Compositive: Whole Heart education the Anansi way

Alan Gottlieb, Compositive Staff

In her 24 years running Anansi Charter School, Michele Hunt has refined a highly effective approach to Whole Heart education by combining the best features of a variety of programs.

Hunt decided to focus on social-emotional learning at Anansi because in the school’s early days a significant segment of her student population came from non-traditional, “off-the-grid” families.

“There were some kids from very alternative lifestyle families, and some of them didn’t understand how to make good choices, how to express their feelings. They were coming from places of trauma and stress, so we needed to create an environment where we could teach social-emotional skills as a preventative model” before serious mental health issues developed, Hunt said.

Students, she found, had undiagnosed learning disabilities, and challenges with executive functioning. As the school focused increasing on social emotional learning, behavioral issues evaporated, Hunt said.

Over the years, this approach has worked for all but 1 or 2 percent of Anansi students.

One of the first resources Hunt used was Daniel Goleman’s “Six Seconds” work on social emotional learning as it relates to attention.

At a high level, Hunt explained, the program teaches people to pause for six seconds to process before engaging, especially in emotionally fraught situations.

Here’s one exercise the school uses to teach kids why this is important. Student are handed a small, travel-sized tube of toothpaste. They’re told to squeeze as much toothpaste out of the tube as fast as possible. Then they’re given a toothpick and told to use it to put the paste back in the tube. After a couple of minutes, the message becomes clear.

“The lesson is that when you’re angry or upset, the words can flow out of you like that toothpaste, with very little effort,” Hunt said. “But once they’re out there, they aren’t so easy to put back.”

Other resources Anansi uses include:

Caring School Community, which focuses on cross-age relationships among students, as well as developing classroom norms. It also features a “Homeside Activity” component for parents and children to explore together. Parents of younger students lead these activities, but beginning at fourth grade, the students are in charge and the parents participate.

MindUP curriculum helps teach students to better understand the workings of the brain and its impact on mood and emotions. Lessons offer strategies for helping students focus their attention, improve their self-regulation skills, build resilience to stress, and develop a positive mind-set in both school and life.

Love and Logic is a training program for parents, which Hunt teaches each year. It is designed to help parents raise responsible kids using loving discipline techniques.

The Heartwood Ethics Literacy Curriculum is a multicultural, literature-based curriculum that uses classic children's stories from around the world to present universal values to elementary children in grades 3 and 6. It is designed to foster moral literacy and ethical judgment by exposing the children to seven core attributes.


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