Skip to content

Posts from the ‘SEL’ Category

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). Since I started working on the book, I have been thinking a lot about this quote from Brené Brown: “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”  This book is my way to show up and share with you what I have learned from being a teacher, and from supporting educators and schools to implement SEL. My hope is that it will help you in your work with students, families and school communities.

After some time writing, I am now ready to start sharing some of the content with you. Every few weeks, I will share an excerpt from the book. If you want to receive these excerpts directly in your email, sign up for updates! Every chapter contains practical tools that you can implement in your classroom and personal life. Do you have specific tools or topics that you would like to find in the book? Please send me a message. I love receiving your thoughts and questions; I use your feedback to inform my writing and the tools that I bring to schools.

Now to the content! Here’s a snippet from chapter 1 – We feel, therefore we learn:

Many educators have had students that ask “why are we doing this?” when presented with new information, or others that say “are we doing this again?” Well, there is a scientific reason for these questions. The brain does not waste energy thinking about things that don’t matter to us. We only think deeply about things for which we care. This is the reason why learners pay attention and stay focused when the subjects or topics discussed in class are personally relevant to them.

Unfortunately, schools often resort to things like “This unit is going to be on the test” to draw students’ attention for the content discussed in class. Students may have no internal reason to engage with that information, but they do it nonetheless for other emotion-related reasons: fear. They may be afraid of failing that class, disappointing their families, or feeling ashamed. Immordino-Yang argues, however, that fear shifts your thought patterns and memory, putting students in a fight or flight response, which is not conducive to deep engagement with ideas or skill development. Students’ learning is impaired when they are fearful, traumatized, or overcome by challenging emotions.

On the other hand, curiosity is a much better emotion for meaningful learning. Curiosity fuels imagination and creativity. When students feel curious, they are open; they may feel intellectually playful and willing to explore new possibilities. Great innovators, such as Thomas Edison or Leonardo da Vinci, had curious minds. For educators focused on creating productive learning environments, this means that we need to find more effective tools to increase curiosity; we need more “emotional hooks” to induce emotions that support deeper learning in the classroom (you will find practical examples about emotional hooks in chapter 9).

Do you want to be in the loop about the book? Sign up for updates or follow #teachingheartinmind on Twitter. I’ll be sharing another excerpt about the power of relationships soon. Stay tuned!



Let It Be

Emotions are an important part of being human. We don’t want to ignore or suppress them because they provide valuable data about what is happening inside ourselves and the world around us. Yes, I know, I have said this before. However, with the holidays around the corner, there is this notion that we must feel a certain way… mostly happy, joyful and excited. Well, what if that’s not the case for you or your students?

Sharon Salzberg, world-renowned meditation teacher and New York Times bestselling author, explains how we are conditioned to believe that painful feelings are “bad”, and pleasurable ones are “good.” For many people, it’s often easier to avoid grief and sorrow, while only embracing pleasant sensations like confidence or love. A solely focus on pleasurable emotions can negatively impact students’ healthy development.

Social Emotional Learning means developing students’ and adults’ capacity to accept and learn to embrace all of their emotions, including the unpleasant ones, so they can experience a more enduring sense of happiness and life satisfaction. Even during the holidays. Especially during the holidays.

Educators have a critical role understanding what kinds of emotions students experience in the classroom, how they differ among students, and how they influence their engagement and performance. However, the teacher’s job is not to make students feel happy at all times, but to create the conditions where students can recognize and manage their emotions in constructive ways. It is better for students to learn how to cope with disappointment and failure from a caring teacher, than to have no tools to deal with these feelings. Ready or not, feelings are coming our way.

As you start the holiday celebrations, allow yourself and your students to acknowledge and appreciate whatever feelings this time of year brings. If it is sadness, grief or anger, approach it with compassion. And just let it be.

Wishing you a peaceful holiday season and a New Year filled with purpose.

Reference: Salzberg, S. (2017). Real Love. The Art of Mindful Connection. New York, NY: Flatiron Books.

Gratitude for Self

Did you know that people who experience gratitude cope better with stress, recover more quickly from illness, and enjoy more robust physical health, including lower blood pressure and better immune function? Gratitude is the quality of being thankful, the readiness to show appreciation and return kindness to others. In the US, Thanksgiving is the holiday that celebrates gratitude and encourages us to be appreciative. Students and teachers may spend time together creating gratitude quilts, writing gratitude letters or sharing a gratitude meal (check out Stone Soup: a lesson in sharing). However, there is a lesser known form of gratitude that we often miss: gratitude for self. Read more

Whole School Approach to SEL

SEL cannot be solely focused on teaching social and emotional skills once a week. Why not?

While explicit instruction of SEL competencies is a key component, and in many cases the first step taken by schools starting to implement SEL, students (and adults too!) need plenty of opportunities to practice these skills beyond the “SEL instructional time”. SEL programs and practices are more effective when students can experience how these competencies support their personal and academic goals, and when adults (teachers, parents and administrators) are invested in modeling and practicing the skills alongside their students. Read more

Creating Milestone Experiences

During this week, students in Kindergarten and 1st grade at my daughter’s school participate in a special, off campus trip that is unique to their grade level. These trips provide experiential learning opportunities for students tied to the school’s core curriculum. As the students get older, these milestone trips increase in complexity (and days away from home), challenging students in different ways. The classroom teacher reminded us, parents, how this was a special moment for students to experience by themselves. So, I will have to (patiently) wait until she gets home to find out how everything went! Read more

Taking SEL Home

When I pick up my daughter from school, I often ask her these questions: What made you laugh? Who did you help? Were you brave today? Her answers give me insights into how her day went, what she enjoyed doing and how she felt at school. She doesn’t always want to talk about how school went, but it is important for me as a parent to initiate that conversation and create the time for us to check-in. Sometimes she will ask back, how was your day Mom? 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

%d bloggers like this: