Maslow while you Bloom

This fall everyone seems to be worried about “starting the year with SEL” before launching into their content or “Maslow before Bloom.” There is a renewed effort to make sure that teachers are developing relationships and connecting with their students. Teachers are working hard to figure out how to successfully build class culture in an online environment that can feel isolated. So many have used creative strategies to make this happen.

I am in full support of all of this effort because I believe strongly in the power of culture in the classroom. Yet I think that there are some misconceptions, particularly around what it means to focus and teach SEL.

Not either/or

What does the “A” in CASEL stand for? I’ll wait while you look it up.

The research is clear that SEL competencies are best learned integrated throughout the day, not as a separate activity or class.

SEL is meant to be taught infused with meaningful content. So teachers don’t need to compromise on content. SEL should be embedded into everything in the classroom. You can teach SEL skills and content at the same time. You can Maslow while you Bloom.

Students who develop strong SEL competencies will be more successful academically. These are the skills that employers are looking for, and that society needs to solve global and local issues with empathy and love. They will make students more successful learners and better humans.

Not SEL

Not sure everyone understands what SEL actually means. What many people are really starting off the school year with is building relationships and being aware of students’ emotional states. Teachers are noticing the moods of students and being responsive to the trauma students may be experiencing due to Covid, racial inequality, poverty, or remote learning in general. While this is important work that teachers should be doing now (and always), it is not the same as teaching SEL competencies.

When looking at the actual list of SEL competencies, you will notice that they go way beyond checking in on your students emotional well-being. That is a great starting point, but SEL encompasses so much more. The competency are a complex set of tools students need for academic and social progress.

Not one week

Developing SEL skills in our students is not something that can be relegated to the first week of school and then checked off as done. It is something that must be prioritized for the entire school year. If you do meaningful activities to build relationships the first week and then week two shift into traditional, teacher dominated lessons focused entirely on content for the rest of the year, then that first week seems disingenuous.

  • If you only work on building relationships week one and then emphasize content, then how will students develop Self-Awareness of who they are?
  • If students are consistently passive listeners and never discuss your content in meaningful ways, then how will they forge Relationships Skills with each other?
  • If students only watch lectures, fill out worksheets, and take traditional tests, then how will students sharpen Social Awareness by applying content to their world?
  • If students only work through your lessons with no choices, then how will they build Self-Management by completing a project?
  • If students only read the chapter and take notes, then how will they exercise Responsible Decision Making through inquiry of their questions about your class?

Relationships and community building take time. It can’t be “accomplished” the first week and then moved on. The first week should set the tone for what your class will be like for the rest of the year, not some kind of one-off fun time before “real” learning begins.

We need to intentionally teach, practice, and assess the SEL competencies all year long. This won’t happen unless teachers make it an intentional part of their lesson planning. When you start each unit or project, choose one SEL competency or sub-competency that you will focus on developing in your students. Explain to them what it means and how they will be practicing the skill during the unit. Have students reflect on the competency and how they are using it throughout the project. Only by intentionality will all students see substantial growth in SEL skills.

Maslow while you Bloom means daily checkins on the emotional state of all of your students while expecting them to engage in content at a deep level. Teaching SEL means daily emphasizing student growth in the competencies using inquiry structures such as PBL while learning standards applied in authentic ways. SEL isn’t for the first week of school, it’s the reason that we do school at all!

Let’s Connect

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL workshops or consulting on remote learning?  Connect with me at  michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele.

Antiracism “and Now You Know the Rest of the Story”

When I was a kid one of my favorite people to listen to on the radio was Paul Harvey. He did a news program at noon every day. He would tell a story that always had a surprising twist and end with his signature line: “And now you know the rest of the story.” Paul Harvey was not rewriting any of the news, but sharing interesting tidbits that gave a broader picture.

Antiracism has been accused of being revisionist, implying that modern historians are trying to rewrite history and distort it with their prejudices and viewpoints. What this accusation ignores is that all historians, including the ones who were contemporary to the actual events as they transpired, are biased according to their culture and viewpoints. Furthermore much of Western history, and American history in particular, has intentionally been told from the viewpoint of validating the powerful, white male perspective.

History textbooks themselves are horrible. They are biased and one-sided. Some new histories react against the myths of Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism by going to the extreme the other way. What is needed is an honest telling of the history and actions of individuals.

The entirety of history is too vast for any one person to study. Therefore historians decide whose stories are important enough to tell and what to include. For example, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were Founding Fathers involved in some of the most critical moments of the creation of this country. They were also owners of enslaved people and benefited from their labor (Mount Vernon does a great job sharing the stories of the enslaved residents). But students are more likely to hear fables about chopping down cherry trees than the fact that Washington rotated his enslaved people in and out of Philadelphia every six months to skirt a law granting them freedom or the great lengths he spent pursuing Ona Judge, an enslaved young woman who was his wife’s personal attendant, who escaped to freedom in the north.

Teachers should present all sides of historical figures and let students decide for themselves how to judge their legacies. The fact that Washington and Jefferson were enslavers doesn’t negate other positive things that they accomplished. But is Thomas Jefferson more important than Sally Hemings? Does her story deserve to be told too?

What modern historians have done is more attune to Paul Harvey “telling the rest of the story.” They are not rewriting history, but uncovering forgotten or neglected aspects of history. Chief amongst the forgotten parts of history are the stories of women and BIPOC.

Instead of creating heroes or villains, let’s share historical actors as flawed humans and let students make their own judgments based on the totality of their actions.

The teacher’s role is to share the entire story, not to edit out the embarrassing parts. We don’t justify or excuse evil. We don’t ignore positive contributions. We present the whole truth and let students decide.

What historians are always attempting to do is get a more complex, well-rounded version of what happened in the past. They, themselves, are biased based on a myriad of factors. Bias does not make something incorrect. I can be biased and right or biased and wrong. Accuracy and bias are two different, but related animals.

But we aren’t neutral. Neutrality is a myth. As Howard Zinn said, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” Neutrality is usually claimed by the traditional teacher teaching from the sterilized textbook version of history. While this approach may be “safe” because they are using state and board approved materials, it is anything but neutral. Textbooks are incredibly biased and most include many myths.

Teachers themselves are biased by:

  • the resources they choose and don’t choose
  • the curriculum they follow or don’t
  • the stories they tell or don’t
  • the things they test or don’t
  • the people they ignore or don’t

Most teachers attempt to hide their personal opinions from the class, but their bias will still shine through to the observant student. Rather than denying or ignoring our biases, it would be more honest to tell students up front why we choose certain resources. Mixing up different primary sources is a great method to challenge students to decide for themselves.

So when you employ Antiracist projects in your classroom, you are not rewriting or changing history, but shining a light on neglected stories to give students a more complete version of the story of all humanity.

“Ignoring the history that you don’t like is not a victimless act.” John Oliver

Let’s Connect

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL workshops or consulting on remote learning?  Connect with me at  michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele.