For several mornings, Lisa Storaker, a campus supervisor at Mountainview Elementary School in Saugus, noticed a second-grader leaning against the wall near the playground watching the action around her, but not participating. Storaker became concerned.
“I started chatting with her to get to know her better,” says the mom of five, who has been a campus supervisor for the Saugus Union School District for five years. “I asked her what she does after school and about her siblings. It turns out she comes from a large family, and mornings before class are her only alone time. She wasn’t being excluded. She just wanted to have some time to herself.”
As a campus supervisor, Storaker is on the front lines of helping children navigate the social and emotional learning that takes place daily on school playgrounds. This time away from the structured classroom environment is crucial for developing critical life skills such teamwork, friendship, communication and conflict resolution.
The Importance of Unstructured Play
Acknowledging the importance of unstructured playtime, the district implemented a “mindful leading” training program for campus supervisors. Recess can be fraught with cliques, bullying, fighting and hurt feelings. The workshops address these common issues and provide strategies to help ensure students have a positive playground experience.
Eighty-four campus supervisors from 15 elementary schools participated in the four-part training program led by author and parent educator Roma Khetarpal, founder and CEO of Tools of Growth, an organization devoted to helping kids “Be Happy, Think Positive, and Do Good.” The Santa Clarita resident is also the author of the award-winning book, “The Perfect Parent.”
“Our campus supervisors really get to know the kids as they grow from kindergarteners to sixth graders,” says Isa De Armas, Ed.D, director of curriculum and instruction for the district. “This type of training gives them more tools to use to open up discussions and break through strong emotions.”
The Campus Supervisor’s Role During Play
During the training, Khetarpal reminded the campus supervisors of their unique role in helping children feel safe and secure. Topics ranged from emotional intelligence to responding instead of reacting and being present. “Go down to their level, ask open-ended questions and really listen to them. Let them finish their sentences,” advised Khetarpal. She also emphasized the power of words, reminding her audience to move away from phrases such as “How many times have I told you?” to harness the teaching moment that has presented itself.
One of Khetarpal’s main messages is, “When you’re right, practice being kind first.”
“Being an adult does not mean we are superior to children,” says Khetarpal. “We shouldn’t be in a position of dictatorship, but rather a position of directorship.”
The Impact of Mindful Leading
Campus supervisors say the workshop tools are working. One supervisor took the time to delve into the motivation of a kindergartener who caused havoc at lunch every day by spitting juice on kids around him. The child is now a yard helper, ending the juice fights. Julie Huff, a supervisor at Emblem Academy, says she now asks open-ended questions of her 14-year-old daughter, and has loved the discussions that have resulted. Several supervisors have found the technique of taking a few deep breaths before addressing an emotionally charged situation a simple, but extremely effective, tool.
“As educators, we always have to work harder and be more intentional when in a challenging situation,” says district superintendent Joan Lucid, Ed.D. “Our campus supervisors play a significant role in our children’s lives, and it can be very challenging. But the kids who are having the hardest time are the ones who will remember the special adult in their lives who didn’t give up on them.”