1st Grade Crew // Data-Driven Social-Emotional Instruction


As an expeditionary learning school, we know that social-emotional learning is just as important for our students’ development as academic learning. That’s why we use a data-driven approach to social-emotional learning-- collecting qualitative and quantitative data about where students are at so we can authentically build upon their strengths and address growth areas.

Qualitative Methods
Throughout  the day, students are constantly reflecting about their progress in each of our six habits of character (integrity, cooperation, compassion, responsibility, curiosity & creativity, and perseverance), as well as the habits of character of their crewmates and teachers. We give students opportunities after each activity to share, “What habits of character did you use to play that game?”; “What habits of character did you notice someone else use?”. Each day during closing crew, students give specific appreciations for themselves and others, reflecting on their own successes in social-emotional growth.

Quantitative Methods
As a school, we reviewed our Bele Survey Data. Students take Bele surveys in the Fall, Winter, and Summer, indicating their level confidence in their social-emotional learning, as well as the social-emotional climate of their crew and school community. For example, students are asked to rate their feelings on a scale of 1-3, indicating how much “I feel like I belong in my crew,” or “Everyone in my crew treats me with respect.” We map this data over time, pulling out trends both within individual crews and across our school community.

Instruction and Curriculum
We use a combination of these qualitative and quantitative methods to inform our curriculum in order to design crew lessons that meet the individual needs of our unique crews.

After reviewing my Winter Bele Survey Data, I noticed that many students indicated that “I care about others in my crew” but tended to rate “I feel like I belong in my crew” lower. Given this, as well as qualitative data from students who reflected on cooperation as a growth during Crew, I decided to write a Crew Unit plan about identity. As my friend and colleague Ms. Lauren put it, “Students can’t ask others to respect who they are until they know and can articulate who they are and what’s important to them.” So, to build a sense of belonging in my crew, I started writing lessons that address the basics-- “Who am I? What is important for others to know about me?”. I went on a bit of an Amazon shopping spree and found a wealth of texts for primary students that help students discover their own sense of identity-- from race and gender to religion and culture. (I highly recommend Who Are You: A Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity by Brook Pessin-Whedbee). Once students develop a foundational sense of identity, they will tackle the culminating question: “What do I need from others to feel safe, supported, and successful?”. Ultimately, I hope that knowing who they are and how to stand up for their own identity, as well as knowing others and knowing what’s important for their crewmates will increase a sense of belonging in my crew-- and teach skills for life after first grade!

By using data-informed methods of instruction for social-emotional learning, we can authentically address student needs and build upon strengths in our school community.

Crew // Starting Our Week Off Right!

Imagine if you could begin your Monday with all of your coworkers greeting you, sharing about their weekends and goals for the week ahead, playing and laughing together, and also taking a moment for mindfulness.  Now imagine every Friday, you do that same thing to close out your week. Think about the impact that would have on your week and the culture of your company. That’s what we do at Detroit Prep!  

After breakfast on Monday (and again on Friday afternoons), we all sit down together in our cozy space and...

  •  We all greet each crew with songs and chants.  Ms. Jen, our Head of School, and our light leaders [students who consistently model our Habits of Character] introduce our Detroit Prep crew to our greeting.  Greetings make everyone feel welcome and included.

  • We all think about and share ideas.  Our shares are related to students’ Habit of Character learning targets [ex: How will you leave a space at Detroit Prep better than you found it this week?], an upcoming event [ex: What are you doing to prepare for Student Led Conferences?], or a reflection on a previous event [ex: What was your favorite part of Celebration of Learning? Why?].  Sharing allows the community to make connections with each other.

  • We all play and laugh with an initiative. This is by far my favorite part.  The community gets a chance get out some wiggles [move our bodies] and use curiosity and creativity to play.  Some of our crew favorites include Freeze Dance, Good Morning, Your Majesty and Poison Ball. Playing and laughing relieves stress.  It also gives students an opportunity to work on and build social and emotional strength.

Crew is more than just a fun way to begin and end our weeks together.  There are many benefits to committing to community crew twice a week. One of the most important is that it gives us an opportunity to build a strong school culture.  It creates a safe space where students voices are heard and lifted up. And, it promotes a sense of belonging for everyone involved. At Detroit Prep, We Are Crew!

Kindergarten // Fostering Habits of Character Throughout the Day

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At Detroit Prep, character development is a key part of our vision. We have six habits of character(HOC) that guide our work: compassion, cooperation, integrity, responsibility, perseverance and curiosity & creativity. Each year before school starts, our staff reviews and revises our HOC continuum; this continuum defines what each habit should look, sound and feel like at each grade level. In Kindergarten, for example, we break down compassion into the following key behaviors:

  • I am kind to others.

  • I help others when asked.

  • I use my words and actions help others feel better.

  • I say thank you.

Once we have a shared vision of the key indicators of each HOC, we, as teachers, begin to plan structures and routines that will help our students learn and live these HOC. In this post, I want to give you a glimpse of how my Kindergarten crew interacts with the HOC each week.

On Monday morning, in crew time, we introduce our crew HOC goal for the week and specific learning target. This is something we need to work on together for the week and will practice each day. We might, for example, focus on compassion and specifically “I can use kind words.” We also use our HOC chart in our room and clothespins with our names to each select an additional HOC goal for the week. Before we clip our name to the chart, we talk to a friend and explain why we chose our goal. At this point you might overhear a Kindergartener saying something like “I chose responsibility, because I need to work on taking care of our materials.”

The remainder of the week we will focus our time in morning crew on our shared HOC focus. As the crew leader, I choose this HOC focus for us based on daily observations and the BELE survey (a social-emotional survey we give our students 3 times a year). To practice our HOC focus, we might play games, read books or have discussions. In a week where we are focusing on compassion and the use of kind words, we might read Kevin Henkes Chrysanthemum and discuss how unkind words affect others. We might also play a game where we can practice cheering on others with kind words.

On Friday, we take time in morning crew to reflect on our HOC focus with writing and drawing. Depending on the week this might be a student’s individual HOC goal they clipped to at the beginning of the week or the crew’s collective goal we worked on. On their reflection sheet students indicate what HOC they were working on and give themselves a star (something they did well) and a step (something they can work on more) for this HOC.

Embedding social-emotional learning into each week and each day is a key part of our philosophy at Detroit Prep. Having specific habits of character across our school and rituals and routines in our classroom help us continually strive to improve our social skills and prepare us to be engaged and ethical future citizens.

Art // Brain Breaks

We’ve come a long way in education from sitting still in class and memorizing from a textbook. As teaching and schools grow into the 21st century, we are searching to find and implement meaningful and thoughtful procedures, teaching strategies and more to support all of our students. One thing that all children need is to move. Over time it’s become standard practice to have the kids move more frequently throughout the day. As the 2017 New York Times article, Why Kids Shouldn’t Sit Still in Class, states “Adults aren’t wired to sit down and retain information all day--neither are kids.” That’s where Brain Breaks come in.

Brain Breaks are a wonderful and simple! The concept is that following a rigorous lesson or during natural small breaks during the school day, students have a movement break. It can be as high tech as following a video brain break which can be found on Youtube, with a simple Google search or there are a variety of videos to be found on GoNoodle.com. My personal favorites are the various Moose songs from GoNoodle.com. I urge you to try watching Purple Stew without dancing or singing a long. The students love it and I often find myself singing the tune on the way home. 

Brain breaks don’t have to be high tech, though. They can be as simple as having a wiggle break for 30 seconds when students need a quick breather. Those thirty seconds or two minutes or three are part of my classes almost daily. They bring the students joy. They give them a quick break to let loose and play. And when they start their work again, the kids are excited and ready to get back to creating art.

1st Grade Crew // Field Study Fanatics! 

One of the most exciting and engaging parts of our EL curriculum is the incorporation of Field Studies into our everyday learning. Field Studies at Detroit Prep have a clear purpose that enriches the work of our module topics while allowing students to be researchers, scientists, and authors. First graders second module topic of the year was all about The Sun, Moon, and Stars! To launch this module and to build students’ curiosity and enthusiasm about this topic, we took a trip for our first field study of the year to Cranbrook Institute of Science.  

As a school we really want to focus on bringing authenticity to the forefront of student learning, and that is exactly what this field study did! Students were able to hear from experts, explore many exhibits about space and view a presentation in the planetarium about the nighttime sky and constellations. They were given opportunities to brainstorm, while recording observations, wonderings, and information. Our visit to this local museum directly connected our academic content to a specific purpose in the outside world. 

Later in the year, we moved on to our next module topic- BIRDS! We studied and become experts on birds through the end of the year. With such a long period of time, students were given the chance to dive deep in this content and go on more exciting field studies. First, we directly connected what we were learning in the classroom by observing local birds in their natural habitat and understanding different ways we can take care of birds. The experience of going on field study to gather information while building background knowledge is empowering and thought-provoking. Students put their knowledge to the test by “showing off” what they learned about birds by creating a high quality final product at the end of the year. We are so excited to continue to watch our 1st grade researchers in action!

The Importance of Summer Learning!


School is officially out and we know teachers and students alike are looking forward to at least a few days of watching Netflix, taking naps, and relaxing in the sun. Relaxation and rejuvenation is a huge benefit of summer vacation for students and staff. How do we know when we’ve had too much relaxation and not enough education? How do we prevent our students from experiencing the “summer slide” of learning loss? 

Here are a few suggestions for keeping your kids learning this summer, and ways you can incorporate a little education each day to keep minds sharp!

  1. Purchase a summer workbook. I grew up using “Summer Bridge Activities” (linked here). My mom wouldn’t let me do anything fun (no pool, no tv, no joy) until I completed the daily workbook activity. I’m not saying you should be this strict, but having a routine of quick, daily academic activities can keep your student on track through the summer. 

  2. Pick a new skill relevant to the next grade level. Maybe you plan to learn a different set of multiplication facts each week of summer? Maybe you want to start learning greek and latin roots? Take 20 minutes each day to practice flash cards, play related computer games, or read and write together. 

  3. Enroll in a camp or class. The Detroit area is home to many free, low-cost and quality programs for students. We just had our Summer Activities Fair and have tons of information to connect you to some amazing partners in the area. Feel free to email us for more details.

  4. Sign up for Pinterest. One of my favorite things to do is to go on Pinterest.com and type “free teacher activities grade ____” and click away until I fall down the rabbit hole. There are so many ideas for teachers that could easily become great summer activities for families. Choose your favorite and make a day of it!

  5. Talk to a teacher. Many teachers would love to spend time in the summer tutoring or coaching students academically. Don’t hesitate to ask if your teacher is interested, or if they know of good tutors in the area.

  6. Hang out with each other. This is a no-brainer. The more kids are talking, creating, playing and interacting, the more their brain is exercising. Hang out with your friends and have all the kids play.

Enjoy the summer! A little education, a little relaxation. Find what works for you and run with it!

Social Work // An Introduction to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

When students are referred to me for behavioral or social / emotional support one of the most common tools I will use is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT has been proven to be successful in treating students suffering from anxiety, depression, lack of assertiveness, poor diet, specific phobias, grief / bereavement and many other common problems for children.

CBT is different from traditional “talk therapy” because it does more than offer advice to the client; it builds skills. A key component to CBT is it is a collaborative process in which the students are asked to test their learning or understanding of the skills in the real world.

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The basics of CBT is teaching how feelings, thoughts and behavior influence each other. By working on recognizing their thoughts, and challenging unhealthy or problematic thoughts, students are able to better their emotional state and improve behaviors.

Through the collaboratively setting goals and outlining agendas students have an opportunity to identify cognitive distortions, maladaptive thoughts and beliefs. After they have identified these pitfalls, we work to put them on trail, challenging the way the student thinks. We activate positive behaviors and see behavioral change.

CBT is just one tool that can be utilized when students receive extra social-emotional or behavioral support. It is proven effective and holds students to a high standard of being in charge of their change.

3rd Grade Crew // Social Emotional Needs

Education at Detroit Prep is not only about academics, but includes non-academic developmental skills all children need. As children grow, it is crucial to integrate social and emotional learning skills like self-awareness, decision making, self-management, and social awareness.


In the 3rd grade crew room, there are several ways students work through their social and emotional needs. As you watch our 3rd grade friends arrive in the morning, you will observe them putting their belongings away in their cubbies, turning in their communication folder, and checking in. Crew members move their magnet to one of the four zones of regulation: green, yellow, red, and blue. This gives me, their crew leader, a quick glimpse into their emotions as they join crew. While most friends start the day feeling happy and ready to learn, we sometimes have friends who have different needs for the morning. During our morning crew, I make it a point to greet any students outside of green during our greeting.

Just like adults, children experience a multitude of emotions throughout their day. As we transition in and out of our crew room from specials, lunch, and recess, crew members are also able to change their zone of regulation. This gives me an update on how they are feeling and allows me to check-in after their time away from me. 


Another way crew members can address their social and emotional needs is by visiting our crew room Calm Down Corner. Crew members are encouraged to visit this space when they feel frustrated, overwhelmed, angry, or experience other strong emotions. This space gives them 5 minutes to calm-down or remove themselves from an unfavored situation. Friends can sit and read a book, play with a fidget, write, or color. Once their five minutes are up, they can return to their activity with a clear mind.

These small steps can help crew members in any room learn about their social and emotional well-being. They take no extra time out of the day and put the choice in the child’s hands. By visiting the calm-down corner, crew members are practicing self-management and decision making. Checking in through zones of regulation are a step in self-awareness and encourages positive relationships between crew members and leaders.

Calm Down Corner Book Suggestions:

Be Kind //Teal // Even Superheroes Have Bad Days // Mindful Me: Mindfulness and Meditation for Kids

My Magic Breath // Eraser // I Am Peace // Mixed // Allie All Along // Zen Ties

Kindergarten Crew // Diversity and Inclusion


As educators, we hope to create safe spaces for all of our students.  In order to create safe spaces for children, we strive to incorporate culturally responsive teaching in our classrooms.  Culturally responsive teaching is a way to teach in a cross-cultural or multicultural setting in which teachers give students opportunities to relate content being learned to their own cultural context. The main goal of culturally responsive teaching is to help students grow their ability to show respect and empathy towards the diverse group of people they will encounter throughout their lives.  From weekly crew units on diversity and inclusion to the simple routines in the classroom, DP strives to continue to grow and improve our culturally responsive practices. Some examples of steps towards culturally responsive teaching in our classrooms and school include:

  • Providing students with opportunities to share about their home lives, families, beliefs and traditions

  • Sharing family holiday traditions

  • Teachings students about multicultural role models

  • Representing people from different cultural backgrounds through photographs, books, and stories

  • Community meetings

  • Welcoming diverse groups of guests to come and speak to students and families at school

  • Providing students with opportunities to go on field studies to have culturally diverse experiences (plays, museums, speakers)

  • Teaching students to not only respect the culture and heritage of others, but their own culture and heritage as well

  • Exposing students to diverse positive role models in our community and other communities as well

Ensuring a culturally responsive approach creates opportunities for students to explore, ask questions, and learn about subjects of race, class, gender, and ability in a safe space. If you would like support on ways to talk to your child about diversity and inclusion, please reach out to your child’s crew leader for more awesome ideas and resources on how to get the conversation started!

Social Work // Guided Meditation

Guided meditation can help mitigate stress and anxiety, improv focus, and increase self-esteem. Facilitating a guided meditation begins with providing a tranquil space.

The school social work office includes soft-lighting, comfortable seating, and lavender aromatherapy. In the background I play calming audio such as rainforest sounds, ocean waves, or gentle acoustics.  

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The school social work office includes soft-lighting, comfortable seating, and lavender aromatherapy. In the background I play calming audio such as rainforest sounds, ocean waves, or gentle acoustics.  

Students are instructed to sit or lie down in a comfortable spot. We spend one minute breathing deeply. With each breath, students are asked to picture a balloon filling up with air as they breathe in and deflate as thy exhale. I guide students through their meditative experience by asking them to envision their stress and imagine it floating away. Guided meditation can be facilitated via online audio clips or facilitator script:

Think about a moment in your day when you experienced a difficult emotion. Maybe this was this morning when you were on the way to school or this afternoon at recess. Maybe you were feeling sad, or lonesome or maybe you were feeling anger toward someone. Take a deep breath in, and blow that negative feeling into your balloon. Fill that balloon big as you can….one more time...blow out all that sadness, and all that lonesomeness. Now, tie the end of your balloon nice and tight. Hold your balloon with two hands, now gently throw it up in the air...then watch it come back down into your hands. Throw your balloon into the air nice and strong now... watch as the wind catches it and it floats up and up into the sun….watch it as if floats away...far, far away.        

At the end of each session, students are asked to notice how they feel. The sense of tranquility and calm is something they can carry with them throughout their day.  Guided meditations can be done at home