Solana Beach resident Kelly Griffin was recently named Mission Estancia Teacher of the Year in Carlsbad. Griffin, also known as “Miss G”, was recognized for her work as a co-creator of the school district’s Encinitas Union TRAC social and emotional learning program, which stands for Teamwork, Regulation, Awareness and Community.
Griffin was teaching fourth grade when a group of teachers walked in with flowers, a crown, a sash, and a sign that read “Teacher of the Year.”
“This honor acknowledges all the hard work I’ve put into this job, this school, and highlights the importance of making SEL a priority in our schools,” Griffin said. “This program was once a 29-hour week, not a program at all, and is now a required curriculum for all nine schools, teaching more than 5,000 students and hundreds of staff each year. When you step back and look, it’s a real achievement.”
After receiving a master’s degree in elementary education from Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Griffin moved to California, where she became the host of the Sandy Hook Promise. She was a teacher at Del Mar Pines School in the Carmel Valley when the Encinitas Union posted a job ad for the SEL pilot program.
Griffin was hired in 2018 and along with Park Dale Lane teacher Sarah Wood, they created the foundation for TRAC. The goal of TRAC is to create positive relationships and an environment where every student and adult feels connected, cared for and physically and emotionally safe. By the third year of their pilot program, the district had implemented TRAC, hired seven teachers, and implemented it in all nine schools.
“It was amazing to build it from scratch,” Griffin said.
Griffin reaches every Mission Estancia student, from kindergarten to sixth graders, “from little guys to super independent thinkers.” She knows the name of every kid on campus.
SEL is taught 45 minutes a week for each class, and teachers stay in the classroom and engage in conversation. With her infectiously bright and sunny personality, her lessons focus on the core skills of self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, social awareness, and relationship skills: “The key is connection and belonging,” Griffin said.
Students reflect weekly on their “rose, thorn, bud”: a highlight (rose), a challenge (thorn) and a new idea or something they are looking forward to learning or understanding more (bud).
They host gratitude and apology circles, where Griffin is always amazed at what the students share and how they talk about what’s in their hearts: “These kids have so much to say, but as you get older, we learn to put it off.”
At Mission Estancia, Miss Gee has created a vibrant and engaging learning environment for her students, as well as a culture of kindness and inclusion. The students built confirmation stations telling them what they need to hear on a difficult day: “I’m brave”, “I’m grateful”, “No stinky thoughts”.
In one of her activities this year, she tasked the children with welcoming another youngest student to school each day—friendship at the door is just one of many actions to be taken to help students in the school community feel a stronger sense of belonging.
“The kids were very creative,” Griffin said, noting that one student brought a giant hand and a small hand for high fives, some handed out fortune cookies and compliment cards, and a couple of kids once dressed up as bees. to Good Bee.
“I’ve never seen anything drive that much change on campus…and it was just the start of the day with a connection,” she said. “This is my favorite thing to do. If you stop and connect with your peers, it will have a huge ripple effect.”
In addition to her work with TRAC, Griffin has also led school-wide events such as assemblies, author meetings, family nights, charity projects, and campus murals.
“I love big projects, it gives kids strength,” she said.
She recently led a student design competition for six new benches built by volunteer parents. During Kindness Week, 125 students submitted bench designs and then helped color the winning drawings. One design was called a “connection collection” with questions painted on a bench to encourage conversation with someone new, another bench is adorned with a cloudy landscape and a sun that cutely says, “You were born to shine.”
“No amount of math or science reading can prepare our students to go out into the world ready for the challenges of the 21st century,” Griffin said.
She said that when most of us were growing up, the bullying stopped at 3:00 pm, but now it’s on their phones and students are facing a culture rich in social media where they are bombarded with negative influences from all sides. She said you only need to look at the disturbing headlines to be reminded of what a lack of empathy can lead to.
“Social and emotional learning sheds light on what really matters,” Griffin said. Who we are and how we treat others.
Griffin loves to be a light to her students, she loves her job very much and it shows. Drawing on one of her favorite quotes from author L. R. Knost, her mission is not to temper students to face a cruel and heartless world, but to help raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.