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Prospect Students Learn to Harness Emotions with Toolbox

November 1, 2016 – Prospect Elementary School’s counselor Matt Engel has a hand gesture to identify each of the 12 tools described in The Toolbox Project. When fifth-graders wander into the classroom he is about to teach a lesson in, he stands at the ready with one hand on his chest as a sign of comfort and calm, and begins by demonstrating the listening tool with a two finger tapping motion near his ear.

“Does anyone remember what tool we learned the last time I was in your class,” Engel questions. The class is silent and looking straight ahead at him. A boy in the front of the room shares they learned about the breathing tool. Engel asks, “And what is the sign for the breathing tool, do you remember?” The little boy puts both hands on his belly and breaths in through his nose and out through his mouth.
“Ultimately, I want students to remember the strategies we learn through Toolbox. The phrases and signs are fun learning pieces, but they may not remember them for long,” Engel explained. “The lessons in this program become quite personal. It gives students a chance to think about how they can take care of themselves.”
Engel first discovered The Toolbox Project more than a year ago when reading how a teacher from a neighboring school district saw marked improvements in student understanding of emotions after teaching the program. Toolbox teaches children how to achieve emotional balance through proactive rather than reactive responses to things outside of their control. Students also learn how to decipher their feelings, assess when to apologize, use time wisely, share gratefulness, be patient, and show courage when others are not using their tools.
“During Toolbox lessons, students are given the opportunity for self-inquiry and share with peers about how and when the tools have helped,” shared Engel. “When working with a student in a one-on-one setting, I often ask ‘Which of your tools could help?’ In most instances, students are able to identify several tools which become the fulcrum of their action plan. When students realize they are already in possession of these tools, that they are inherently capable, it nourishes their internal locus of control.”
First-grade teacher Marnie Morales models the tools each day in her classroom. She has been told students take these lessons home and remind their parents to breathe or use other tools – a sign students are understanding the program’s significance in everyday living.
“I have seen an improvement in my students' ability to nonverbally communicate their feelings with peers,” Morales shared. “Many children use the tools in the playground and come in from recess with much less complaints of problems during recess. The biggest takeaway from this program for me is children are learning a skill set which will carry throughout their lifetime.”
During the school year, music teacher Andrew McGrorty teaches each grade level different Toolbox chants. When the chants are mastered, McGrorty and Engel record students performing them and upload the audio files to the Prospect website.
“Tools can be recognized and modeled in real-time by adults. They can be the groundwork for helping the student identify how to make a positive self-correction,” Engel explained. “Self-awareness and self-mastery results in the development of resilience and metacognition skills, stronger self-efficacy and internal locus of control, and fewer social-emotional barriers to learning.”
Prospect parents have adopted the Toolbox language and skills at home, too. Toolbox information, with home-connection letters and activities, are included in the monthly Prospect newsletters in hopes of educating families on breathing, listening, patience and other tools. Toolbox was introduced to parents at a Parent Night in Spring 2016 and again on the first day of school at an informational session.
Prospect Elementary Students Performing Toolbox Chants:
The Toolbox Project: 
The 12 Tools of Toolbox:

1. Breathing Tool – I calm myself and check-in.

2. Quiet/Safe Place Tool – I remember my quiet/safe place.

3. Listening Tool – I listen with my ears, eyes and heart.

4. Empathy Tool – I care for others. I care for myself.

5. Personal Space Tool – I have a right to my space and so do you.

6. Using Our Words Tool – I use the “right” words in the “right” way.

7. Garbage Can Tool – I let the little things go.

8. Taking Time Tool – I take time-in and time-away.

9. Please & Thank You Tool – I treat others with kindness and appreciation.

10. Apology & Forgiveness Tool – I admit my mistakes and work to forgive yours.

11. Patience Tool – I am strong enough to wait.

12. Courage Tool – I have the courage to do the “right” thing.