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Posts from the ‘Pedagogy’ Category

Growing Leaders Through SEL

My oldest daughter came back from a field trip to the local water district ready to educate us about the many ways we can reduce water usage at home. She started noticing when a faucet was running unnecessarily and decided to use less water in her science experiments. She also started pointing out when her parents’ showers were too long! During the field trip, she developed a new awareness about the importance of water conservation, and decided to implement it at home. Her purpose is helping our family become more focused on reducing water usage.

Too often, Social and Emotional Learning is perceived as a tool for behavior management and compliance; something that needs to be done to students, so they can control their emotions and pay attention in class. I have written in the past about how SEL is a lot more than that: it is a tool to create positive relationships in the classroom, nurture awareness of strengths and challenges, remove barriers to learning, learn how to learn, persevere when faced with challenges and have difficult conversations, among others.

SEL is also a tool that helps students and teachers (re)discover what moves them inside and be able to articulate their purpose. In my new book, Teaching with the Heart in Mind, I explore how teachers and students can work together to articulate a sense of purpose, so they become change agents in their local and global communities. Enjoy this snippet and let me know if this resonates with your own SEL practice.

Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, has become a global icon. In August 2018, she took time off school to demonstrate outside the Swedish parliament, calling for stronger climate change action. Other students joined her efforts, protesting in their own communities. Together they organized a school climate strike movement, called Fridays for Future. In September 2019, she gave a speech to hundreds of thousands of people in New York at the Global Climate Strike. Just a few days later, she spoke at the United Nations and told world leaders: “How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood.” Greta is intrinsically motivated to take action on a topic that worries her. She is moved by a clear sense of purpose and concern for the future, and represents a positive role model for youth involvement in important topics.

Sadly, our current educational system is not focused on encouraging students to act on the problems they see in their communities and cultivating a sense of purpose[i]; it is increasingly focused on individual performance and achievement, with the promise that once students get into college, they will be able to engage in activities or topics of their interests. For some students, this may mean years of waiting to do something that stirs their imagination. Schools should be places where students’ interests and problem-solving skills are engaged, where they can discover their deepest passions and the gifts they can provide to the world. The results of students’ disengagement are daunting.

Stress, anxiety, and self-harm rates are on the rise in the US, which not only impacts students’ experiences in school, but are also indicators of mental health problems in adulthood.[ii] In 2019, internal surveys conducted at a suburban public high school in California determined that 75% of their students felt unhealthy levels of stress and anxiety. This high school is not unique.

Researchers from the Stanford-based organization Challenge Success have found that 34% of middle school students and almost half (49%) of high school students work hard in school, but rarely enjoy or find value in their schoolwork[iii]. These students tend to have higher levels of academic stress (due to grades, quizzes, and tests) than those students who are more engaged in school.  At the same time, the American Psychological Association (2014) Stress in America Survey found that school was the main source of stress for teenagers (83%), followed by getting into a good college or deciding what to do after high school (69%).

We know that schools and teachers can implement and are implementing changes that address these issues. It starts with believing that students themselves have important ideas about how their schools could better support them. Transforming with Purpose, the last competency in the HEART model, is the place where students’ voices are elevated, and educators and students partner together to bring about change to improve their schools and communities.

Until next time, keep me posted on your SEL progress, and get in touch if you need any additional support.

Sign up for updates about the book. I’ll be sharing another excerpt soon. Stay tuned!



[i] Damon, W. (2008) The Path to Purpose. Simon & Schuster (New York)

[ii] Twenge, J. M., Cooper, A. B., Joiner, T. E., Duffy, M. E., & Binau, S. G. (2019). Age, period, and cohort trends in mood disorder indicators and suicide-related outcomes in a nationally representative dataset, 2005–2017. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 128(3), 185-199.

[iii] Villeneuve, J.C., Conner, J.O., Selby, S., and Pope, D.C. (2019, Oct. 28). Easing the stress at pressure-cooker schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 101 (3), 15-19.

Removing Barriers to Learning

I just returned from attending the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), one of the largest educational research gatherings in the world. Among the thousands of scholars participating in the meeting, there is a special interest group for those passionate about SEL. This year, I organized the program for SEL researchers and was excited to see some new research areas, such as parenting and SEL, cultural competency and diversity, and teachers’ wellbeing. At the same time, I was disappointed to encounter several inquiries that measured social and emotional skills, while ignoring (conscious or unconsciously) the context in which this learning takes place. Read more

Teaching with the Heart in Mind

You may have been wondering why I haven’t been publishing lately. Well, there is a good reason—I am writing a book! I feel excited, scared and proud all at the same time! My new book, Teaching with the Heart in Mind, is a practical guide to nurturing Social Emotional Learning in the classroom. It will cover many of the topics and tools that I have discussed in this blog (emotions in learning, importance of relationships), and some new ones (how adversity affects learning, teachers’ resilience). Read more

Where did trust go? Strategies to earn your students’ trust

After several months into the school year, you might find that you have established positive relationships with most of your students… but maybe not all of them. Although, as educators, we care deeply about our students, there are certain relationships that may be more challenging and require a bit more work. In my experience, there is one ingredient that allows for honest communication, a sense of respect towards each other, maybe even a shared purpose. Do you know what it is? It’s trust. Trust is at the heart of any successful relationship. Read more

Teachers’ Voices on SEL

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is becoming a world-wide phenomenon.” These are the words of Dr. Elias and Dr. Hatzichristou in the latest issue of the International Journal of Emotional Education. It appears that SEL competencies are valued across countries and cultures, and more and more teachers and administrators are ready to teach these skills in schools. Great! AND we know that SEL programs and practices help students be more engaged, resilient and ready to learn. So… let’s do it! Read more

Finish the Year with Gratitude

The days are getting longer, the weather is warmer… summer is almost here! For students, this means a few more weeks wrapping up final projects and for teachers, battling to keep students engaged while trying to finish their own final projects. At this point of the school year, everybody is plain done! With this in mind, what are some activities that teachers can do to finish the year on a high note? Read more

Educating for Freedom

In an earlier post, I encourage my readers to explicitly name the great virtues they would like their students to have. It is important that we (educators) ask ourselves these important questions to find and give meaning to the work we do with children and youth. For me, education was (and still is today) the way to freedom; the necessary tool to empower others and create a better future. Paulo Freire, one of the founders of critical pedagogy, believed that all education (in the broadest sense) was part of a project of freedom, a prpaulo-freire6eparation for a self-managed life. In this post, I want to offer an “SEL perspective” on Freire’s work and identify the social and emotional competencies we need to teach and practice in order to fulfill Freire’s dream: to develop self-determined citizens that engage in civic life and critically contribute to society. Read more

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