TOOLBOX Tools for Learning – Tools for Life

Like many professionals studying to become marriage and family therapists, Mark Collin needed to put in “some kid hours” as a prerequisite for licensure. His required three months at a rural school district in Northern California turned into eight amazing years, during which he developed the TOOLBOX curriculum. Seeing the struggles of children grappling with personal, social, academic and family challenges, Mark came up with the metaphor of a personal toolbox, and began to work with the kids to identify and tap into their inner tools. “The children got it immediately,” he recalls, “and the 12 Tools we jointly developed are now being used in 240 schools across the United States and abroad, in locations as diverse as inner cities and top independent schools, reaching nearly 96,000 students.”

The foundation of TOOLBOX is 12 human innate capacities that reside within all of us. And because of this “inside-out approach,” the award-winning SEL program gives children internal control of their own behavior(s). Or, as one elementary school student said, “It’s like having a school inside of me!”

With practice, children quickly master the Tools and begin to change the way they deal with conflicts and challenges in the classroom, on the playground, even at home and in the community. “What we’re really saying to students when we support them to use their Tools,” said Mark Collin, “is ‘I believe in you; you have the capacity to hold complexity and know the “right” thing to do.’”

Teacher Chris Zorn recognized that students are “longing for this kind of work,” when he chose to bring it to the University Laboratory School in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. Within the first six weeks, he witnessed a first grader, who was knocked down on the playground by a fourth grader, use her words, along with the courage tool, to tell the bigger child how the incident made her feel. “TOOLBOX empowers students to be their own agents and control the situation. I see the impact of these lessons everyday!”

Describing TOOLBOX as “simple, but not easy,” Chuck Fisher, executive director of Dovetail Learning explains that, “developing students’ resilience, self-mastery and empathy has lasting implications for their school, family and life experiences.” That’s been borne out by the reflections of students eight years later, including one young man who said, “If I didn’t have these tools inside of me, I would have fought fire with fire. My whole life might have been different.”


The 12 Tools
Breathing Tool
Quiet/Safe Place Tool
Listening Tool
Empathy Tool
Personal Space Tool
Using Our Words Tool
Garbage Can Tool
Taking Time Tool
Please & Thank You Tool
Apology & Forgiveness Tool
Patience Tool
Courage Tool

Watch a video from the 2017 Schools of the Future Conference presentation here