Sunday, July 08, 2018

Integrating SEL Into Your Curriculum: Be Authentic

"Heroes are never perfect, but they're brave, they're authentic, they're courageous, determined, discreet, and they've got grit." - Wade Davis

"I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I've become. If I had, I'd have done it a lot earlier." -  Oprah Winfrey

"I want to be myself. I want to be as authentic as possible." - Cory Booker

A couple of years ago, John Dacey, a Boston College professor, invited me to co-write a book with him and Gian Criscitiello about embedding Social Emotional Learning (SEL) into the curriculum. Dacey wanted to include my classroom experience in the book, and I was eager to learn from both John and Gian so I agreed to partake in the project. For about a year we met weekly to discuss the creation, writing, and editing related to the book, then last year the book, Integrating SEL into Your Curriculumwas published.

Now I am rereading the book to dig a little deeper as to how I will personalize the information and activities to help my students develop social emotional learning in ways that matter, ways that will increase their personal happiness, relationships, and success. A main premise of the book which is that we have to embed SEL into the academic program is the important challenge that all teachers face--how do I help my students to develop socially and academically too?

In the next few weeks, I'll dig into each chapter of the book to figure out how I will integrate SEL into the daily academic menu of learning activities.

To begin, I will focus on the early year efforts of community and team building. When we first come together we'll engage in a number of activities to develop our sense of team and the ways we can support each other as teachers and learners. I will carve time out of the schedule during the first six weeks of school to build this community using the many activities outlined in the book.

I will begin with Chapter One's focus: Be Authentic. I will explicitly explain to students, as the book suggests, that authentic people are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and they don't pretend to be who they aren't. I will tell them that at the start of the year each of them is like a beautifully wrapped package--like beautiful wrapping paper, I see the beauty that is the twinkle in their eyes, their warm smiles, and kind attitudes, and I wonder what's inside--what do they love, what challenges them, who is in their life. . . .

Then I'll suggest that a strong learning community is made up of authentic unique individuals and that like unwrapping a beautiful present to find a unique gift, as we get to know each other this year, in a sense we'll unwrap each other and find out what's inside. I'll tell students that what makes them unique, makes them special and that it's important to know yourself and be authentic. I'll ask students, Why do you think it's important to be authentic or true to yourself? We'll talk about this and then I'll give students some time to write about this on a journal page--the journal pages will be housed in each student's showcase portfolio for later reflection, discussion, and addition.

We'll reach a little deeper the next day with an activity in the book--students will write down a list of their strengths and challenges (weaknesses). I'll model that with a list of my own classroom strengths and challenges.

We'll further reach in the days following with the story of Malala and the birds as well as the proud pig activity--these events will further deepen students ability to think about their authentic selves and the ways that they can continue to build self knowledge and therefore become better leaders and contributors to the learning community.

I will emphasize that I am delighted to work with such a diverse and wonderful group of children, a group that all bring unique strengths and challenges. I'll remind them that while we are learning a lot about specific academic concepts, skills, and knowledge, we will also be learning a lot about who we are individually and as part of a group this year, and that social emotional learning like that is learning that will help them to be happier and more successful throughout their lives.

In the end, students will create their individual window folders--similar to the shield activity in the book, the window activity will help students to glimpse at who they are from the outside in and the inside out. On the outside of the folders will be a collage of what people see and know well about the person's strengths, interests, activities, and challenges, and on the inside will be images and words depicting the child's more private and less noticeable strengths, interests, activities, and challenges.