George Lucas Educational Foundation
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In my last blog I made the case for social emotional learning (SEL) for all -- for children, teachers, administrators, coaches, and all other staff working in and with schools. I promised suggestions for how this could be done in schools. The following lessons can be taken up by an entire staff or by an individual and are intended to build emotional awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

Lesson 1: Practice Recognizing Emotions

Spend a day or an hour observing your emotional responses. You might, for example, notice yourself arriving at school and feeling anxious about getting everything done before kids arrive. Just notice this, and say to yourself, "There's anxiety." You might notice that when you pass a particular colleague's room, you feel content because she's a friend. Notice this, "There's contentment." The key is to notice and name without attaching judgment. If you like you can take notes or journal so that you can keep a log of your emotional journey over a period of time. There might be moments when you don't know how to name what you're feeling, and that's okay. Jot down all the words that come to mind.

Lesson 2: Notice Physical Responses

Honing the ability to recognize how your body experiences emotions is another step. Our bodies often manifest feelings and if we can become conscious of our responses, we may gain useful information. For example, you might notice yourself smiling authentically when a parent drops off her child -- and then you might notice the underlying emotions -- "Gratitude. This mother is always so positive." Or you might notice that when you talk to an administrator your shoulders tense, your belly tightens, and your breathing gets shallow. And then you might be able to recognize the underlying feelings, "Defensive and anxious."

When we gain awareness, we can make decisions about how we want to behave. For example, if we notice we're feeling anxious when talking to an administrator, we might just take a deep breath or drop our shoulders. Noticing and naming our emotions means we move away from operating on autopilot. It's usually a more empowered place to be.

Lesson 3: Get Curious

Once you've started noticing and naming your emotions, get curious about them. Investigate. Explore. You might notice anxiety when talking to an administrator and reflect on this: "Have I always felt this way? When did it start? How do I feel when talking to my other administrator? What does this one trigger in me? Where did that come from?" The purpose in doing this isn't to dig deep into your own psychological history, it's to infuse the experience with questions, wondering, and curiosity. This can loosen the grip of the emotions and also illuminate something about the experience that might be helpful.

Lesson 4: Observe Your Emotions

We are not our emotions. If we can practice observing them -- seeing ourselves experience emotions from 10,000 feet above earth -- we are more likely to make decisions that don't emerge from them. We might notice that sometimes they're powerful and gripping, and sometimes they're lighter and less sticky. It helps to practice non-attachment to emotions. They're just emotional states and they come and go -- and remember that we have some control over these states. Sometimes I visualize my emotions as weather patterns: There are storms and calm skies, heavy rain, and light winds. They always change. I visualize myself as a tree experiencing these emotions that come and go.

Lesson 5: Notice the Impact of Your Emotions on Others

Without getting into self-judgment, start noticing how your emotional states impact others. The key is to think like a scientist and make comments to yourself such as, "Oh, that's interesting! I never noticed that. Wow, look at what happens to X when I am feeling ______." For example, you might notice that you always greet one of your students with big smiles, warm welcomes, and that you feel really happy when you see him. You might then notice, "Wow, after I greet him that way, I see his face relax, his smile widens, and he calmly sits at his desk." Or you might notice that when you were feeling tired and anxious and you curtly asked the school secretary for a form, that her shoulders hunched up and she was snappy in return. As you do this noticing, try again to refrain from self-criticism. Just notice. Name. Observe.

Here's my fantasy: a school staff engages in these practices for a few weeks or months. As they do so, they discuss the experience, what they're noticing, and what they're learning. This could take only 10 minutes per week (at the beginning of a staff meeting or professional development, for example) or it could be given the time it really deserves -- a hour or longer per week. These lessons would incorporate expanding our vocabulary for emotions (this is a skill set that's missing in many adults) as well as developing our tool kit for how to respond to difficult emotions. And to extend my fantasy, I'd love to see all staff and all students in a school engaging in this learning together.

This would be a start -- a very powerful, transformational start -- for providing adults with the social and emotional learning that we deserve. I also know that it would make our schools calmer and happier places to be.

What are your thoughts on SEL for adults on school campuses? Please share in the comments section below.

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Rusty May's picture
Rusty May
School counselor, Exectuive Director of the Bullying & School Safety Foundation and Creator of

Two great posts Elena. I completely agree that we, as educators, must lead by example and be constantly improving our own SEL skills. My daily shows focus on teaching social skills to students but a number of teachers have expressed that the message helps them as well which I really appreciate. Thanks for all you do.

VeteranTeacher's picture

What a bunch of bunk! I feel like I'm a kindergarten child being talked down to by a clueless adult. Leave your fantasies to yourself. My administrator sent us an email with these two articles for us to read. She is in complete denial as to her role in negative feelings on this campus. The faculty are united and determined to do our best, while she is still playing the blame game as to why individual problem students cannot be perfectly controlled with positivity via staff members. All you need is love...

Mike Raven's picture
Mike Raven
Former Head of Department (Science), Teacher, Brisbane, Qld., Aust

Veteran Teacher. I understand where you are coming from ...

But the suggestions provided in the article are valid - largely based on mindfulness.

I think, however, that the busy school environment is not the best place to start noticing your emotions and thoughts. Teachers minds are already so busy with doing their daily job they cannot afford the luxury of time-out for self-examination. (many even help students during thier lunchtime).

Give the suggestions a tryout at home - when you hear something stupid being said on TV !

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Edcamper, Former @Edutopia, Founder of Social Media Marketing Consultancy aimed at helping educational orgs.

Some comments and resources from Facebook (read all comments here:

We had a couple of comments that suggested useful resources so I thought I'd add them here.

Adrienne Stapp This is a beautiful article! Another wonderful resource is the Myers Briggs books. One is called Please Understand Me. It's helps one understand their communication styles. I really love this ten minute exercise. It would be lovely in everyday interactions in and outside of work. Wonderful food for thought. Thanks...

Adrienne Stapp - Another great resource from Myers Briggs is called, I'm Not Crazy I'm Just Not You. It's a funny title right? But it is a very effective tool for teens and adults. It not only helps them understand their communication style but can provide them some insight regarding which profession they might be suited to. Additionally, these resources, help individuals identify others communication styles. This can help facilitate better communication at work, at home, school and interpersonal relationships. That sounds like Utopia to me:-). I met a lady in CA 15 years back that would teach workshops and companies would use the temperament testing to match coworkers depending on their temperaments. In my opinion, ideally people would learn to accept and integrate aspects of different temperaments to create a balance. I'm happy to share. I loved three subjects in school, literature arts, music and psychology.

Cristy Quinn Roberts - Conscious Discipline is a wonderful way to implement SEL into your school and classrooms (and lives!)

Victoria M. Peltier - Very nice....this is also something used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy as emotions can effect everyone, not just the person experiencing them. Well said, well done, hope to put this into practice, not just in public but in home life also. Thank you!

timeoutforteachers's picture
Art teacher and Performance Coach from Brighton , West Sussex

Remember we're only human but we could be better. Positive relationships produce positive results.

I have been working with a large group of staff on this very topic and evaluating change.

Teaching is about relationships as well as pedagogy. It is about feelings as well as facts and it is as much about what goes on inside your head as it is about what goes on in the head of students. It is about using your senses as well as your subject knowledge. It is about realizing that the self- talk going on inside your head may not be as private as you think it is. Your Body language, choice of words and general demeanor say it all and if not congruent can affect outcomes.

For instance If you receive feedback from someone when everything about them is telling you they don't like you, don't believe you, don't value do you feel?

At the end of the day we all know that it is our mood when we enter the classroom that has the greatest effect on the children. We are actors on a stage who need to leave our concerns and worries about life behind for that all important performance we need to achieve .It's our sense of motivation that drives the pace of the lesson and allows us to triumph over tiredness, overwork and irritability .It's our ability to relieve the tension in a difficult moment that creates the right classroom climate through humour and compassion. Effective teaching begins and ends with our capacity to manage ourselves, control our responses and external behaviours.

I have been focusing on student teacher relationships and the impact it has on learning, and the wellbeing of all concerned.The student teacher relationship scale enables staff to recognise, record and refine relationships with their pupils. It also allows staff to change the dynamics within the school setting .

Interventions are more readily acknowledged and impact can be addressed. Any additional training needs can be highlighted and strategies put in place. I use a continuum measure of shifting Conflict, Closeness and Dependency depending on the results. It is not a measuring tool for right or wrong , but a means to acknowledge how we as human beings impact on each other.It requires honesty, self reflection and the confidence to share information, observe others and adapt and take on new

* It has taken a lot for staff to expose themselves in this way, because just like the pupils they become defensive, secretive and sometimes aggressive.

* It has also revealed to some that they are not alone.

* It has enabled staff to open themselves up to possibilities that could change the balance of power within the centre.

* Awareness of dependency has enabled them to work together to wean young people off them and make it easier for transition .

It is never ending and transformational.

Remember we're only human but we could be better. Positive relationships produce positive results and we can all benefit from being who we really are.

Emelina Minero's picture
Emelina Minero
Assistant Editor

This is great. :) Something I've tried to cultivate my inner observer, my ability to be aware of my thoughts and emotions without engaging in them, I take 5 minutes to sit quietly, by myself, and just notice my thoughts and emotions.

Similarly to how one would watch the clouds go by, or watch a leaf pass by through a creek, I just notice my thoughts or emotions, don't assign judgement to them, and am able to view them from a bird's eye perspective.

Spending just a few minutes practicing that by myself helps me to become more aware of what my regular thought patterns are, or it just helps me to be more aware of my thoughts at any given moment.

This is helpful for when I want to be more aware of my thoughts and emotions in specific situations, like with the examples you gave above about interacting with administrators, students, and other teachers.

I loved each lesson you wrote about. Great advice!


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