At SINAI’s Maor High School at the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, an important part of our students’ growth is in the social/emotional domain. While our Maor students focus most of their day on academics covering a college preparatory high school curriculum, they benefit significantly from our social skills program that addresses their challenges in navigating social interactions appropriately and effectively. Both Mrs. Pesha New and I use our training as social workers to implement Maor’s social skills curriculum in group and individual settings. In addition, we work with our staff as a whole to generalize the social skills that we work on directly with the students into the classroom and to apply the principles to real-life interactions in school. We both teach and model the social skills that we target, and our teachers use the social thinking vocabulary during “teachable moments” to help our students understand and apply the skills in real time.
We use the “Social Thinking” framework of Michelle Garcia-Winner for our social skills curriculum, and our social goals, which are articulated in each student’s individual Comprehensive Student Plan, or CSP, fall into four categories: conversation skills, friendship management, emotional regulation, and conflict management. Mrs. New and I have attended training workshops in social thinking, which involves considering one’s own thoughts, as well as the thoughts, emotions, beliefs, intentions, and knowledge of others, in order to improve interactions with others. We aim to help our students think about the social situations they are in, to look for social clues and cues, and to use that information, along with the perspectives of others, to figure out what behavior is expected in a given situation, as well as what behavior will be more likely to achieve the student’s own goals.
Mrs. New shares regular updates with Maor parents so that the social skills that we are targeting in school can also be modeled and practiced at home. Some examples of the social skills work that our students are currently engaged in include perspective taking, which involves thinking about what we say and do that makes others want to be our friends and the verbal and non-verbal messages that we send; the social implications of honesty and lying; appropriate and effective ways to control anger and frustration; motivating ourselves to complete tasks that we may not want to do; and problem-solving skills.
Our social skills work emphasizes that “thinking social” applies at all times, and we work to generalize social skills to the classroom, to other school interactions, and to the home as well. Our students receive explicit instruction on social expectations, and we use the vocabulary of social thinking consistently during the school day to facilitate the social learning process. We teach our students to “think social” by helping them think through real time situations to look for cues and clues (taking perspective); to problem-solve and develop rules for expected behaviors; and to understand the “why” of social rules, which facilitates internalization as well as generalization of social skills. It is gratifying to see our students grow socially as they use the new skills that they acquire in various settings.