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 preparation 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
Posts tagged ‘Self-awareness’
Resilience is the ability to withstand stress and catastrophe. Humans have an amazing capacity to adapt and overcome adversities and even after devastating tragedies, individuals and communities find ways to move forward and rebuild their lives. Linda Lantieri founded the Inner Resilience Program (IRP) in 2002 in response to the effects of the events of September 11, 2001 on New York City schools. Read more
In an earlier post, I discussed the concept of emotion and offered a few suggestions to build self-awareness and self-management in your students. After reading the blog, did you start identifying your different emotional responses during the day? Did you find yourself paying more attention to how your emotions predispose you to act? Understanding how emotions work is key to build our awareness! Today, we’ll explore how emotions affect learning.
Students bring to the classroom emotions from life outside of school; they might be dealing with an ongoing stressful situation at home, like a divorce or a parent losing their job, or maybe something more momentary, like an argument with a sibling. If students didn’t have a chance to manage their emotions before getting to school, they will need your support to cool off and re-focus before they can move on with their day.
In addition, students also experience emotions that originate in the classroom and that are especially relevant for students’ learning (Pekrun, 2014):
- Achievement emotions relate to success and failure resulting from classroom activities. Students might feel hope and pride can they have been successful, but they can also feel anxiety, shame or fear of failure. Taking tests, for example, is an achievement activity that tends to create high levels of anxiety and stress in our students. These emotions will influence how students approach the task and how well they perform. Remember our discussion on growth mindset?
- Topic emotions pertain to the topics/subjects presented in class. Students might feel excited about a new art class, disgusted with certain lab experiments or saddened by the fate of a character in a novel.
- Social emotions relate to teachers and classmates, as students (and teachers) work together and interact in the classroom. Compassion, envy, sympathy, anger or social anxiety can be present at different times during the day with any and all of our students.
As a teacher, it might be difficult to respond to your students’ emotions at all times, while you manage the classroom and attend to academic content. However, there are things you can do to incorporate students’ emotions when you are planning and also during class.
- Offer a variety of tasks and activities, so students can feel successful during your class/period, and combine both achievement and performance tasks. Building self-confidence in your students by providing opportunities for success and accomplishment is key to promote a joy for learning and to avoid achievement anxiety.
- Provide contents that are meaningful to students and, when possible, allow students to define their own learning. You can make tasks more meaningful by connecting content to students’ current interest or relating them to their career goals. When possible, give students autonomy to select tasks or topics for learning. Both of these strategies promote students’ engagement and offer opportunities to practice social and emotional competencies.
- Build regular check-ins with students (both at the beginning and during the day/class). This can take the form of a classroom meeting, but could also be a silent activity where students quickly show you how they are feeling. Check out this example. You can also use check-in time to ask for feedback about lessons, classroom routines or particular projects students are developing.
Students bring emotions from life outside of school that influence their disposition to learning. In the classroom, students experience emotions based on the activities, topics and social interactions that are presented to them. Offering a variety of tasks and activities for students to feel successful, providing engaging content and allowing for students’ autonomy in learning are a few examples of strategies teachers can use to incorporate students’ emotions in their planning. And don’t forget to have regular check-ins with your students to continue building awareness!
Emotions are an important part of human life. We experienced emotions all the time, but we rarely pause to reflect on what emotions are and how they affect learning. Emotions drive attention, they influence our ability to process information and to understand what we encounter. They can energize our thinking or distract us from our goals. Part 1 of this post is focused on the concept of emotion. In part 2, we’ll discuss how emotions affect learning.
Emotions are complex states of mind and body, generally activated by an event, which is known as stimulus. Events can be external (you received great news from a friend) or internal (you have a toothache); they can be real or also imagined (you get excited when thinking about an upcoming party).
Once a stimulus has been generated, there is a process to appraise (Lazarus, 1991) it. This process is automatic and determines if the event is perceived as positive or negative, which will produce an emotional response. For example, if I am riding my bike and a car gets too close, I appraise that I am in danger and this activates my emotional response.
We can identify 3 different emotional responses (Bisquerra, 2009):
- Physiological: involuntary responses such as sweat, dry mouth, heavy breathing or rapid heartbeat.
- Behavioral: facial expressions, body language or tone of voice.
- Cognitive: this is the subjective experience of the emotion. It allows us to become aware and name our emotions. Having the language to name and describe our emotions is key to identify “what’s happening”.
Emotions drive us to take action, either by facing the event or by moving away from the situation that produced them. This predisposition to action is also known as flight or fly response, which reflects the two basic behaviors that ensure survival. Although emotions drive us to take action, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the action needs to occur. For example, if we feel offended by someone’s comment, we might feel the urge to respond aggressively. This predisposition to action can be regulated with with some training; this is where teaching SEL comes into place.
Model of emotion (Bisquerra, 2009)
Developing students’ social and emotional competencies means helping students be aware of their emotions, so they can regulate them and avoid impulsive reactions. A few suggestions to develop your students’ self-awareness and self-management:
- Implement Quite Time in your classroom. Quite Time provides students with a regular quiet, peaceful, restful period to meditate, do sustained silent reading or free drawing. It helps students de-stress and re-focus for better learning.
- Develop students’ emotional literacy by discussing different emotions, building an emotion thermometer or identifying character emotions in the books you’re reading with students.
- Help students reframe the way they think about their emotions and themselves. This is a great example of reframing.
Today, we explored how emotions are activated by events that we appraise as positive or negative, generating a physiological, behavioral and cognitive response and preparing us to take action. Implementing quite time, discussing emotions in the classroom and helping students reframe the way they think about what they feel are some ways to develop students’ self-awareness, so they can better regulate their behaviors.
Last week, I was rereading my research data and came across this amazing quote from one of the teachers. We were discussing the connections between Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and academic achievement.
“I think that SEL is a foundation you need to have before you can get to the academic learning (…) It also reinforces the study skills that they use in order to learn. So knowing their emotions and know their needs has to come first and then it also goes hand in hand with the academic learning when they know their strengths and weaknesses and they can use those in order to learn better.”
We could spend a lot of time analyzing each sentence and seeing how this teacher’s insights speak to your teaching practice, as you are transitioning to the Common Core. However, today I want to focus on the last part of this quote: the importance of being able to identify strengths and weaknesses and using those to learn better. As an adult, I can say that it is not an easy task! Admitting your weaknesses is recognizing that you aren’t perfect… and using them to learn better means that there are certain things that you need to improve. Although this is difficult for adults to do (challenging performance review? Difficult conversation with a spouse/partner?), we often ask students to recognize their challenges, and we send them off to start working on getting better.
Students (and adults) who can identify their strengths will be more likely to build on them to improve their areas of growth; they will probably have a greater motivation and will be more self-confident. Also, working with students on identifying their strengths will help you to know them better, and learn things that they like to do and do well in other parts of their life. This is especially important for students that might be struggling in your classroom, don’t seem motivated or are having a hard time adapting to the new Common Core. You can use their strengths and connect them with the content you teach!
In addition to help students feel more confident and motivated, working with students to identify their strengths will make it easier to talk about their areas of growth, and set up some goals to improve them. Here are 3 suggested steps to talk with your students about strengths and challenges. These activities could be done during morning meeting, check-in time or advisory period.
1. Have students complete a personal inventory. This inventory should ask students to reflect on the things they like to do, the ones that they do well, and others that might be hard and/or boring for them. It should include different aspects of students’ lives, such as school subjects, sports and hobbies, relationships and family. Display these inventories (or a section) in the classroom, a powerful visual reminder that we all have strengths.
2. Help students set up goals based on their strengths. We sometimes tend to set up goals for improvement without reflecting on how our strengths can help us achieve these goals (which might lead to frustration if they aren’t met). When working with students, focus on their strengths as the catalysts for improvement!
3. Refer back to students’ strengths when providing feedback, and check regularly on progress for meeting goals. Students will be more open to hear feedback, if you start a conversation discussing their latest accomplishments or complimenting something they’ve done. Even when you are working with a challenging student, try to start the conversation by saying something positive! And check back with your students on their goals, so you can help them rephrase or adapt depending on the progress.
Helping students identify their strengths is a great way to build motivation, self-confidence and a closer relationship with your students. Creating a personal inventory with students, setting up goals based on strengths and using students’ positive attributes when providing feedback will help build self-awareness in your students, and develop stronger learners. How do you use students’ strengths in your classroom? Please share your thoughts!
Life has some interesting twists, and sometimes things don’t go the way we expect. After a failure, we might feel lost, embarrassed, scared, upset, or even numb… we might not feel anything at all! At my last post, Perseverance in Solving Problems, I discussed how perseverance, grit and tenacity could be addressed in the classroom by creating a climate that supports challenging goals where mistakes are seen as normal and by developing a growth mindset in students. Today, I want to focus on some specific strategies that can be used to develop a growth mindset and deal with setbacks in your own journey or when working with students.
1. Identify how you feel. When we are dealing with difficult situations, we might feel a mixture of emotions. Being able to name these emotions, without judging if they are good or bad, will help you decrease their intensity and develop self-awareness. According to Damasio (2005), “far from interfering with rationality, the absence of emotion and feeling can break down rationality and make wise decisions making almost impossible”. Emotions contain information that can help us think, and when acknowledged, take a more objective stand in the situation we are facing so we can make better decisions.
2. Don’t be a victim. When we face setbacks and struggles, we might feel like we are victims (of discrimination, an unfair teacher, a bureaucratic system, etc.). When we feel this way, we tend to blame others for the difficulties we are facing. This mindset takes the individual’s power away, making it hard to change things and move forward. Moving away from a victim mentality starts with self-awareness, being able to connect with our emotions, so we can manage our behavior (instead of just reacting) and move into a position where we can identify new or alternative solutions. Another way to avoid a victim mentality is to take setbacks as part of learning. Embrace challenge as part of life and learning!
3. Identify the lesson that you can learn from it. There is always something that we can learn, even from difficult situations or when we think “everything is lost”. This means taking the time to analyze what happened, learn from mistakes and find ways to make them less likely to happen in the future. Although this can (often) be a hard process, the lessons learned when dealing with setbacks are generally the ones that stay with us the longest. When you are dealing with a challenge or helping students overcome a difficult situation, ask the question “what can I learn from it?”.
4. Remember your strengths and your goals. Experiencing setbacks can make you question your self-worth, your goals, and the things that keep you motivated to keep going. Being able to identify your strengths, and how you can use them to overcome the challenge and find new solutions, will be key to reframe the situation positively and open up space for alternatives. Learning from setbacks often means changing your behaviors in ways that will lead to success, but not giving up on your goals! Having clarity on your goals will help you persevere, even when you are faced with challenges.
5. Find social support. Numerous studies indicate that social support is exceptionally important for maintaining good physical and mental health, and may enhance individuals’ resilience to stress. Talk with a friend, coach or mentor about your experience. Others can give you emotional support (someone who can listen when you are upset or scared), remind you of your strengths or offer some strategies that have worked for them in the past. So don’t be shy about asking for help!
According to Carol Dweck, a growth mindset creates a love for learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishments. Having a growth mindset means that we take on challenges wholeheartedly, learn from our setbacks and try again. We won’t be able to avoid difficult situations, but we can be prepared with strategies when they strike!