Joy is the word that comes to mind when I think about my emotions around being back in school with my students this year. After many months of disruption and challenges, it is nothing short of joyful to be back together. Yes, there are still challenges as we are not yet back to normal. We are getting closer to what we recall as regular school and it is exhilarating. That joy is apparent in students as well. I see my young students thrilled to be engaging in partner work, soaking up the stories they hear from others, and sharing pieces of themselves with our learning community every day. Make no mistake, students are absolutely thrilled to be back in school with their peers.
That said, we must acknowledge that students of all ages have greater academic needs and less developed school skills and social-emotional competence than they would have pre-COVID. This chart shows the last normal school year that our students have seen.
Image Credit: https://twitter.com/sallieortmann
These increased needs require a great degree of responsiveness on the part of adults who work with students to be supportive; teachers, administrators, support staff, and anyone who walks the halls of our schools. To be truly responsive and to be able to make countless decisions in a way that is flexible and supports students, we must be deeply in touch with ourselves. It’s time for Adult SEL.
CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, defines SEL as “how children and adults learn to understand and manage emotions, set goals, show empathy for others, establish positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” with five competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Make no mistake, this is an “Adult SEL” moment.
Educators have been through extraordinary stress over the last 19 months as they have worked to change how they teach and support students. To be able to move forward and to be truly responsive to our students, we need to know where we are and work with great intention on our own social-emotional competence. The first step is to create deep self-awareness about how we are doing. Being strong requires constant reflection and awareness of our current state as well as intentional work to move forward in a positive way. I like to look at the word “Strong” in this context with the picture below:
S is for self.
Once we examine where we are, we can identify what we need to move forward and be our best at work and for ourselves and our students. Do we need to focus on our physical self, spiritual journey, personal or professional relationships, or all of the above? Once we assess ourselves, let’s not judge ourselves but just notice where and how we are. This is the true essence of self-awareness!
T is for Team.
How would others in our lives describe how we are? It is critical to open our lens to the view of others. While this can be incredibly uncomfortable, it is powerful beyond measure. I feel and face my deepest insecurities when I ask others how they would describe me; my family, my students, my closest friends. It’s hard but incredibly revealing. When we are brave enough to engage in this practice, so much is revealed and our power to move forward in a productive way is activated. Ask yourself these questions to start the journey to see and understand where you really are. It’s worth it, I promise!
With deep intention, we can do much to see and feel how we are and where we are. As educators, this is critical work. Our craft demands flexibility, responsiveness, creativity, and innovation. Digging into ourselves is a necessary first step.
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About the Author: Wendy Turner teaches 2nd grade at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware. She is passionate about connecting learning in the classroom to the real world. Deeply committed to social-emotional learning, she guides her students to embody respect, empathy, resilience, citizenship, and growth mindset through dynamic classroom experiences. In 2017, Wendy was named the Delaware Teacher of the Year. Additional awards and leadership include being named a Delaware Compassion Champion Awardee, an NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellow culminating with field work in South Africa, and a Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Teaching Science. Currently, she is an SEL expert, advocate, and trainer and is serving on the Delaware State Board of Education