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The Preview: Education

Strong Kids: An easy way to integrate social and emotional learning into your curriculum

book cover

Use this example from the Clear Thinking chapter of the Strong Teens* curriculum to help your students identify these
6 common thinking errors and learn to reframe their thoughts positively

Michael Juskelis is a school psychologist in Illinois who first used the Strong Kids program with a group of high school students who could not function in the general education classroom without academic or behavioral support. The students had been identified as having severe emotional disturbance.

In a self-assessment at the outset of the 12-week program, the students gave themselves very low emotional ratings. As with each of the curricula in the Strong Kids series—Grades K–2, 3–5, 6–8, and 9–12—the first two lessons focused on developing an emotional vocabulary.

"I was really surprised by the poverty of their vocabulary," Juskelis notes. "It was just not the range you would hope for." The students had trouble, for example, comprehending "surprise" as something that could be both good and bad.

At the beginning, Juskelis prompted the kids to brainstorm words for simple emotions such as happy or sad. The most the class seemed able to come up with were about 15 words, and of those, many were angry words. And so, he began the Strong Kids program designed for high school students—one largely scripted 45-minute lesson each week for 12 weeks.

For the students

For the students, the program gave them the opportunity to stop and think about their reactions to situations—something many had had little practice in. By offering negative and positive alternatives for common scenarios they might encounter, the program reveals the power they have to alter the outcome of a situation by altering their reaction.

The program teaches the students to check themselves for six common thinking errors:

Binocular vision: Looking at things in a way that makes them seem bigger or smaller than they really are. (You're invited to a beach party. It will be a lot of fun, but you don't know how to swim or don't want to have to wear a bathing suit, and that is all you can think of.)

Black-and-white thinking: Looking at things in only extreme or opposite ways; thinking of a thing as being good or bad, never or always, all or none, friend or enemy. (If my girlfriend wants to break up, then she must hate me. There is no other explanation.)

Dark glasses: Thinking about only the negative parts of things. (I messed up on a major school project, so now my whole day is ruined.)

Fortune-telling: Making predictions about what will happen in the future without enough evidence. (Natalie is not going to like the present I got for her.)

Making it personal: Blaming yourself for things that are not your fault. (If I had stopped the dog and played with him, he wouldn't have been hit by the bicycle.)

Blame game: Blaming others for things that you should take responsibility for. (You blame the teacher for a bad grade when you didn't study for the test.)

As the students provide examples from their own experience, the instructor helps them weigh whether their thinking is reasonable and then guides them in reframing their negative thoughts in a more constructive way. The students get plenty of practice and interaction during the lessons to test out their new skills.

Strong Kids also offers explicit procedures students can follow to help them manage stress, resolve conflict, and set goals. Ultimately, it reinforces the notion that they have more control than they might have thought over the circumstances they find themselves in.

When Mr. Juskelis's high school class re-took the self-assessment at the conclusion of the Strong Teens program, they gave themselves significantly higher emotional marks.

For the instructors

Strong Kids has much to offer from the instructor's point of view. "What I like about the program," Juskelis says, "is how it's scripted; it's there. I don't have to become a full expert in it." Because the lessons are carefully laid out, "it's the old, teacher-read-one-chapter-ahead concept."

And you don't have to be a school psychologist to provide the lessons. The Strong Kids series was developed and field-tested by psychologists, so teachers without any special training can trust that the lessons are well-grounded in research and effective in developing children's social and emotional skills.

For school psychologists, Michael Juskelis points out that Strong Kids is an opportunity to get back to why they got into the field to begin with: To help kids! So many school psychologists have been locked into the tester/gatekeeper role, but he sees that role as changing—and he finds Strong Kids an easy way to return to work with students.

Strong Kids is not just meant for students with severe social and emotional issues. In fact, it is designed primarily as a tool for building a strong base of social and emotional learning for all children. Each curriculum in the series is keyed to one of the four different developmental stages: early elementary, older elementary, middle school, and high school.

By providing classwide social and emotional training at key stages, Strong Kids aims to reduce the need for more extensive intervention down the line. (Though some students will certainly require individualized attention beyond the scope of Strong Kids. Juskelis likes to use a tailor analogy to illustrate this point: Not everybody can wear something off the rack; some need a custom-fit.)

Since that first class of high school students, Juskelis has used the Strong Kids curriculum in typical 5th- and 7th-grade classrooms as well. A pre- and post-assessment available at lead developer Kenneth Merrell's web site ( demonstrated a significant increase in these groups of students' knowledge of social and emotional skills.

Strong Kids is a low-cost, evidence-based program that will help students develop the ability to recognize and manage their emotions and relationships with others. As Michael Juskelis points out, "It's an effective program that doesn't really require a lot of knowledge and effort, and ... it works!"

Take a peek at the free excerpt above to see how easy it is to incorporate Strong Kids into your curriculum.

Scripted lessons for social and emotional learning...

book coverStrong Teens—Grades 9–12: A Social and Emotional Learning Curriculum

book coverStrong Kids—Grades 3–5: A Social and Emotional Learning Curriculum


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