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Posts from the ‘Teaching with the Heart in Mind’ Category

Purpose Builds Resilience

A few years back, I agreed to help organize an “SEL Day” at a local school. The organizing team did not seem to have a clear objective for the event, but I agreed anyway thinking that I could be of help. As the team started making decisions about the event, I became increasingly frustrated—I thought there were better ways to present information, engage the participants or select speakers. Since I did not want to question the group’s decisions, I became disengaged and lost interest. Then, as we were getting closer to the day of the event, I realized that I had forgotten the very reason why I had agreed to support this initiative: I wanted to support this group in pursuing something that was important to them, and that aligned with my own values. My purpose was not about creating the “perfect” event according to my criteria, but it was about supporting this group of people. When I realized that it was about them, not me, my feelings changed—I felt excited and proud of the work that had been done so far. In the end, the event was a success. Although my initial feelings were valid, I had been putting my attention on the wrong thing—I had been so focused on the outcome, that I had missed the value of the process. By revisiting my purpose, I was able to see the situation from a different perspective and transform my emotions and the actions I took. It was a powerful reminder of how important it is to connect daily actions with our sense of purpose.

In my forthcoming book, Teaching with the HEART in Mind, I have dedicated a full section to discuss the HEART skills of educators. If we want students to develop these important competencies, we need to support teachers in doing the same. In this snippet, I explore how connecting to our purpose builds our capacity to navigate challenges and setbacks. Let me know what you think.

The last competency in the HEART in Mind model, Transform with Purpose, means using our personal assets and interests to contribute to ourselves and others in positive ways.

Too often we forget to connect with our “internal compass” (or to teach others to discover their own), and we may find ourselves lost, confused or thirsty for meaning. Having a sense of purpose has been found to contribute to well-being, especially in the areas of good health and life satisfaction[i]. It helps youth and adults to maintain their motivation and a sense of hope for the future. It is an internal driver to do good in the world.

Having purpose also helps us to use our HEART skills more intentionally. When we have clarity about what to do to move forward in our lives, we are more likely to connect with our emotions, pay attention to the decisions we make and nurture our empathy and relationships with others. The verb Transform has a special meaning here-it refers to the fact that a new reality is created, and hopefully a better one, when we are able to act on our purpose.

In the context of educator resilience, transforming with purpose means that we use these intentions to make better, more informed decisions, and navigate the setbacks that we will inevitably encounter in the teaching profession, and life in general. However, this is an intentional practice—it doesn’t just happen. It requires that we consciously (re)visit our purpose, checking in to see if our personal interests, values or skills have changed over time. If they have changed, considering what that means for us as individuals and our work. Sometimes we need to revisit this purpose, because we got caught up in different situations (trying to take control or prove we are right) and we forgot our true intentions, like it happened to me when I tried to help organize the SEL day.

A practical way to engage in this process is by asking the question: what is my true goal here? This question can be applied to small situations, such as an argument with a colleague or a student, or big situations, such as considering a leadership role or changing schools. When we ask this question, we are trying to get to the core of the matter, seeing past the noise and details that make our vision blurry. It is a process to acknowledge the true value of what is happening, and bring our purpose forward. By engaging in this process, we can feel more grounded and in control of our decisions. Open to life’s experiences, while feeling ready for whatever those may be.

A year ago, I announced that I was writing a book. Twelve months and many pages later, I feel confident that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Your messages and words of encouragement keep me going. I appreciate every one of them.

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] Stillman, S. & Martinez, L. (2019). Guiding Youth to Noble Goals: A Practitioner Perspective. Journal of Character Education, 15(2), 91-102.


Making Space for Every Story

There are many stories that find no light in mainstream media; many books, movies, and pieces of art that will never be seen or appreciated, even less paid for. As a society, we choose the stories that are worth sharing and celebrating, and ignore the rest. In many cases, these unheard stories come from people who have been discriminated against because of their race, gender, social class, home language, ability, or sexual orientation amongst others. This prompts us to question—who is telling the story and who is in charge of the narrative.

In the classroom, educators can make space for every story so they can change, from the inside, the narrative that students carry with them when they go outside and interact with the world. You can do it by teaching with the HEART in Mind—honoring and celebrating students’ personal stories, and creating an environment where students feel connected and supported. When children and youth are able develop a sense of who they are, and explore the different aspects of their identity in a safe environment, they can learn more and better.

As you start the holiday celebrations, create this “container” for exploration, engagement, and connection with your students, making space for every child to tell their story and feel seen, heard and loved.

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

SEL Starts with the Adults

The importance of supporting young children’s social and emotional growth in early learning settings, such as child care centers and preschools, is well established. It is part of their “core business”, something they do day in and day out. There is, however, an important aspect of SEL that is not considered part of this work—the need to support early childhood educators’ social and emotional capacity. Read more

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. Read more

Context Influences Relationships

This week, I will be spending two days with colleagues and friends from around the world who deeply care about the social and emotional health of children, youth and adults. This is CASEL’s first conference, a great opportunity to celebrate the work that has been done to date, identify the current challenges, and make plans to grow this practicing community.
In addition to presenting research that I conducted with colleagues from the Learning Policy Institute, I look forward to connecting with the many people with whom I have collaborated over the years, and also meeting new colleagues. These relationships fill my bucket and strengthen my commitment to continue doing the work that matters. Read more

Behavior is Communication

“What happened, Mom? What is going on?” My daughter asked the other night, while she climbed on a chair to look at my computer. I was staring at my laptop, looking at pictures of the destruction caused by hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas. I felt speechless. Miles and miles of destroyed homes, entire towns swapped away by the hurricane. According to CNN, 70,000 people lost almost everything, and thousands of survivors are still trying to escape the destroyed areas. Read more

Doing the Work that Matters

Working with educators is probably the favorite part of my job. They are committed, passionate and courageous. They want to get better at teaching, because they care about their students’ wellbeing and success. They are a force for good. Read more

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