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

Summer is for Self-Empathy

“I don’t have enough time to do everything that needs to be done.” The end of the school year is a busy and stressful time of year―for teachers, students and parents. Schedules are packed with deadlines, school activities and family events, leaving everybody feeling stressed and overwhelmed. According to research, our perceived time pressure is about how well the activities we need to perform fit together in our heads and how much control we think we have over them. This is good news, because it means we can do something about it! Check out this article from Greater Good Science Center, if you need some tips for handling time pressure.

In addition to stress, the end of the school year may bring a wide array of emotions-excitement for a well-deserved break, sadness to leave friends and esteemed teachers behind, maybe a sense of relief. If you have not finished the school year, hang in there. You are almost done! And if you need ideas for end of year activities, check out this or this post.

And now to summer bliss.

When you start your summer break, ask yourself what you really need to relax. Sleeping in, going for a walk in the woods, having tea with a good friend; whatever helps you unwind from the busy-ness of the school year, make it a priority. Many times, we return from vacation feeling exhausted or frustrated because the days were packed with activities and we did not do the one thing we really wanted to do. Don’t let it happen!

But before you completely disconnect from your computer or social media, I would like to share something for you to ponder this summer-the importance of nurturing self-empathy. This is a concept that I explore in my new SEL book, Teaching with the HEART in Mind. I hope you enjoy this snippet. Let me know what you think!

Self-empathy is empathy too

During a workshop about educator self-care, I asked participants to write down on a card what they told themselves when they made a mistake. Then, I had them exchange cards with the person sitting next to them. One of the participants looked at me nervously, and said: “I don’t want to give my card to her. I don’t want her to feel what I felt when I made this mistake.” As you can imagine, we had a very productive conversation about the way we talk to ourselves when things do not go the way we plan or we make an error. In many cases, we cut ourselves down with self-criticism. We may think “You’re an idiot. Why did you do that?”, “You always make this mistake. Why don’t you learn?” Would you ever talk to a friend like that? Probably not. You would try to show compassion, and help them see that mistakes are part of being human. You would help them feel better. However, when we are the ones making the mistake… things change—it becomes harder to show empathy towards ourselves.

Kristin Neff, leading expert on mindful self-compassion, describes self-compassion as treating yourself with kindness, the same way you would treat a friend who is having a hard time[i]. It means learning to speak to ourselves like a good friend, “How are you doing? You seem so sad today. Is there anything that I can do to make you feel better?” and then moving to do things that make us feel safe and cared for.

This also applies to children and youth. Many students can become highly critical of their mistakes at a young age, impacting their ability to deal with failure or disappointment. When students learn to develop self-compassion, they are able to admit their mistakes instead of feeling paralyzed by them (and giving up) or blaming others. Neff’s research also shows that self-compassionate people take greater personal responsibility for their actions and are more likely to apologize if they have offended someone.

In many cases, students don’t realize they use negative self-talk until educators create the space in the classroom to reflect and have this conversation. For certain students, it can be a powerful experience to realize that treating oneself harshly does not have positive outcomes in the long term. Helping students to nurture self-compassion in themselves prepares them to become more resilient, resourceful and happy adults.

“Self-compassion motivates like a good coach, with kindness, support, and understanding, not harsh criticism.” Kristin Neff

I hope you have a wonderful summer.

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[i] Neff, K. & Germer, C. (January 29, 2019). The Transformative Effects of Mindful Self-Compassion. Mindful. Retrieved from


Creating an SEL Mindset

Two weeks ago, I visited a high school in Los Angeles (California) to gather data for a case study that I am conducting with the Learning Policy Institute. Serving around 500 mostly low-income students, the school has raised its graduation rates from 83 percent in its first year to 99 percent last year. A school that is built on teacher leadership, the educational program prioritizes a whole child approach with a relentless focus on providing students with the social, emotional and academic supports they need to ensure they are ready to lead successful and productive lives in college and beyond. Read more

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

Adversity Affects Learning

David was a 5th grader at an elementary school in East Oakland (California), where I worked as a special education teacher¹. The school was located in a neighborhood greatly affected by crime, drugs and gangs. Many students at the school had been exposed to violence and abuse, and most students had some kind of psychological trauma. David lived with two siblings and his mom, who was addicted to drugs. I saw David twice a week to work on his reading. The minute he walked into my room, I could clearly see if he was doing well or having a hard day. When he felt defeated, frustrated or pushed in any way, he would shut down and not respond to any verbal communication. Read more

The Power of Relationships

Think about your relationship with a good friend or a close colleague; you may push each other to do better, seek comfort when you are struggling or simply share a good laugh. As social beings, human relationships are at the core of a healthy development. This is true for all—children, youth and adults. From the infant who is starting to develop a bond with their caregiver to the elderly person, nurturing our human capacity to form and maintain relationships is essential to developing a positive sense of wellbeing. Read more

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