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Inspired Ideas

The Overlooked R

By Nicole Quinn, Sacramento City Schools Equity and Social & Emotional Learning (SEL) Coach

We have all heard of the 3 R’s when it comes to the basics of education: Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. The “R’s” dominate our professional learning. They dictate our decisions when purchasing curriculum. They are on the forefront when developing our weekly lesson plans. Why? Well… because they are important. There is no doubt that the ability to read, write and compute numbers are keys skills to success, but what are we missing? These R’s dictate what we teach, but they should not dictate how we teach. So what are we overlooking? Relationships.

Relationships are the anchor that hold us to our environments. Our learning experiences are directly linked to our relationships with our families, teachers, peers, and of equal importance… ourselves.

I’m going on sixteen years in the Sacramento City School District. I am currently an Equity coach for my district, but prior to that, all of my teaching experience had been in one of the most economically depressed areas of Sacramento. Five days a week, my students came to my classroom grappling with stress and trauma, ranging from hunger, abuse, neglect, fear, and so on. As a teacher, I absorbed it all. I came home sad, angry, dejected, numb… I quickly realized that allowing that emotion to control how I feel was fruitless… I needed that emotion to dictate how I teach. My students didn’t need my pity. They needed my help.

I already knew the importance of social and emotional learning (SEL) and, at 9:00 every Monday morning, I would teach a lesson that touched on a key skill: perseverance, optimism, resiliency, kindness, etc. The week would end. I would go home frustrated because my students didn’t apply the skills I taught them on Monday. Then I realized I was teaching the concept, but I wasn’t teaching my students how to connect with the concept. Instead of teaching math, language arts, science, history and SEL… I decided to teach SEL though math, language arts, science, and history.

Here is what I learned:


Yep. Simple as that. Take time everyday to engage your students in conversations. Community circles provide a wonderful opportunity for students to share and feel connected with their peers and teacher. This fosters compassion, empathy, respect and the basic listening skills needed for success in the world.


Again… Just as simple. Laughter builds a joyful classroom environment. A joyful classroom environment builds relationships. Relationships build opportunities to learn.

Connect & Reflect

Our social and emotional intelligence is deeply woven into everything we say and do. How we process information, apply new learning, and bounce back from failure is all directly connected to our ability to understand ourselves and our environment. This is all done through the process of reflection… which is simple to say, but an enormous concept to teach. Students don’t learn by simply being told how something works or or what something means. They learn through reflection. The ability to pause and process successes, struggles, and the underlying reasons for either, is where true learning takes place. In order to do this, we need to allow for that pause. Write it in your lesson plan… Set a timer… Find a way to remind yourself that “pausing” to allow your students time to connect and reflect to their learning process is where they will truly become independent learners. This process fosters perseverance, resiliency, grit and, and over all, growth-mindset.

With the school year in full swing, we are immersed in a world of lesson plans, grading, report cards, holiday festivities, etc. While these are important elements of creating a learning environment that maximizes the success of our students, it only becomes meaningful if we remember to add opportunities for connection, laughter, and reflection.

Nicole Quinn has been an educator in the Sacramento City Unified School District for 15 years. During her career, she has taught grades 1–6 and spent one year as an ELA coach. Currently, Nicole coaches and supports teachers and administrators on equity related issues, with the focus being on social and emotional learning and positive behavior supports.

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To be reminded why your work is so very important and for more stories and advice, visit our collection of teacher perspectives at The Art of Teaching.

You can view the McGraw-Hill Education Privacy Policy here: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not reflect the values or positioning of McGraw-Hill Education or its sales.




Resources, ideas, and stories for PreK-12 educators. We focus on educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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