Tag Archives: CASEL

Slow Down and Reflect Deeply

This has been a year like no other, and this summer teachers need to first take care of themselves and then prepare for next year. This is the second of a series of posts about how to plan for SEL and PBL as we hopefully return to face-to-face learning next year. Last week we talked about the need for rest to recover from the trauma of the school year. Now let’s reflect on our year.

As we discussed previously, this past year brought many challenges. One of the things that I am struck by is the variety of experiences for students. I taught in a virtual school where students never set foot in a building. My daughter spent most of the year attending school in person, wearing a mask, and attempting to social distance. She was only virtual for a few weeks as mandated by our governor. (She also was sent home for 10 days twice due to contact tracing but never had Covid herself). I know many districts shifted back and forth from virtual to hybrid to face-to-face. Even for students living in the same community, the school year was disparate.

Examining further, the online experience was vastly different too. Some schools (mine) had canned curriculum that students worked through at their own pace with limited teacher guidance. Others tried to replicate “class” and had daily video calls and interactive lessons in breakout rooms. Many teachers and students used technology in new ways to connect and extend their learning.

So while we can pull some patterns from this past year, it is important to recognize that almost everyone’s reality was distinct depending on variables such as your district and state Covid guidelines, student and parent choices, fear or skepticism of the pandemic, and financial resources. This is why it is vital for each educator to personally reflect on what their year was like for their students and themselves.

Your Reality

First of all, you rested right? After some downtime, think back on the past year and consider the positives that you can build upon and the areas of struggle that you can change. Not everything is under our control. Focus on things where you have the decision-making power. Try writing a page or two of your thoughts or even turning it into a blog post. Here’s some questions to get you started:

  • How did you build classroom community?
  • What was your best classroom moment of the year?
  • What new skills did you develop?
  • What structures will be the same/different about next year? (Back to face-to-face or still virtual?)
  • What pedagogical practices from this past year do you want to maintain?
  • What practices do you never want to use again?
  • How did you maintain your physical and mental health? (exercise, food intake, meditation, etc.)
  • How did you balance your work/family obligations?
  • What responsibilities or commitments do you need to give up?

Student Experience

It is crucial to move beyond reflecting through your own lens and to consider what your students experienced. We want to do this from an asset based viewpoint. Rather than focusing on “learning loss” (whatever that means), take a personalized approach and consider the strengths that your students gained. It may be some of the technology skills that they never would have learned if they were face-to-face all year. Your students may have taken on new roles and responsibilities in their families. Or it may be some content-related skills that they developed.

Digging deeper, consider SEL skills that students practiced. With the large amounts of time trapped inside, did students discover more about themselves (Self-Awareness) through their own reflections? Did they gain empathy for others (Social Awareness) who are struggling with trauma and loss due to Covid? Perhaps students improved their Self-Management as they regulated their time and tasks in a virtual space. Maybe they flexed their Relationship Skills by standing up for others through BLM or other protests? Students lived Responsible Decision-Making by wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing to protect themselves, their families, and communities.

Next year, how might you build on the SEL gains in your classroom?

Action Going Forward

The purpose of reflection is for personal growth. Celebrate victories, mourn losses, but ultimately reflection should lead to future progress. I like the Cheer, Challenge, Change Protocol as a simple reflection to consider what happened and most importantly, how you can use it to propel forward based on the experience.

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Interested in how you can create a positive culture by developing SEL skills integrated in your classroom? Check out my virtual workshop this summer! I am also booking workshops with schools across the country on PBL and SEL.

Content or Skills, What’s More Important?

I saw a Facebook post this week where a teacher was asked in an interview, “What’s more important, teaching content or skills?” The extensive thread of comments were fascinating with people taking all kinds of positions from choosing one side, calling it a stupid question, or pointing out that it’s not an either/or question. While I can agree that it seems like some kind of gotcha question for an interview, I do have a strong opinion on this one (No surprise there!).

I will always argue for skills over content, specifically Social and Emotional Learning skills. But let’s start by only considering core content skills vs. content. The standards that have been ordained from on high for us to teach in schools represent such a minute fraction of the knowledge of the world. New human understanding grows exponentially every second. Textbooks need to be updated due to errors and better understandings of the world. Something as crucial as how the human brain works was barely understood 30 years ago. Therefore I would argue that the most important standards are the ones focused on skills such as problem-solving, reading and writing fluency, critical analysis, and scientific reasoning.

In making the argument for skills over content, I am not saying that content does not matter at all. Of course it does, but it is less vital.

  • A student with strong observation and reasoning skills can study the background of a science topic and design an experiment to test a hypothesis. Better yet, they know what to do with unexpected results and how to iterate to develop a theory.
  • When a student has number sense and mathematical reasoning, they can solve new problems without having to be taught algorithms first.
  • A student who knows how to interpret analogies, metaphors, and similes can apply their skills to poetry from an author that they have never read previously.
  • When a student knows how to evaluate primary sources for point of view and author intention, they can apply historical thinking to present day current events.

These core content skills are transferrable to any career or learning path.

SEL competencies may seem even more removed from content, but I would argue that they are the most important skills of all. Long after students forget the content of the class, we still want them to be quality humans. Our dream for students is that they would be Self and Socially Aware, recognizing strengths in themselves and in the diversity of the world around them. We want to develop students who build strong relationships with colleagues, family, and friends. The world needs future leaders who can resolve differences through respectful negotiation, not senseless violence. Complex issues such as climate change, global inequity, and socio-political power struggles require Responsible Decision-Makers who consider multiple perspective and move in directions to benefit all of humanity, not just wealthy nations.

A “side effect” of students cultivating SEL skills is academic growth (and here) in the content areas.

  • Perseverance and growth mindset in Self-Awareness teach students to work through academic difficulties.
  • The organizational skills of Self-Management lead to quality work completed on time.
  • Social Awareness helps students analyze situations from multiple perspectives.
  • Communication and collaboration of Relationship Skills enables students to exchange complex ideas in written and verbal forms.
  • The problem solving of Responsible Decision-Making leads to deep understanding of academic content and its application to real world problems.

SEL competencies are intricately intertwined with academic skills and are at the heart of deeper learning.

Returning to the original situation, is this a legitimate interview question? Again, I would argue yes. My assumption, unless shown otherwise through stories and examples told, is that the teacher who thinks content is king tends to be less progressive. They probably use lecture as their primary tool to “deliver” content to their class and may be skeptical of PBL. So the explanation that a prospective teacher gives for their choice, not necessarily the choice itself, should reveal useful details about their pedagogy and style of teaching to determine whether they are a good fit with the school beliefs and culture.

What say you? Content or skills? Which one do you value more?

Interested in learning how you can develop SEL skills integrated in your classroom? Check out my virtual workshops this summer! I am also booking workshops with schools across the country on PBL and SEL.