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Posts from the ‘SEL’ Category

Preparing for Difficult Conversations

There is no education without ethics. This is the way my former Philosophy professor, Joan-Carles Mèlich, started each class. As I was getting trained to become a teacher, this was a powerful reminder of the responsibility I had as an educator with my students. I had to carefully consider how my relationship with children and youth could serve as a tool for positive change or, on the contrary, as a way to maintain the status quo. As educators, we have choices in the ways we discuss expressions of racial and religious hatred, like the recent events in Charlottesville (US), or analyze the response to NFL players kneeling during the US anthem. There is no education without ethics.

Educators should anticipate students to want to discuss these events or others affecting their lives. Although it might be uncomfortable at times, it is worth having these meaningful conversations with students. My hope is that, as schools embrace SEL implementation, educators will create the conditions for students to understand each other, celebrate their differences and make positive choices for themselves and their communities.  

There are many free resources available that may be helpful in having these difficult conversations in the classroom. This is a complete list shared by CASEL, which includes links to resources developed after the August 2017 conflict in Charlottesville, free lessons to discuss DACA from the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility and how to discuss #takeaknee from Teaching Tolerance. But before you start planning how to address these topics with your students, it might be helpful to reflect on how you can prepare yourself to have these conversations in the classroom.

Let’s use the Six Seconds model to help us clarify our feelings, thoughts and actions. First, think about a recent event (it could be one of these or others affecting your student population) that you would like to discuss with your students. Then, take a piece of paper and answer the following questions:

1. What do I feel? Write down 2 or 3 feelings that emerge when you think about this particular event. Think about the different actors in the story. Do they generate the same feelings? Add to your list if new feelings emerge. Now go a step further – think about your own bias. Can you identify how your background and past experiences affect your feelings about this particular event? Does the event trigger any reactions?

2. What options do I have? Write down the different actions that you could take based on answers to number 1. What actions are your emotions encouraging you to take? You might want to ignore that these events are happening, because the feelings are so uncomfortable (fly response). Or you might not know what to do or even how to start unpacking the event for your students. Now, look at the different options and ask yourself if they are appropriate (for yourself, for others). What are the pros and cons of the different alternatives? Are these options treating others with fairness and respect, even when you don’t agree with them? If you could look at this event with an optimistic lens, how would you present it to your students? Write it down.

3. What do I really want? This is a simple question that is often very difficult to answer! Think about your purpose. What is it that you are really trying to teach your students? What do you hope your students learn from this event and its consequences? If you were true to your purpose, what would you do? Write it down. Now summarize in one sentence what your immediate next step is.

After going through this exercise, do you have more clarity about what to do? I hope you do. Now, go ahead! Look at the list of resources and plan how you will address these topics with your students. Refer back to your feelings, your choices and your purpose to inform your decisions. At the core, Social Emotional Learning is finding in ourselves those elements we are hoping our students learn and carry with them as we’re building a more equitable and just society.

Ready For Summer?

I’m heading to Spain this summer to visit my family (short trip to Portugal to attend the 6th International Congress on Emotional Intelligence and present my latest research with school principals). I look forward to seeing my kids playing on the beach where I grew up and nurturing their love for swimming, sand and ice cream! I also look forward to spending time away from my computer, reconnecting with family and friends, and getting (re)energized. Summer is such a special time of the year. It brings the necessary pause from the daily routines, the opportunity to rest and recharge, and the mental space to look into the future with optimism and hope. Read more

3 Key Lessons on Empathy

I did the last internship for my teaching credential in a rural town in Nicaragua, volunteering at a local NGO – Los Pipitos – that supported children with disabilities. During my time there, I worked alongside a promotora de salud (community health professional), Martha; the most patient human being I have ever met, I learned everything I know about empathy from her.

Martha and I used to walk several hours a day in the dusty trails of Yalagüina, trying to reach the homes where children with disabilities lived. Most of these families could not afford to send their children to a special education school or even to the local public school, therefore Los Pipitos educated the families so they could support their kids’ growth and development at home. During the many hours we spent walking, Martha and I developed a close friendship. She always answered my many questions about Nicaragua’s culture, politics and poverty with patience and care. Martha had an amazing capacity to connect with the families we visited and show love and concern, even when the things we saw and experienced were difficult.

These are 3 key lessons that I learned about empathy from watching Martha relate to others.

1. Empathy starts with self-awareness. Empathy is being able to walk in someone else’s shoes, to feel with them. Having a son with cerebral palsy herself, Martha had walked similar paths than the families we visited. Although it was difficult to watch people in pain, sometimes denial, Martha was able to connect with her own emotions, so she could open her heart to these families.

As teachers and parents, this self-awareness helps us to be more present in any given situation. It can be difficult to model empathy for our students or our own children, to connect with their feelings, if we are still thinking about work, an argument we had earlier that day or the endless to-do list. Once we have been able to check-in with ourselves, even if it means connecting with uncomfortable feelings, we’ll be in a better position to connect with others.

2. Empathy heals. Another important lesson that I learned from my dear friend is that when we are able to show empathy for others, they feel accepted and understood. We often encountered families that were skeptical of the help we could provide or scared that we would take their child away. Martha was able to validate their feelings, whatever they were, opening the door for conversation and connection.

When we show empathy for children and youth, or other adults, and we connect with their feelings, that connection and care is healing to whatever they are going through. Showing empathy makes the relationships with our children and students deeper and stronger.

3. Empathy teaches Empathy. I learned the power of empathy by watching Martha connect with people in the community. When she talked and related to others, she did it from the heart. Martha modeled empathy by connecting with people’s emotions, and also by talking about people’s behaviors without judgment.

Children learn how to show empathy from their parents and caregivers, so when adults around them show empathy towards others, they are teaching empathy with their actions. Mary Gordon, the founder of Roots of Empathy, says that empathy can’t be taught in traditional ways, it can only be taught experientially.

As we have seen, in order to show empathy, we need to have some clarity about our own feelings and leave room for the other person to take the stage, being fully present for them. Many people have a difficult time showing empathy, because it means going to a painful place within themselves. Part of showing empathy is being able to manage our own anxiety about the feelings of others and grow to accept them. Empathy, like other social and emotional skills, can be learned and developed over time.

Here are 3 things you can do to develop your empathy.

  • Listen without solving. Tell yourself “I am here to listen”. If you find yourself coming up with ways to solve the problem, go back to my earlier post Are You Listening? for tips on how to become a better listener. Be patient, the other person might not be ready to solve the situation yet.
  • Validate and reflect. Serve as a mirror to the other person. Acknowledge his/her emotions and (maybe) help them connect to the triggers: “You seem angry about the game getting cancelled”, “You sure are upset with me”.
  • Resonate: Match your reaction with his/her mood. Connect with your own emotions by asking yourself “Have I felt this way before?”. Offer comfort, without distracting the person from their own feelings.

Empathy helps people connect with each other at deeper levels, is healing and builds trust. You can develop your empathy by listening without solving, validating the other person’s feelings and resonating with them. It’s never too late to begin noticing when and how you show empathy, and start using the three strategies outlined above. Give it a try and let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear from you.

The Secret Sauce for SEL

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process through which students, teachers and families learn and practice the skills of emotional intelligence. As a process, implementation of SEL might look differently in different schools with unique needs and students. Although there are certain key ingredients to create an evidence-based, sustainable SEL program, the way in which schools, teachers and students make these ingredients come together will vary. Teachers’ readiness, leadership support, students’ social and emotional needs and existing resources, among other factors, will influence how schools go about making SEL “work” in their communities. This is both a challenge and an opportunity. Read more

Are You Listening?

When I was a kid, I became fascinated with the story of Momo by Michael Ende. Have you read it? Momo is a little girl of mysterious origin with an extraordinary ability to listen – really listen. I remember reading the book and wondering, how does she do it? Can I really listen that way too?

She listened in a way that made slow-witted people have flashes of inspiration. It wasn’t that she actually said anything or asked questions that put such ideas into their heads. She simply sat there and listened with the upmost attention and sympathy, fixing them with her big, dark eyes, and they suddenly became aware of ideas whose existence they had never suspected. Momo could listen in such a way that worried and indecisive people knew their own minds from one moment to the next, or shy people felt suddenly confident and at ease, or down-hearted people felt happy and hopeful. Read more

Focus on Yourself to Nurture Positive Relationships

The relationships that children and youth establish with adults are critical for a healthy social and emotional development. When students and teachers establish positive, caring relationships, students are more likely to use their teachers as resource to solve problems, engage in learning activities, and better navigate the demands of school (Williford & Sanger Wolcott, 2015). Researchers have found that high-quality relationships between students and teachers are linked with students’ academic and social-emotional outcomes. Read more

Ready for School?

A few weeks back, I registered my daughter for kindergarten in the local school district. It was a moment filled with different emotions: excitement for the new experiences she will have, worry for the challenges, and also a bit of sadness because she is no longer my little “baby”. A moment of true self-awareness! Read more

Creating Positive Change in the New Year

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” wrote cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead. Unfortunately, many people have been anesthetized into believing they don’t count, that they can’t make a difference. These beliefs cause people to detach emotionally and retreat from taking any action. 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

Choosing to Be Grateful

This year, many families in the US are feeling fearful or anxious about having political conversations during the Thanksgiving dinner. A time to show appreciation and gratitude towards loved ones may become sour if we affirm “our” experience and opinion, without considering the experience of others or how our comments might affect them. Ask yourself, how am I feeling? And (even if it is difficult) also ask, how are you feeling? Having an enjoyable Thanksgiving meal might require us to practice and model our best emotional intelligence skills! Read more

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