put it all into use!”

So next time you take a “selfie,” don’t think about that forced smile or that awkward pose.

Think about those kindergartner who are using music as the tool to learn about kindness, compassion and respect!

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Kristin Clark Taylor is an award-winning author and journalist. 

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