If It Looks Like Madness but takes Serious Planning Chances Are It’s Working

I tell them this everyday. Sometimes they listen.

I create a different curriculum each year for the therapy groups I facilitate. I don’t call my groups therapy like most social workers. There are no children of incarcerated parents group, no ADHD group, nor is there a social skills group.


Kids hate having to go to ‘those’ groups. Although they will loudly proclaim that they have ‘anger management.’ It’s hilarious how loudly a kid will shout out, “Hey! Do we have anger management today?” in the middle of their social studies class when you just have to hand over a note to their teacher about attendance concerns.

Side bar: This year I caved and started actual anger management and grief and loss groups. I called them anger management and grief and loss. The kids were a bit disappointed in my lack of creativity, but they showed up.

I don’t do standard groups. Instead I consider the kids on my caseload and I develop a theme or core lesson for the year. And from that core lesson I will create a curriculum to support my students’ social and emotional development. One year the idea was ‘Becoming a Master Student.‘ Another year my idea was about ‘Health and Well-being.‘ And yet another year it was ‘Life is an Adventure.

This year my theme is “Everyday Heroes.” I’ve based my curriculum on the ‘mythical heroes journey’ and I have my kids considering the idea of ‘how can we increase the occurrence of everyday heroes in our city.’ My idea is to help them develop a conscious definition of what a hero is while writing their very own story as a hero’s journey for this school year.

So far.

So good.

I have them at a place now where all my groups are considering what it means to be a hero. They’ve also started to answer questions like ‘is there a difference between being a hero and being a leader’ and ‘what are the characteristics of a leader/hero.’ I love their brainstorms and how well they apply critical thinking skills to the tasks I present them with.

This week I challenged them even further by having them explore the community surrounding our school for evidence in our everyday of heroes/leaders. That’s how we ended up here:

This building is on the national registry as a historical landmark. I’m so proud that my city takes such good care of it and keeps it open to the public for exploration and picture taking.

This is the arcade or one of city’s oldest buildings. It’s actually considered to be our city’s largest ‘work of art.’ My kids were completely intrigued by the intricate details outlined in the architecture and took pictures of all the art deco chandeliers. We explored some of the stores in the building as well. They asked questions of the store owners or workers about their products and why they wanted their shops in this particular building.

But the greatest part of the entire adventure were the discovery of the tunnels. Although my students have lived in this city all their lives and have attended a school only a short walk from this historical monument, today was the first day they’d even heard of the intricate network of tunnels that connects the building to the surrounding structures. We walked the tunnels and they asked questions about tornadoes and the riots and if the tunnels were ever used to stow away fugitives.

So from this exploration, my students were able to identify examples of how heroes are portrayed in the building art. They also identified the building’s architect as a hero. And they thought that the small business owners were also heroes in their own right.

Our next step in this year’s core lesson will be helping them tell the story of how they are heroes in their own lives. I think I’ll use a storytelling collage and hold an exhibition for this last portion of our journey.

So here’s my formula for support social and emotional development in children and youth who face true to life internal and external barriers to their own damn happiness:

  1. I select a theme  (or core lesson) rather than a treatment plan for the school year.
  2. Based on the tenets of child psycho-developmental theory (i.e. Erik Erikson) I establish a curriculum to support the goal of my core lesson. I use evidence based text (i.e. skill streaming, developmental guidance) to ground that curriculum.
  3. I divide my students into ‘clubs’ by age and gender.
  4. Each ‘club’ establishes their own name, shield, and rules.
  5. I present lessons from the curriculum – each building on the former – to the students 1 week at a time.
  6. I introduce experience in the ‘real world’ to reinforce those lessons.
  7. I give them opportunity to ‘tell’ their story.
  8. Add love.

And viola!

And we walk. We walk alot. We walk so much that one of my kids actually said to me, “Ms. O you make me tired.” To which I answer, “Ah, but aren’t you also full?”

Working on my hero’s stance. I’m going to incorporate ‘hero posing’ into our lesson.


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