As we embrace a new school year and work to create endless possibilities for our students, a focus on identity can help to create a connected learning community. The CASEL framework consists of five competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Elements of self-awareness and social awareness support understanding of culture for ourselves and others.
CASEL defines self-awareness as “The ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.” This includes one’s personal and social identities.
Fresh Teaching Idea:
A simple yet powerful tool to help adults and students express their identity is by writing a “Where I’m From” Poem. A well-known version of this type of poem is by poet laureate George Ella Leon. In her “Where I’m From” poem, she speaks of her family, her surroundings, childhood memories and hobbies as well as family mantras. It is a beautiful and authentic way to begin to share oneself with others as well as work creatively with language to express personal thoughts and feelings by creating vivid imagery. I’ve done this exercise with my elementary school students. An exceptional collection of work done by middle and high school students is available here. My “Where I’m From” poem is below. Yes, I am a child of the 1970s and 80s as you can see! Templates are available online. Although the end result will look different for students of all ages, the intent and the power in the result are the same, it’s an authentic expression of self that when shared will create community by revealing connections, vulnerability, and personal experiences. This is a great activity for the beginning of the year and one that can be revisited at mid-year and as a closing activity.
It’s also important to focus on the various elements of culture for students and adults so individuals can feel seen, heard, and validated. CASEL defines social awareness as: “The abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.” We can help students grow their own social awareness by giving them the opportunity to identify and share their diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts by simply asking them to articulate the individual pieces of their culture. I created a Google Jamboard to help facilitate this personal identification and sharing in class. You can make a copy of it here, then save a copy to your drive to use. Some of the frames are shown below.
I highly recommend doing these activities yourself when you implement them in your classroom. Sharing your culture and experiences with your students is powerful! Modeling this vulnerable sharing is an authentic teaching tool and will help you build strong connections with your students. When we identify and clearly see our differences as well as our commonalities, we can come together as human beings. This is where the most powerful learning happens. Enjoy embracing your learning communities’ culture this year. Please reach out if you have any questions or if you need support: firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Wendy Turner is the 2017 Delaware Teacher of the Year and taught 2nd grade at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware for 12 years. She is passionate about connecting learning in the classroom to the real world. Deeply committed to social-emotional learning, she fosters student growth in compassion, empathy, resilience, citizenship, and growth mindset through dynamic classroom experiences. 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, a Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Teaching Science and serving as the teacher member on the Delaware State Board of Education for 2 years. Currently she is a full-time faculty member at Delaware Technical Community College in the Elementary Education program.
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