I was in my building staff meeting earlier this week and we were discussing student behavior and Positive Behavior Intervention supports. We went round and round sharing ideas, thoughts, and suggestions. When it was her turn, a teacher shared a simple sentence that profoundly shook me.
“If they could, they would.”
If our students could behave and act the way we wanted them to, they would be. Some of them cannot. So simply put, they don’t. But why?
In a previous blog I discussed ACES and the impact that adverse childhood experiences can have on all of us. More so now, then ever before, we are seeing students with a greater number of ACES, and therefore a greater number of challenging behavior in the school setting: aggression, elopement, refusal to work, threats, suicidal ideations, increases in depression, anxiety…and the list goes on. As educators, how do we cope?
One very simple answer is to focus on Social Emotional Learning (SEL) standards. But before you can begin to incorporate these standards into your classroom environment, you need to fully understand what they are asking.
In this first of what will be an ongoing series of posts, I want to discuss the proposed standards. The first is Self-Awareness.
Standard 1- the individual has the ability to identify and name one’s emotions and their influence on behavior.
How? How would you learn to identify and name your emotions and the influence those emotions have on your behavior? Typical children with typical lives have a parent or caregiver who shares their own emotions with them in a healthy way from birth. A smile, laughs, hugs, tears, frowns; these sights are accompanied by words and actions that show what a feeling looks like and sounds like. Parents and caregivers place explicit labels on feelings. For example, a 3 year old grabs a toy away from his or her sibling. The sibling cries. The parent or caregiver corrects that 3 year old with words like, “That was not nice. Your sister was playing with that toy. You took it without asking. Now your sister is crying. She feels sad. Please give her back the toy!” Now whether or not that 3 year old listens is still up in the air. But you get the idea.
What if you have absent or un-engaged caregivers? Who is going to role-play those actions and feelings with that 3 year old? Who is going to connect those actions to feelings and reactions? No one will…at least not until they cross the threshold of the kindergarten door wholly unprepared to socially navigate interactions with peers. That is when educators step in.
Benchmark 1a- Demonstrates awareness and understanding of one’s emotions.
This starts with knowing the NAMES of emotions. Connecting those emotions to expressions on the faces of people a child knows. This requires interaction, action, reaction. Telling a child, “Your fists are clenched and your mouth is frowning. You look mad!” is a great way to help them understand all the clues about their feelings.
One very basic way to begin teaching this is to show pictures of different expressions. I am sure you have seen the posters showing all of the moods a person can have. Real life pictures, or acting out feelings in a social lesson can help students see it and understand it as well. This is the key to identifying the name for what THEY feel.
Benchmark 1b– Demonstrates knowledge of personal strengths, areas for growth, culture, linguistic assets, and aspirations.
This sounds a lot like the job of an educator who works with adolescents that are beginning to develop their own identities. If you are out of touch with your emotions at this stage of the game, where is your confidence? What are your hopes and dreams? What to you aspire to? If your emotions and reactions are out of control, you may not know. You could be that 14 year old boy struggling with depression, or the 15 year old girl who has poor body image and is at the beginning stages of an eating disorder.
Connecting to students at this age, fostering positive self-image and goal setting, will be crucial when moving on toward young adulthood. Students need to understand what they are good at. We do that by telling them! Give students ways to demonstrate their ability, set and reach goals, and help them plan for their future. Involving students in team projects, inviting them to clubs or after school activities, finding interests you can talk to them about, all go a long way towards helping them see who they are.
Benchmark 1c– Demonstrates awareness and understanding of family, school, and community resources and supports.
School counselors, parents, and teachers should all be involved in helping students understand the importance of family. Family doesn’t have to mean your biological relatives. It can be your chess club friends. It can be the group of kids you see each Thursday study-hall for math homework help. It can be the lunchtime counseling group you work with. Family is created by spending time with, and caring for, the people in your environment.
A larger family that we often overlook is the larger family of your local community. In nearly every community across our country, there are services and organizations designed to work with parents and kids to help them meet their basic needs. As teachers, we may not always be aware of the resources available in our community for students and their families. If you are homeless, have a mental health diagnosis, low-income, in crisis, any issue at all, there is typically a group or organization that can help you. Connecting with school counselors to share these resources is vital for many families. This awareness can often be the thing that makes or breaks a young mother struggling to parent her children, or the teenager that is feeling hopeless, or the father who lost his job and struggles to put food on the table. As educators, we can help foster those connections and extend our family circle a little farther.
How is your school already addressing proposed standard 1? How do you address it in your day to day? Please share your thoughts and comments below! Stay tuned for part 2!