I have recently started rereading Carl Rogers’ classic book On Becoming a Person (1961). It has been a refreshing read, as I reflect on how we (educators, administrators, and parents) deal with the changes and challenges that the Common Core Standards bring to our lives, and how we can use Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) to support that change. Here are some quotes that resonated with me:
“The more I am simply willing to be myself, in all this complexity of life and the more I am willing to understand and accept the realities in myself and in the other person, the more change seems to be stirred up.”
This idea of accepting the realities in myself starts with one of the core competencies of SEL, self-awareness; the ability to assess your feelings, know your strengths and weaknesses, and identify your interests and values, so you can maintain a well-grounded sense of self-confidence. According to Rogers, being yourself is a first step for change and growth. Implementing the CCSSS is going to ask us, at least, to reflect on our teaching practices under the lens of these new expectations and check how aligned those two are. In other words, before thinking that you have to start from scratch because your students will be evaluated on a different set of measures, identify the strategies that are part of your practice that already support 21st century skills.
“It is a very paradoxical thing-that to the degree that each one of us is willing to be himself, then he finds not only himself changing; but he finds that other people to whom he relates are also changing.”
Change can be energizing and a motivator for improvement, but it can also be frightening. The uncertainty of accountability demands for schools, as well as the worry about how well students will perform on the new assessments, or any other concern you might have about the CCSS is going to affect how you feel and deal with this change. One strategy that I have often used with students is having them write how they feel about a particular situation. Try it for yourself! Considering that the transition to the CCSS is beyond your control, this exercise might help you clarify your fears and worries about this change, and reframe your worries to focus on the potential positive outcomes for your students.
When we engage in innovative processes, in our work or our personal lives, we are often faced with uncomfortable situations that might be stressful. Changing or developing instructional practices is a process that takes time; it is something that happens over time when supported by cycles of action, analysis and purposeful reflection on the practice. Dealing with this process of change asks teachers to use another of the SEL competencies, self-management; the ability to regulate emotions to handle stress, persevere in overcoming obstacles, and monitoring progress toward goals. Does this sound like the skills you are trying to develop in your students?
SEL is a process to develop social and emotional competencies in children, and also adults. In this transition to the CCSS, teachers and school leaders are faced with the challenge to respond to these new demands. This transition won’t come free of concerns and stress about how to best support student learning. In this process, remember to notice and identify your emotions, clarify your concerns, and set up realistic goals to improve your teaching practice. Change is a journey, not a blueprint (Fullan, 1993)!