First of all, congratulations to all of you teachers, administrators, aides, assistants, office staff, and students who have earned a long-awaited summer break. I realize that some of you will be moving immediately into participating in summer school, summer camps, or summer trips but still you’re deserving of a pat on the back for making it through another school year. In today’s world, especially this last one, that is no easy feat.
I remember the sense of satisfaction and relief on that last day of school, the feeling of just sitting down and not having to think about the next day, the next lesson, the next meeting, and the next set of responsibilities. It was so peaceful reflecting on some of the greatest successes that occurred in my classroom, as well as wishing that I could have done more for a few. I also recall feeling a sense of loss at those students who were moving on next year and how I’d miss them. It was a euphoric calm, though, that eventually came over me. It was out of this calm and my reflections upon the previous year that after a few days had me wanting to start again. No, I wasn’t ready to start another school year yet, but I was eager to get those creative juices flowing and start the planning process.
Some of you have surely been introduced to the concepts of emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) and social-emotional learning (SEL). I’m equally sure that many of you have also been given the message from your administrators that this is a subject that will be discussed in greater detail in the fall.
For those of you who are still fairly new to teaching, hearing that there are even more things that you’ll be expected to do in the future can’t be helpful in getting rid of the exhaustion you might be feeling. In fact, it might add another layer of stress. I understand. I’ve been there and I’ve helped many teachers to overcome those feelings of apprehension before facing new standards, new textbooks, new expectations, and new strategies. Having to teach your students about social-emotional learning (SEL) or emotional intelligence (EQ) might just be another “monster”, meaning extra work for you. Let me tell you from experience that when it’s done right, it’s not. In fact, SEL might be the greatest gift to you and your students that you could ever give. When enough time is devoted to the subject matter, you’ll find that your students are kinder to each other and more respectful to you. They are better students and listeners, learning more and faster. And they laugh and smile a lot more. These are just a few of the benefits that lie ahead for you. In my 40+ years of working with elementary age kids, SEL is almost single-handedly responsible for my career being one of utmost satisfaction and joy.
It isn’t free though. By this I mean that you can’t just step aside and think it’ll happen. For you and your students to realize the benefits of SEL and EQ, you’re going to have to do a couple of things. I’m sure as the new year unfolds, people will give you curriculum, ideas, and strategies for how to “do it”. First of all, one doesn’t “do” SEL. It isn’t like a mathematics period that comes at a certain time and then passes. It isn’t something that you can check off a list. It defies that. It is a thing of the heart. If anything, it is recognizing the heart that lies within each student, the heart that lies inside of you, and the desire to address each person’s heart and possibly releasing some sense of pain, maybe even trauma, that lingers within each person. SEL can bring a sense of closeness with your students that other teachers may never experience.
Of the things that you’re responsible for, the main one is a willingness to try it. For some people sharing their feelings with their students, or opening that “bag of emotions”, from their students is like watching the scariest horror movie ever. So, in addition to being willing to try it, and also commit to it I must add, having the courage to overcome any of your preconceived fears is necessary.
In my opinion, that’s all it takes. Everything else will take care of itself. You’re going to have to trust me on this one. (That might be where the courage comes in.)
What is that saying, “Showing up is half the battle?” If you choose to open that door to you and your students, you’ll find that you are actually opening the door to a stronger, deeper relationship with your students, to greater inner peace for yourself, and the satisfaction that you are reaching your students in ways that will transcend any academic concept and put you in the “best teacher ever” category. You will be giving your students a tremendous lifelong gift. You will be doing exactly what you came into teaching wanting to do: improve kids’ lives and as a result, change the world.
There are a tremendous number of materials that can help you to teach the content. For sample, you might take a look at the 6seconds.org site, or the videos on TeachEmotion.com, or Amy Franklin’s book, Choose to Change: A Step-by-step guide for fostering emotional intelligence in the classroom. (The latter can be purchased though this newsletter’s merchandise section.) These are just a few of the excellent resources that exist. But it’s not just about content. The content already exists inside of you and inside of your students. It is there every time someone walks through your classroom door. They’re bringing it in with them, especially if they are coming in from recess. That’s the easy part in my opinion. It’s asking certain questions in a sincere and caring way. It’s simply asking the question, “How are you?” or “How was recess?” to your students and giving each of them ample time to respond, and then commenting or letting them know that you heard them. Isn’t that what all of us want, to be heard and to be seen?
Every time us adults ask a child a question similar to the ones above or any number of others, we’re telling them that we care, that we are there for them, and that we believe that they have value. You’re telling each student that you’re not going away, and you want to hear what they have to say. In other words, you want to hear their story. What a gift that is to your students. The gift is reciprocated when they start asking you or when you hear a student’s response, and it resonates within you. I’m proud to say that I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to have possibly thousands of conversations with my students that leave my feet feeling like they are lifting off of the ground. It feels that way because I’m very sure at that very moment I’ve answered a concern for someone, or reduced someone’s pain, or given someone hope, or reduced the size of “wall”, or opened an emotional “box” that they didn’t even realize could be opened. All this is possible with just sitting down regularly with your kids and asking them questions that don’t appear to be related to academics.
All of this joy that I speak of is yours for the taking if just you take a leap of faith in me and in SEL and try it for a while. Like anything else, it will get easier and the benefits greater with time. While you’re working through the discomfort that comes with doing something new and is a bit out of your own box, be patient with yourself. You’re a caring person who is working towards giving your students and yourself a lifelong gift. You’re deserving of being patient with yourself. But, if you choose to commit to asking your students more personal questions over time, you are opening the door to a whole new world that will certainly change their lives, and yours…
P.S. – In the next three issues of our newsletter, I will be giving you some strategies for integrating SEL into your day and making it come alive. A little spoiler alert, there are three ways or components that can help you organize your time with SEL: the proactive, the reactive, and the embedded. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, I welcome your feedback and questions. Write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put something like “newsletter questions and feedback” in the subject line, so that it doesn’t get buried. Thanks.