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Deedee Wills - Mrs. Wills Kindergarten

Social-Emotional Learning in Kindergarten with Elizabeth Coller

Deedee and Adam discuss social-emotional learning with Elizabeth Coller.  Elizabeth is a kindergarten teacher in California and teaches in a Montessori-inspired charter school that emphasizes the importance of social-emotional learning from elementary school to high school.
Elizabeth shares some classroom environment strategies that will change the way you approach classroom management and building classroom community.  Through teaching, practice, lessons, and modeling the classroom becomes student-led with peer-to-peer accountability.  This frees up instructional time so the teacher can then focus on instruction and the curriculum.  Come and get inspired by what you hear!

About Elizabeth

You can find Elizabeth Coller on:

Social-Emotional Learning Podcast Transcripts

Adam Peterson  0:13 

Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. I’m Adam Peterson.


Deedee Wills  0:16 

Hi, I’m Deedee Wills.


Adam Peterson  0:18 

This is like the first time in a long time that Deedee and I are together with a guest today, it’s either been like you with a guest or you and I together and I just disappear for a while. But uh, we have a good friend of ours on did you want to introduce her?


Deedee Wills  0:30 

Yeah, so um Elizabeth Coller here from Kinderhearted classroom. She’s been my partner in crime over so many different resources and projects. And she’s just such an effervescent soul on Instagram, and YouTube as well. So that’s where you’ll often find her. But I have been noticing a ton of content. She’s been talking about social-emotional learning. And I know that for a lot of classrooms right now, that is a huge subject that needs to be addressed. A big need. And so when we were thinking about who do we want for the first part of this, about 2022. I mean, instantly, my mind went to my good friend, Elizabeth Coller. So hello, good morning.


Elizabeth Coller  1:20 

Good morning. Thanks for having me on guys. What a blessing. I’ve I know Deedee very well, Adam Peterson, we’ve met in the past. And I am so thankful and so excited to be here with you.


Adam Peterson  1:30 

Hey, we’re thankful. We’re just thankful that you are so excited too. We got to say, Elizabeth is on Christmas break right now it is 6 am, California time where she is. So I don’t know if she’s either crazy or a true teacher. But she is awake at 6 am recording the podcast.


Elizabeth Coller  1:48 

Any excuse to hang out with you guys and talk about important stuff. So thank you guys for having me on. Yeah, social-emotional learning has been definitely a journey this year that we have embarked on in a new way because our classroom, and I’m in a new classroom. So I’m teaching, I’m in kindergarten, but I’m teaching at a different school and a school that really embraces the ethos of a hero’s journey. And so we do things a little bit different at school. And so it’s been really fun, and I can’t wait to share with you guys. Kind of what we do. Do you want to just go ahead and jump in?


Adam Peterson  2:26 

Can you talk though, because I want people to know-how, like well rounded and adaptable you are? Because when I first met you, I think over a phone call. We were talking about products for websites. You weren’t in a true classroom. Right. You were teaching completely virtually?


Elizabeth Coller  2:41 

Yeah, I think that’s right. Because over the pandemic, I think that’s when we met so yeah, I’ll give you Yeah, I’ll just share my history a little bit. So I taught in my 13th year in the classroom. I actually started way back in the day in high school teaching computer classes in journalism, and photojournalism, and doing the yearbook. And after two years of that, I actually was like, You know what I don’t think teaching is for me. I don’t think high school is for me. So I ended up resigning for a year. And then I went back to school, and I got into photography and was a wedding and like, family portrait photographer and videographer for about a year I loved that. And then I had my own kids. And my friend came over and she looked in my backyard and she’s like, your backyard is set up like a Montessori school. Are you sure you don’t want to go back to school and teach, you know, elementary, maybe you were just in the wrong niche? And I was like, oh, okay, well, yeah, I’ll try it. So I went back and got my elementary education degree and, and then went back to primary and stayed there forever and loved it. So I went, I kept I like, started in third and fourth, and then went down to first and second, and then landed in kindergarten. It was like, Okay, this is this is my job. For My People. Yeah. Um, and so I taught at a private school for 10 years. And then I taught at, I taught online for a year through that school because of COVID. And then at a mission-based school for a year, online, which was really incredible. That was such a unique experience.


Elizabeth Coller  4:18 

And then this year, I’m at Acton Academy here in Sacramento. And it’s a Montessori-inspired School, which is different than what I’m used to. So I’m learning right along with them. And it’s just, it’s just been a really unique journey. And then I started my Teachers Pay teacher’s business about seven years ago. At my little kitchen table, I put the kids down and start creating resources actually started with creating Bible lessons for little learners. And then I kind of expanded and then I met Deedee, and she and I started partnering on some stuff. And so it’s just been quite a journey. And just so fun. And I started my YouTube channel a few years ago, about five years ago, and then Instagram, and I’ve been just so blessed to be able to partner with some amazing companies. And so it’s just been, it’s just been really cool just to be totally submersed in the, you know, in education in every way. And so I get to talk, really awesome, talented people like you guys, and also stay relevant by seeing in the classroom. And so. So yeah, that’s kind of my journey now. And that Acton Academy, and I had contacted the administrator over a year ago, and I just said, Hey, I’ve been teaching virtually for the last two years. And while I’m still thankful to be teaching online, you know, just having a job. I’ve really missed the kids, I missed the interaction. And so anyway, so I was able to get hired on through a school locally because I relocated, and so it’s just been amazing in the school is honestly incredible. The community is amazing. And they do this thing, where they create studio contracts. Have you guys heard of this? Have you heard it?


Adam Peterson  6:09 



Elizabeth Coller  6:10 

Oh, okay. Oh my gosh, okay. So a lot. And this totally ties into what we’re going be talking about today, which is social-emotional learning, because they push a lot of ownership onto the, we call them heroes. So because our everything that we do at the school is based on the hero’s journey, and just basically unlocking the potential in each student. So we create this thing called a studio contract where we, in the beginning of the year, I sit down with my little guys, and I mean, they’re like, you know, they’re itty bitty. And there’s a lot I ask a lot of questions. But we come up with our classroom rules. And it’s a fluid contract, so we can add to it or take away from it or change it whenever we want to. And so that whole first session, we basically come up with our rules as a classroom. So what we’ve come up with, has been, and they’re basically like umbrella rules, so then everything in the classroom falls underneath those rules. So for example, I will not distract is one of our rules. And so if we’re at the carpet, and it’s carpet time, instead of me calling out the student and saying, Hey, that’s a distraction, the heroes call each other out, and they’ll say, hey, that’s distracting me, can you please stop doing that. And then we have a rule where it’s like, if you have been asked three times, to stop doing something that breaks the studio contracts, and you have to go pull a hero buck. So it’s like our card system. But it’s, it’s the coolest process because it really pushes the ownership on the students.


And it alleviates so much of my work like I can, I can trust a student and I a lot of times I and it’s hard in the beginning because you have to establish that and then a lot of times the students look to you immediately, like if somebody is doing something wrong, you know, all the little heads turn to you. And, and, and at this point in the year like I can kind of fade into the background. And the heroes call each other out. So if they’re being a distraction, or disrespectful, another one of our rules is I will respect our studio building Park and everyone in it. And so they just kind of roll with those guidelines, and we call them in the beginning guardrails. But then after, because it’s a year-round school that I teach up. So we do like seven weeks on and then a couple of weeks off, and then eight weeks on and a couple weeks off. And so every session, the students, you know, have a pick a different theme for this session. So we have a different focus and stuff. But that first session, we come up with our rules or guardrails, we write them down on a contract. And then we have this literal-like ceremony. It’s so precious at the end of the session where we all sign the contract and basically make a promise to each other. And it is the neatest thing, it’s honestly, I’ve never done it this way before I’ve done like,


Elizabeth Coller  9:03 

I’ve done like Deedee and I actually have that token economy. And you know that we created in that. So we use that in this in the classroom this year. And every time somebody does what we call a shout-out at the end of the day. So we have a time at the very end of the day, where we have an opportunity to shout somebody out and give somebody an accolade for what they’re doing. And that’s all part of the social-emotional learning too, is becoming socially aware, right.


Adam Peterson  9:29  

That’s Cool.


Elizabeth Coller  9:29 

And I work within that castle five framework. So you know, building self-awareness, social awareness, responsible decision making, and you know, and so at the end of the day, we have an opportunity to give other people shout outs and if you receive a shout out if somebody’s like, you know, I was at the playground and I couldn’t carry all my stuff back. And Adam Peterson came up and offered to carry my lunchbox and I just want to give him a shout-out. And then we all do like snaps and claps for Adam Peterson. So there’s this little round of applause for Adam Peterson. And then Adam Peterson goes and puts a little token on his token board. And then after five tokens, he gets a hero buck. So after five shout-outs, and there are other ways you can earn tokens, but it’s just building that social awareness and helping the kids think positively about their peers. And think in a way like I, I, you know, and like, and to try to notice the good because it’s, it’s so easy to notice just the negative, you know. So yeah, so that’s so the contract has been something that’s added so much value to our classroom. So we actually have it displayed in the studio. And at that end of that first session, we get little Marten, Ellie’s, and little champagne glasses. And we go up and sign we come in our Sunday best and the parents come and they sign and, and so there’s just this, it’s a ceremonious exhibit, you know, ceremonious time, it’s really, it is true, I wish every single teacher knew that, like knew about this, because this is something that I, you know, it’s my 13th year, and I’ve never even heard of this before, and I’d come into this school is, you know, established, and they’re like, this is what we do. And it’s amazing to see the kids transform, and build this competence and this competence around their education. So that’s one of the things we have you guys ever heard of that before?


Elizabeth Coller  11:21 

I had never, I mean, I hadn’t heard the term studio context contracts. But I used to do contracts when I was still in a kindergarten classroom. And it was, like, you know, like, we had basically like, following our expectations or our rules. So like, we had a contract for carpet time, we had a contract for station time, we had a contract for how to use the different types of flexible seating, and it was more like, kind of you said, like, I will, you know, I will be responsible for my own things, I will do this, I will, I will, I will or I can statements. And then I just did them like on chart paper, and there was a spot at the bottom for a cup and scribble their names. And we would do that, like, maybe one or two a day for the first week of school. And then we just display this around the classroom. And you are exactly right, it does. Because you could just point I could point to that and be like, remember you You promised in that contract. And we talked all the time that I used the phrase I always said, Listen, Mr. Peterson’s getting old, he’s gonna forget a lot of things. But I don’t ever break promises. And a contract is like a promise, we don’t break those things. So you’re gonna forget things, you’re gonna make mistakes, you’re gonna have, you know, we all have those days. But those things on the wall, those are things that are like a promise. And you’re exactly right, it changed. It changed the game for the management system. I never had to, I never had to refer to that stuff much anymore.


Elizabeth Coller  12:31 



Deedee Wills  12:32 

Well, what I love, though, is something that you had said, Elizabeth was that, at first, they all looked at you to be kind of like the rule Enforcer. And then along your journey, the shift has turned where they are, are responsible for the environment of the classroom. It’s not you playing Whack a Mole all day long.


Elizabeth Coller  12:54 

Right? Right. And it’s a way to cultivate sacredness and your space. And it’s not just coming from me. And, you know, I feel like, I don’t know how you guys feel about it. But I feel like, students learn best when they feel ownership in their learning. And, and I think I feel like this is the magic sauce. One of those things that I, in the beginning, it’s hard because like, you know, like you just mentioned, they aren’t like an anytime I just got five new students this, like this last week, like right before the week of Christmas, right? And, and I did it like I did it intentionally. And that’s the other thing is, and I know this is kind of a special thing. But at the school, we actually interview the students before they come in. And so I knew exactly what I was getting. I knew I knew the parents like we had had an hour-long, you know, interview with them, which it’s a lot of effort and a lot of work. But I knew what I was getting coming in, and it’s all based on. It’s like a relationship-based way of doing school, you know. And it’s not all, not all of its hinged on me. And so I feel way less responsible. It’s not the right word, because it sounds like I’m not doing my job. But I feel way. And I feel like they are taking responsibility for their education. And I can push that responsibility on them. Like, hey, you promised to not distract. And what you’re doing right now is distracting your friend. Do you think that they’re learning the best that they can with that kind of behavior? And then all of a sudden, there’s this like caring concern that’s happening and starting to develop in the students like, well, I don’t want to be, I don’t want to be that here that says distraction. And then, you know, just developing that sacred space in the classroom like, we can’t so we start our morning off with a Socratic discussion. We sit in a circle and I asked some kind of driving question. So this last session, we were like, the heroes raised $5,000 on their own in a Jog-A-Thon, like I’ve never had a [Inaudible] clutch and it was because I swear it’s because of this method. It’s because so I, I posed a question about community helpers. So you know, most kindergarten classrooms do a unit on community helpers for those nurses and doctors. And so we had four special guests come in. We had a firefighter, a nurse, a dentist and


Deedee Wills  15:15 

You had a firefighter?


Elizabeth Coller  15:16  

I know, I wonder who could have come.


Elizabeth Coller  15:21 

I loved your pictures of those visits. Dude, that was awesome. But even visited the firehouse and they came, it was so cool.


Elizabeth Coller  15:27  

Oh my god. Thank you.


Deedee Wills  15:28 

I was being a little cheeky there because Elizabeth’s significant other is that cutest firefighter. And I’ve loved watching. I’ve loved watching you guys on it, which actually now sounds a little creepy. But I’m, anyhow I am very happy for you. Go ahead continue.


Adam Peterson  15:45 

I still wanna go back to the fact that you refer to her class. She was playing Whack a Mole. That was the best comment ever.


Elizabeth Coller  15:52  

Though, it’s true, though.


Adam Peterson  15:54 

It’s a true comment. Oh my gosh, that’s so good.


Elizabeth Coller  15:58 

Oh, my goodness. Yeah, no, I, my partner in crime is a firefighter. And we bought a hobby farm this year, a couple of months ago. So we’ve been trying to like, we had chickens in the classroom. And we’re trying to build a chicken coop fast enough to get them in because they’re like five weeks old and they need. So anyway, we’re in the process of a break of trying to build a chicken coop. But yeah, so he came in, and then we had a police officer with bring his service dog in. And because the school does a lot of like apprenticeships, and so they’ll actually send there are juniors and seniors, actually, all of their high schoolers, often they’re required to do a certain amount of hours in like, job, like to learn a certain specific job. But anyway, so I got five students this last month. And normally one student, one new student, is a lot, you know, it’s like labeling all the things and like, Yes, um, but I will say, because I could trust the students in the classroom, like, to help me basically train the new students, that it was like, it was like, seamless, like they came in. And I just was like, Alright, guys, we’ve got five new heroes there, they’re not gonna know a lot of what we do. So we’re gonna have to really work together to show them and teach them. And at first, I was like, Am I crazy? And then they came in, and it was just like, just, it was just the blossoming of the community. And it was so precious to see, What’s the term when I always forget it? When, like, say, for example, I’m model something. And then this student does it. What’s that called?


Deedee Wills  17:38 

Release of Responsibility? Almost.


Elizabeth Coller  17:40  

Yeah, they start using the same Burbidge and there’s, you know what I’m saying? Yeah. And so it was a lot of that, like, I could, I could hear not just myself, but I could hear other students in the students because we’re all sharing ideas and collaborating and just building this beautiful community. And so those social-emotional skills at that age that five to seven-year-old age, it is like everybody who’s worked with kids knows, it is like a con, it’s like Whack a Mole. You know, you just feel like you’re, I think that’s a perfect term, because you just feel like you’re constantly instilling in the kids this like awareness of their body and how their responses and but I will say that pushing that ownership on the students has been like, it’s it is, it saved me sanity and stress, like I’ve been able to focus on more academics, and less, less social-emotional with them, because there’s been a lot of that championing of one another, and building up with one another. And so, yeah, it’s been really neat.


Deedee Wills  18:47 

Well, I know that a lot of people talk about a lot of educators, a lot of motivational educators, talk about the need for community and building community and investing time to building community. I know Adam Peterson and I both have done this, but this feels different. In that it’s not just the teacher building community, the peers, peer to peer community has been shifted. So I guess there’s probably I mean, there. I know you’ve talked to a lot of teachers Elizabeth, I know I have an Adam Peterson has as well of this. This is an extraordinary stressful year when it comes to the behaviors that students might be displaying this year because of how last year threw everything off and the year before was a little odd as well. So I guess I guess that the teacher who is currently curled up in a fetal position in the closet, they’re going to want to know more about how they could maybe take some of the stuff that you know, and bring that into their own classroom. So what would be some suggestions? I know listening to you, following you on social media would be first of all huge insight into what you’re doing.


Elizabeth Coller  20:01 

Thank you.


Deedee Wills  20:03 

Yeah, I do to the point them.


Elizabeth Coller  20:05 

Yeah, no, that’s a great question I do try and share on social media. So I do a lot of like stories on social media like the day in the life of what we’re doing. And then anything that comes up, I, I do try and share it. Because I know that when people do that, on social media, I’m like, just a sponge. And I just because it’s like, teachers sometimes are just drowning, you know, like, we just have bad really, but like, it’s funny, I feel like I call it Christmas break amnesia because you go, you go into Christmas break thinking I might be in the wrong profession, I may not have chosen the right career, because of the week of Christmas break, or the week of Christmas, you know, and then you come out of your break refreshed, and your cup is filled, and all of that, but Okay, so I have a couple of strategies that I use, and I just, I’ll share them here because they’re takeaways that teachers could actually like, take away today and apply. Okay, so sometimes I’ll do it. Community Building is so huge. So connection. So the connection is that if your students are not learning, it’s because they don’t feel connected. Brene Brown, I don’t know if you follow her, but she talks about the need for belonging, and how important that is, for students to feel like they belong. And so I would three, I’m going to share three things, the first thing I would share is I would ask your classroom, on a macro on a what is a macro level and a micro level, so on a group level, whole group, and then on a micro level individually, what they want their classroom to look like, what they want their classroom to feel like, how they want to be seen, these are all important questions because if they’re not answering me if they’re not thinking about this, they’re just existing in the classroom.


And that is existing is not a sense of belonging, your students need to come to the classroom feeling like they are missed when they’re gone. And I say that so when we have kids who are gone, and you know, sick or whatever, and they come back, we do like a full-on, We missed you. In fact, we miss you so much. This is how we miss you. And when you’re gone, there’s you know, there’s a Deedee size hole when you’re gone that that is. So thank you for being here. Thank you for wanting to be here. And thank you for contributing because it matters. So that’s the first thing. The second thing is a couple of strategies. If you feel like you’ve got a student who is just hard to whatever, if they’ve got behavior issues, or they’re not learning, I would always do like a check-in with them, you know because I would always do a check-in with them. You could do like a sip and chat where we what I call a sip and chat. I’ll make like a little cup of hot cocoa. And I’ll put it in a thermos and then we just sit we just sip in chat. And so it’s just I got three questions for you. I want to know what your favorite toy is. I want to know, you know, and sometimes that’s kind of built into the curriculum, depending on you know, what kind of school you are, but just those check-ins depending on what kind of home they’re coming from. So asking them questions like Did you brush your teeth this morning, what you have for breakfast, you know, and just seeing if their actual physical needs are being met. And if they’re not like I have an I don’t need a snack drawer in the school that I’m in to be completely honest. But there have been years I’ve needed a snack drawer. And there have been years as a student. As a student myself, I grew up very we were homeless for six years. We lived in a teepee for six years. And I would go to school hungry and dirty and tired. And my physical needs were not met. So I had a fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Young who had a special snack drawer for me, I go and she, you know, I check every single day, at one o’clock, I’d go up to her desk, and I would just get a hug. And I don’t know what it was about that time maybe I was just tired, she opened up her snack drawer, she’d give me a special little snack, she gave me a hug. And then she sent me off to my desk and it just filled my It filled my cup in a way that I needed at that time. But I was a student who went to school early and got free breakfast and got free lunch because and then stayed late and begged you know Mrs. Sharon in after school care for extra snacks because I was hungry.


And so I would say check in with your students’ actual needs, you know, you got to Maslow before you bloom and so make sure that their needs are met. And then so the sip and chat is a wonderful way to do that you can just sit and it’s a few a three to four-minute little interaction. I typically do mine in the morning when everybody’s doing their morning warm-up. And so I’ll pull a student over.


Elizabeth Coller  24:19 

And then another strategy I love to use is called a one by 10. And I get I have a specific roster that I have for the one by 10. And it’s one minute a day for 10 days in a row. So for two weeks, I’m focusing on 10 students for one minute a day and a lot of times it’s at recess. So I’ll pull, you know one of my students over, and I just for one minute I just asked him very intentional questions. It can be every and you know, it’s all individual-based. So you know your students and you’re building relationships and having interactions and hearing things from parents or hearing things from other students. So ask them questions that are relevant to them. But the whole purpose is just to connect and then One minute might be the one-minute interaction that makes the biggest impact on their day. There have been times at the school that I’m at right now, at the end of the day when they do shout-outs, I kind of just slink into the back. So they sit in a circle in their little Socratic circle at the end of the day, and we do you know, our highs and lows, and we do shout out that opportunity for shoutouts. But there have been times when students have given me a shout out and said My favorite part of the day was when Mrs. You know, Miss Coller sat with me during my sip and chat or when Miss Coller tied my shoe or when Miss Coller gave me a hug because I was feeling sad. And so those little interactions might be the ones that, you know, help your students feel loved and special.


Elizabeth Coller  25:46 

And so if you’re a teacher in the fetal position, because you are just stressed out and feeling like you can’t you don’t you’re not able to make it through or maybe you’re you think you’re not making an impact. I would say focus on you know if you can spend 10 minutes and I know that we’re stretched thin, and I get it like I get the teacher burnout. I mean, the week this last week, we had, you know, we were wrapping up the week, we had all the Christmas festivities, we had four special guests come in different days. And then we had a job as on at the end of the week. So like I got done, and I was like, I’m done. I’ve helped out. You know, I wouldn’t do this anywhere. And but, but it was really neat to see the Jog a Thon day. And the smiles on the kids when they realized the impact that they made on their community by raising because we raised money for the firefighter burn institution.


Elizabeth Coller  26:41 

And it was they chose it like they, we did research on SPCA, and all of these, and they just were so like, I had one student raised $835 and another student raise over $1,000 and every single student in my class my studio raised a minimum of 50 bucks, which is like an on their own. I’m talking like they’ve made videos and paid like pounded the pavement and called in so so anyways, I would say that is a result of them feeling ownership and ownership comes with connection. So if they’re feeling like they have a place of belonging. You know, that’s, that’s, I think that’s should be that should be a focus if you’re the teacher in a fetal position and you’re feeling like, I’ll know what to do. Just take a deep breath and connect with your students. That’s the first place to start. And then everything from there when a student feels safe and loved. And I can speak from that from my own experience. I learned more in Mrs. Young’s class that year. I loved math that year. And I remember I remember the little like, six times six, the little trick where you take I don’t know if you’ve heard that one of them I learned the six times nine where you use your fingers. Yeah, the fingers.


Adam Peterson  27:51 

I still do that.


Elizabeth Coller  27:53 

Yeah, yeah, me too. Me too. But I, there are some things that I still remember in that class. And it wasn’t, you know, it was academics. But it wasn’t just academics. It was I felt special, and I felt loved and seen and I wasn’t invisible, you know. So I think those are my takeaways, I hope, hopefully, those are like things that teachers can take away today and apply to their classrooms.


Elizabeth Coller  28:14 

So totally. You know, what I love most about your stories there too, was that you mentioned the teacher’s names. At the start of your story. If you teachers are ever doubting the impact you’re having on kids, I mean, Elizabeth is one of your probably most trying times of your life. When you’re going through what you’re going through, you remember those names, like you still shouted out Michelle and Mrs. Young, and teachers, if you ever doubt that you’re making an impact, think about that. You know how many ever years later kids are gonna remember your name because it’s something small, you did a snack door, right? A snack drawer and a hug. And she remembers the name of the teacher. So I think that’s very powerful. And the word connection is one of my favorite words to use them out speaking. I remember after I gave my TED talk a few years ago, I got an email from a guy that was in the audience who didn’t know him. He was there. He lives in the town. Like he’s just a guy that lives locally to where I gave my talk at the event. And he reached out to me, he goes, I would love to meet you for coffee someday. And if you wouldn’t mind, I’d love to buy a copy of your book. And have you signed it for my girlfriend. They were they just met online like they were later in life and had like, both gone through a really rough time in their lives and came back together. And I’m like, looked at Trisha, I’m like this complete stranger. She’s like, just see what happens. So he drove like two hours to where I live. We met for coffee. And we had this amazing discussion.


And the one word he kept saying was he said, of all the talks that were given at that TED event that day, you connected with the audience. He goes, there was something you did like you found a way to connect. And he kept using that word. And I’m like, Man, that’s that’s that’s such a powerful word when we can do that. Because if you guys were listening close to her stories, and Elizabeth, I think this is so powerful in what you do. Like you didn’t mention a curriculum. You didn’t mention any resources or textbooks. Everything you just talked about with social-emotional learning was connections with students, you know, I think that’s the hardest part sometimes as we get These, these big buzz words in education, right? Like right now it’s social-emotional learning, and it’s learning loss, and it’s recovery and all that. And it really has nothing to do with what you’re teaching them. It totally has to do with how you’re teaching them. And, and I think that’s so powerful. What you just you just shared?


Elizabeth Coller  30:16  

Yeah, yeah, that’s so good. And you know, I don’t know, Deedee, if you know this, my kindergarten teacher’s name was kinder hearted.


Adam Peterson  30:23 

No, that was her real name.


Elizabeth Coller  30:26  

Her Mrs. Kinder hearted. Yeah, oh, my gosh, my platform is actually based on my kindergarten teacher who had a woodshop in her classroom. And so when I was in the reason that I can say, like, and then she ended up actually passing away a couple of years after because she got cancer. And she just made the most profound impact on my life, though. And I was, I was with her, the year before we were homeless, and in kindergarten, and she had a woodshop in her classroom. And here I think her husband was a carpenter. And we could create whatever we wanted, and she had a real hammer, and real nails, and whatever you made in the classroom, you could bring home. And to be honest, a lot of the toys that I made in the classroom are the only toys that I had in my house. And so she made a profound impact and, and she had all these like really fun. And so a lot of the things like the hands-on centers, the reason I’m so passionate about that, is because I know how much of an impact I had on my life when I was a kid. And so um, so anyway, yeah, everybody listening right now I’m sure can think of a name or two or three, or teachers or Girl Scout leaders or youth leaders or, you know, some, you know, because maybe you’re listening to this, and you’re not a teacher, maybe you’re working with kids in education, maybe you’re a counselor or an administrator. But yeah, you’re in those little interactions in those conversations that that connection is made. And it’s like, it’s like, what’s it, you know, Angela with that, quote, they may not remember what you taught them, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. And that’s so true. That’s so so impactful. And the curriculum is important. And I want to emphasize, like, what they’re learning is important, and they need to learn how to read and write and be successful adults and how those skills to go into adulthood. However, they they will learn that much quicker if they feel like they are belonging, and there is a sense of ownership in their learning. And so I think, I think it’s fair to say that connection, is that first step, you know, in that process, so


Elizabeth Coller  32:32 

I love that you just mentioned that kindergarten story in Deedee knows that I talk a lot about my friend Honor who passed away that I taught with. I wasn’t in her classroom, but I taught with her. And the same thing she had she had tools that she was so weird to use minister, she had wood and hammers and nails and salt, like Kid-sized saws that she would do projects with like that in her kindergarten classroom all the time. So that is so bizarre, like what a small world that you just mentioned that about your teacher and the fact that her day was Kinder hearted. Like really? No. Yeah, Miss Binder Garden? That’s awesome.


Elizabeth Coller  33:04 

No, right. I know, I know.


Deedee Wills  33:06  

Well, and I think you know, to kind of come back to what you’re talking about, we do have a lot of curriculum, we have a lot of things and responsibilities. We want students to feel knowledgeable when they leave your grade. But if if you don’t address that behavior, or community, kind of priming that pump making them feel safe and ready to learn, then you’re going to be working so much harder to teach it and you are probably not going to be as effective with the ones that probably need to hear it the most, if you aren’t, aren’t connected to them. So I love everything you said.


Elizabeth Coller  33:44 

But it’s such a more powerful tool when the kids want to be there to write like nothing, you intentionally create a space that kids want to walk through the door because I speak about this all the time teachers, like kids, are gonna learn to read, they’re gonna learn to write, they’re gonna learn math, they’re learning, they’re gonna learn all that stuff. But I think this is in my book, or it’s something I put on one of my slides all the time that I refer to the term substance over stuff because of the stuff they’re going to get, but the substance that we have within our classroom, those relationships, the community, the connections, the desire, they want to learn, is so much more powerful than all this stuff that they’re going to I mean, yes, they need to learn all that stuff. But if we can create a place where they want to come to do it every single day, then that’s what makes me feel successful. Like, even when they want to just walk through that door because they’re excited to be there. All this stuff’s gonna soak in, right?


Elizabeth Coller  34:34 

Yeah, that’s so good. That’s so good. Well, one of the things too that we do is that I feel like it is different and new for me this year, and it’s been a learning curve. This is one of the things that like I’ve been challenged as an educator. So you know, I talked about the hero’s journey earlier. Um, so at the school, it’s a Montessori-inspired school. It’s not a Montessori base. So it’s different than true Montessori. However, the students there are parts of their education that they can choose how they want to go on their journey. So we have these things. So like we have our standards they like obviously before, they can move from one classroom to the next we call them studios, they have to show proficiency and all the standards, right? But we call them to badge tags. So we have these little, like rewards basically, that they get when they show proficiency in a standard. So I use ESGI. I don’t know if you guys have ever heard of ESGI.


Adam Peterson  35:31 

I don’t know, have you ever heard of ESGI?


Elizabeth Coller  35:34 

You know, it’s this really amazing assessment tool that I just like I’m so in love with. Deedee actually is the one who introduced me to it a few years ago, she’s like, if you haven’t heard of this, you have to, you have to get connected with this. So anyway, um, ESGI has been a lifesaver, because there’s a lot of individualized assessments that I do. And ESGI is the perfect tool for that. So I’m gonna plug ESGI here. I’m sure you’ll put some links in the show notes if you guys want to get connected with ESGI. But, um, anyway, so there are like, for example, we’ll just say like, 2d shapes, they need to be able to name all of their 2d shapes, right? So during our core time, when we’re working on our math and language and all of our core work, I can a student can come up to me and say, hey, I want to try to earn my shapes badge, I think I’m ready for it. You know, I’ve been working on it in the classroom, we’ve been doing activities I’ve been working on at home with mom and dad. And so they’ll come to me and I’ll pull up ESGI, and I’ll pull up the assessment and then they can earn a badge. And for every badge, they get we put it on a necklace, if you guys heard of Bragg tags, right, yeah. So we just have tweaked that I call them to badge tags. So they can earn social-emotional learning badges, where they show kindness and all of the characteristics like character traits that we work on in social-emotional learning. They can also earn badges for life skills, learning how to sew on a button, learning how to pour into a cup without spilling, learning how to.


Deedee Wills  37:01 

I need to learn how to do that.


Elizabeth Coller  37:05 

And then they can also earn badges for academic skills. So learning how to read so we have like our, you know, leveled readers. So once they get to a certain level, they earn a badge. And then we use E-learning platforms like I-Excel, happy numbers, Lexia. And so there’s all this, like, all this stuff that they all these badges that they can earn. It is this is I’ll be really transparent, honest, it’s a learning curve for me because it’s a lot of individualized tracking, the ESGI makes it wonderful, but I will see the benefit of this system is that they, the students decide, and there’s a student, like, it’s almost like student-led learning that’s happening, and there’s ownership in what they’re learning. So we do, like, we do our reading groups, and we do our whole group stuff, and you know, instruction and all that, but there’s a lot of individualized learning options for them. And that ownership is kind of developed.


So it’s, it’s really neat. And so that kind of ties in with their social-emotional learning, like, Well, you got to responsible decision making here, you know, what do you so if you want to move up to the next classroom to the next studio, and you need to show proficiency in these? What is what do you need to do to get there? And how are we going to get there? And so it’s a lot of conversation and connection and parenting, you know, getting parents involved and getting parents as much as you can be involved in there, in their child’s education. I know that’s a challenge. And I know that like, you know, depending on if you’re depending on the title of your school, even that’s, that’s difficult. But I will say if you don’t have that parent participation, get your students fired up and have them bring that excitement home, you know because that’s, that’s a tool that you can use to I could go on and on.


Elizabeth Coller  38:45  

But what you just said is a true testament to my point I was trying to make about the substance over stuff. I mean, you have such a positive atmosphere in the substance that you’re you’re building in that classroom is so powerful that they’re asking to do assessments, right? Like, I mean, if you think if you ever doubt yourself, teachers, that you know, the fun activities in the engagement that you’re focusing on the connection focus on, if you ever doubt that that has little to no effect on their learning, then then this is a true testament that it does. They’re asking to come to do assessments with you and I, I gotta say, I’ve never heard of ESGI  and used it in that way. I mean, we Yes, we know it’s a one on one assessment tool, right? But I think, oh, gosh, I’m gonna start spreading that everywhere I go, like encourage your students to come to say, Hey, can I take my assessment? Hey, can I show you what I know? You know, that’s yeah, yes. That is genius. That is genius.


Elizabeth Coller  39:34 

Thank you.


Deedee Wills  39:34 

Girl, I could talk to you all day. All-day, I knew this was going to be exactly you know, the drink of water people needed right now cuz I know coming back from break. I know going into the break. I’ve talked to a lot of teachers. I know you Elizabeth Atomy of two that have said they have never in there, you know, 472 years of teaching had had a year that spend this challenging and yeah, and I’m sure that you have felt some challenges as well that are unique to this year but having some strategies that you can try out going back. May Maybe the, you know,it’s that drink of water people need.


Elizabeth Coller  40:16  

Yeah, yeah, I agree. And, you know, I think, I think this is probably like, this will be the last thing that I share. But I think it’s, I think it’s the most important thing of what I’m going to say today. And it’s perfect because we’re starting a new year. And so it’s the perfect time to do that. But, you know, you know, the quote, like, you can’t pour from an empty cup, I feel like you shouldn’t be pouring from your cup, you need to be pouring from the overflow. And so you’re like too, to focus on your needs, as a teacher, make sure that you are, you are filling your cup in a way and taking time for yourself. So that when you’re going and I know that’s like, you know, that’s the, I’m struggling with that now I’m even struggling with that over break. I’m like, I feel like I’ve overbooked and over, you know, just, I’m too busy. I just need to like, take some time.


But as we start the new year, I think it’s a perfect opportunity to hit that reset button. And just write down you know, things that you value and things that fill your cup and so that when you get to the classroom setting, and there’s a difference, you know, when there’s a busy season, that’s understandable, you know, to feel trapped, drained. But take that time to rejuvenate and be intentional. And you know about whatever fills your cup for me, I’ll speak for myself. I love nature. I love walking in the mornings. I love journaling. I love sitting by our fire and just listening to a podcast. Those are all things that helped me find my centers so that when I’m coming to the classroom coming to students and parents and podcasts like this, I feel like I’m able, I’m not totally drained. Do you know what I mean? And so don’t forget about yourselves, you know, you got to put your mask on first before you put somebody else’s mask on. So just wanna encourage you in that.


Adam Peterson  42:01 

The hard thing to remember sometimes.


Deedee Wills  42:03  

Yeah, so many, so many little jams.


Elizabeth Coller  42:06  

Yeah, this was a great conversation at 8 is my time. At 6 am, I don’t know how you’re having this type of conversation. But


Elizabeth Coller  42:13 

I know.


Deedee Wills  42:13 

She had a cup of coffee, but she didn’t have time to drink it. So she’s talking about having a full cup. But that’s not how you’re supposed to eat you. Right, Elizabeth, thank you so much for taking the time at such an early time on your Christmas break. I know this is exactly what a lot of teachers are going to need to hear or want to hear. And I just appreciate you. Love you and appreciate you. But thank you so much for being with us.


Adam Peterson  42:40 

Yeah, Thank you.


Elizabeth Coller  42:41 

Yeah, for sure. You guys are doing amazing things. And what an amazing platform that you guys have to bring people together and have important discussions like this. It’s all like I love that I love this community. I love the guests that you guys have in both of your experiences, it’s so valuable. And so, thank you just for the opportunity for me to be on this is I’m being a part of something bigger than myself and I just feel so lucky to be a part so thank you for having me.


Adam Peterson  43:07 

Thank you that means a lot we try. We struggle but we try


Deedee Wills  43:11  

We struggle a lot.


Adam Peterson  43:13 



Deedee Wills  43:13 

Thanks, everybody. All right.


Elizabeth Coller  43:15 

See you.


Deedee Wills  43:15 



About the Podcast

The Classroom Collaborative Podcast is a show about teaching, classroom, and education. We tackle new classroom tips and tricks in every episode.

About Your Hosts

Deedee Wills is an early childhood educator, instructional coach, and international educational consultant. She is also the author of the award-winning blog, Mrs. Wills Kindergarten.

Adam Peterson is a kindergarten teacher, nationally recognized speaker, and educational consultant. He also the creator of the popular YouTube channel,

I hope you enjoyed this episode! See you on the next one!

Deedee & Adam

Deedee and Adam discuss social-emotional learning with Elizabeth Coller. Elizabeth is a kindergarten teacher in California and teaches in a Montessori-inspired charter school that emphasizes the importance of social-emotional learning from elementary school to high school. Elizabeth shares some classroom environment strategies that will change the way you approach classroom management and building classroom community. Through teaching, practice, lessons, and modeling the classroom becomes student-led with peer-to-peer accountability. This frees up instructional time so the teacher can then focus on instruction and the curriculum. Come and get inspired by what you hear!

Pin for Later

Deedee and Adam discuss social-emotional learning with Elizabeth Coller. Elizabeth is a kindergarten teacher in California and teaches in a Montessori-inspired charter school that emphasizes the importance of social-emotional learning from elementary school to high school. Elizabeth shares some classroom environment strategies that will change the way you approach classroom management and building classroom community. Through teaching, practice, lessons, and modeling the classroom becomes student-led with peer-to-peer accountability. This frees up instructional time so the teacher can then focus on instruction and the curriculum. Come and get inspired by what you hear!


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