Language of Encouragement

I read this:

“We speak a language of encouragement.”
(from the introduction to Creative Acts For Curious People by Sarah Stein Greenberg)

The language of encouragement. How cool is that?!

So, I made this:

I liked it. But it needed more. Perhaps I could add the language of encouragement.

I looked at it for a a bit. Then, I spoke the language of encouragement to myself. “You can do it. You are talented. You are creative. No worries. Take a breath or two. Test it out, and then go.”

So, I did.

It’ll be hanging in my classroom, as a reminder. Feel free to pop in when you need a reminder, or a phrase.

Let’s create a language of encouragement movement. Let’s develop and speak the language of encouragement to ourselves, our learners, our colleagues, our admins, our athletes, our families, the world. We can do it!

Creative Thinking in Kindergarten Mathematics

I recently had the pleasure of writing an article for the New Jersey Association for Gifted Children. I wrote about creative thinking in mathematics. I spoke as a Kindergarten teacher, but advocated for creative mathematic thinking for all. One reader thought it might be better if I had emphasized the Kindergarten piece of my thinking. At first I misunderstood and stood my ground that creativity in mathematics is good for all. She explained her thinking, telling me that so many people think that one can never be creative in Kindergarten math in particular because there are so many facts they must learn, or because they are only Kindergartners.

Oh my gosh! Only Kindergartners???!!! She is right. Many people underestimate the amazing potential, big beautiful brains, and remarkable thinking abilities of Kindergartners. So, I revised my article, and share it here.


I’m always looking for ways to bring creativity into my Kindergarten classroom.  Why?  There are a plethora of reasons, but here are my top three:

  • It makes the day more enjoyable for my students (and for me).
  • It increases my students’ motivation, engagement, understanding, and learning. 
  • It helps my students develop mindsets and understandings about themselves, the subject matter, rules, and the world, which will allow them to make extraordinary contributions to our world as they continue to grow and learn.
  • It allows me to have a deeper understanding of who my students are as mathematicians.

One of the subject matters I work to infuse with creativity is math.  Before you faint, let me reassure you.  Math is a domain that is filled with facts, rules, and precise procedures.  I love math facts.  I respect and appreciate mathematical procedures.  I enjoy the challenge and struggle of solving a well-conceived and difficult problem.  Additionally, I understand that Kindergarten is a time to grow in mathematical understanding and skills. 

At the same time, I am intrigued by all the ways creativity is an inherent and essential part of mathematics – including Kindergarten mathematics.  Creativity has the power to enhance my Kindergartner’s mathematical learning, understanding, and joy. It also gives me a powerful vantage point from which to observe and come to know them as mathematicians. Providing my Kindergartners with the opportunity to be creative allows them to show all they know rather than just what I happen to ask them. It works the same for all learners – regardless of their age. 

Let’s consider something basic that my Kindergartners are working on these days – how to break apart and build numbers to ten. If we break any number into two parts, or build with two parts, there are that number +1 ways to make it.  For instance the number four can be made five different ways.  I’m sure the answers come quickly to mind: 1+3. 2+2. 3+1, 4+0, and 0+4. 

But, are there really only +1 ways?  Or are there only +1 ways because we are living within the constraints of addition, positive, whole numbers?  What if we allowed any mathematical operation, fractions, and negative numbers.  The possibilities for how we make four explode exponentially!  Increase the number of parts, and the possibilities become endless. 


As I wrote the article I wondered about mentioning negative numbers and Kindergarten in the same breath. Could they really understand them?

Then, one day, this happened.

This is one of my Kindergarten mighty mathematicians. She was hanging out with me after school waiting for after care. Let me tell you how this moment of learning came to be.

She enjoys writing on the D10 whiteboard and this day said to me “Look, Miss James!” I turned and saw her work. She had written: 100-200=0 Her face beamed with a look of discovery. I took a breath and scanned my brain for how to explain. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hmmm. Are you sure? What is 100 take away 100?”
Her: “Oh. Zero.”
Me: “Yes! So do you think 100 take away 200 would be zero, too?”

She thought and wasn’t able to come up with an answer that satisfied her.

Me: “Let’s work with smaller numbers, okay?”
Her: “Okay.”

I handed her 4 counters.

Me: “You have 4 counters. I ask you for 5. What would you do?”
Her: “I’d give you the 4 I have.”
Me: ” Awesome. But, would I have what I need?”
Her: “No. But it’s all I have.”
Me: “Yes, I know. But I need 5. If I were buying them from you, and paid for 5, how many would you still owe me?”

She thought for a bit.

Her: One?
Me: Yes!

We moved to the board to begin writing the number sentence. I explained to her that when the number we are taking away is more than the number available we add a minus sign in front of the number. That means we don’t have all that were taken away, or we owe that many.

Her: Oh!

The smile of discovery had returned to her face. She began trying other numbers as I stood by her ready to accept the counters and support her as she thought, questioned, wrote, and grew as a mathematician. Finally we returned to her original number sentence 100 take away 200.

Me: So. What is 100 take away 200?
Her: Minus 100!
Me: You got it!

This photo was the second day. She did the work on her own. I don’t mean to suggest that she totally gets negative numbers. What I do mean to suggest is it’s possible, and it’s good, to be willing to step into those areas that seem unreachable, and think creatively how to make the reachable.

We are mighty. Our learners are mighty. Creative thinking is good. Mathematical thinking is good. Creative mathematical thinking is quite fantabulous — even, and perhaps especially, in Kindergarten

Aspire Big … Begin Little.

I’ve been ruminating about many things these days. Unable to find relief through or from my ruminations, I turned to art and creativity. Creativity brings me into the moment, helps me notice possibility, brings me joy, and somehow, centers me.

First I grabbed my water color crayons. As I played, my All-Stabilo black pencil, acrylic paint, and words, joined the party.

I tried out possible words for the new year. I chose nouns instead of verbs. For some reason they felt right, and brought me a greater sense of peace. I wonder if it’s because the nouns suggest that whatever the word is, is actually in existence now, rather waiting for me to bring it to pass.

Continuing my art and my thinking, I brushed gesso on a page in a long forgotten art journal, and allowed myself to be inspired by a piece of art that used architectural stamps, and blocking, to allow for overlap and connection.

Yup, I know, there’s not an architectural stamp to be seen. I don’t have any, didn’t want to buy any, but still wanted to play with the idea of overlap/blocking, and connecting to things that I enjoy. Hence, the overlapping circles filled with various doodles. Oh, and the words — lots of words.

As I waited for the paint to dry, I picked up my inspirational art journal. I note the days with a bit of art, inspiration, scripture, affirmations, and positivity. I’ve been doing it each day for nearly a year and a half. I opened to January 1, 2021 and read each post till I reached January 1, 2022. I’m so glad I did. I was buoyed by the art, the positivity, the encouraging thoughts and scripture, and, I think, the sheer magnitude of it all.

It was nice to remind myself that the magnitude didn’t happen all at once. It exists because each day I did one little thing. Sometimes I only did the drawing and writing — leaving the coloring for another day. No matter, little by little I amassed a substantial work of great value.

The other day I read a St. Augustine quote

Aspire to great things, begin with little ones.

Perhaps St. Augustine’s quote should guide me for 2022.

Aspire to great things, begin with little ones.
One breath.
One moment of presence.
One changed thought.
One moment filled with hope and positivity.
One smile.
One laugh.
One moment filled with trust.
One whispered prayer.
One published blog post.

May we all have a happy and blessed 2022.

Breathe, Pause, Look, and Know

As my day ended, I I was feeling less optimism than I like. I was looking, but not seeing the whole picture. I looked at my day and the week behind me, and saw moments of stress, and times where I lacked patience and reacted instead of responded. I noticed the times my students reacted instead of responded, and was pained by the reminders of the times they were unkind to one another, and the times they struggled with their learning and being.

Then, as I was heading out, I turned back to our learning space as to shut off the light. As I did I felt my inhale and my exhale. As I took that breath, I paused.

First my eyes fell on this bulletin board. My breath deepened as I saw the faces of each of my kindergartners — created by their own hands, using their big beautiful brains and awesome hearts. I was struck — as I so often am — by their awesomeness, their courage, their amazing willingness to try, and their remarkable ability to do.

As I turned once more towards the door, my gaze fell upon this white board. We read Herman and Rosie together earlier in the week, and — inspired — we created things we loved. We shared a bit about ourselves with this art.

Again, my breath deepened, and my heart filled with peace and joy as I saw — in my minds eye — each one of those beautiful humans working hard to find a way to place things they loved onto the paper, and share it with each other. We are fantabulous humans. We are doing remarkable things together. We are learning skills. We are developing and strengthening mindsets and thinking practices. We are breathing, and growing our awareness and understanding of self and others. We are existing together, taking risks, trying new things, sharing, learning, growing, and being us. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we are impatient and unkind. Sometimes we react instead of respond. But, we are also kind, and helpful, peaceful, thoughtful, and loved.

I was thinking about all of this the other day when I heard Nicole Avant say “It takes time.” I thought to myself, “It takes time. Yes! It takes time! Learning. Living. Being our best selves. Figuring things out. Being in community. It. Takes. Time.”

Wonderful things are happening in Kindergarten. Wonderful things are happening in my Kindergartners. Wonderful things are happening in me. It takes time, and each one of those moments in time is filled with opportunity, grace, and possibility.

A Bit of Optimism

Ok, have you listened to any episodes of Simon Sinek’s podcast – A Bit of Optimism? If you aren’t a regular listener, stop reading right now, go find it, and become a regular listener. It’s aMAZing! I want to be his friend, and his friends friend. I want to do his PR, be on his podcast, have him publish a book I write, or write one together, or go on tour together. (I’m laughing as I type this, but I’m also completely serious!)

Here’s what Simon says on his website:

During these times, we are all having to find new ways to connect.
Join me every week as I talk with people that inspire me,
about love, life, leadership and silver linings.
The hope is that we all leave with something I think we need these days… 
A Bit of Optimism.

Yes, a thousand times, yes. We do need a bit of optimism these days, or I’ll just speak for myself. Yes, I definitely need a bit of optimism these days, and I’m finding it in these podcasts. But I want to go a step further and say, I have found more than optimism, I’ve found inspiration, affirmation, joy, and lots to think about. I will be blogging for sure.

Are you still reading? Stop. Go, and listen to a bit of optimism.


I don’t have the rights to the photographs of Simon Sinek’s optimism filled face, so I share mine.

Mindfulness of Doors

Look at the book I got in the mail. I’m super excited!

The d.school website says the book is “full of unconventional and practical ways to help you bring creative approaches to any challenge you face.” How cool is that? I wish I were on sabbatical, so that I could immerse myself in what seems like amazing fantabulousness. But, sabbatical or not, I’m gonna experience the fantabulousness one way or another.

I read through the table of contents the other day and decided to jump in with assignment number 46 – Micro-Mindfulness Exercises. The micro-mindfulness that struck me was mindfulness of doors. The suggestion is that we take a pause and a breath — however brief — as we walk through doors.

Sounds easy doesn’t it? Turns out, it’s not. I’ve been thinking about it, planning on doing it, for days now. I walk through TONS of doors as an educator. Some days it seems I am constantly walking through doors. Of the million times a day that I go through various doors, I think I have stopped to pause and breathe, twice. I exaggerate the million, but the 2 pauses and breaths is quite accurate.

As I do with my students when we practice mindfulness together, I’m taking the time to ask myself some questions:

  • Why aren’t I pausing?
  • .Are my mind and body in the same space, or am I rushing through the day, thinking of the next moment, the next task, the next thing?
  • Might it be that I’m not rushing, but at the same time that I’m not totally present?
  • What might I learn about myself, my day, my pace, my breath, my mind, as I notice how difficult this is for me to accomplish?
  • How did it feel to take the pause and the breath the two times I did?
  • How might I — if I want to increase my mindfulness, my pause, my breath, my reflection, my peace — help make the pauses and breath possible? How might I remind myself to pause, to breathe, and to be present?

It’s so very interesting, that even failing to accomplish the mindfulness of doors, has brought a bit more mindfulness into my life. It’s beautiful, because it’s about the process and the mindfulness. It’s not so much about the pause and the breath at each door — though they would probably be a gift.

So, I continue to aspire to mindfulness of doors, and as I live and pause and breathe — or not — I will continue to reflect.

Creativity and Well being

I’ve been having a difficult time in one of my relationships. I’ve felt frustration, anger, disbelief, and annoyance. We need to figure out a way to resolve our disagreement, find a way to coexist, and even more so, to be our best selves together. So far, we haven’t found that sweet spot.

Yesterday, so tired of the discord and associated feelings, I remembered the loving kindness meditation practice. I pulled out my Breathe For Change manual to remind myself of the statements they suggested, and began.

I placed my hands on my heart, and connected to my breath. I used my imagination to create a space of warmth and love, where I could see myself — and even experience myself — as being safe, well, happy, and loved. I sent myself the loving kindness wishes: “May I be happy. My I be healthy. May I be safe. May I be free.” I stayed in the space for a bit, repeating the words, seeing it in my my mind, feeling it in my body, and expressing it on my face.

Our brains and minds are incredibly amazing and complex things. They allow us to imagine, create, and feel things — even things that may be different from our current reality. And, unbelievably, our brains don’t know if we’re actually experiencing it, or simply thinking about it. Years and years ago, I started saying one of Thich Nhat Hanh meditations “Breathing in I calm my body, breathing out I smile. Living in the present moment. What a wonderful moment.” It’s amazing, when I am feeling a bit off, how the simple act of smiling seems to release happiness chemicals into my brain.

So back to the loving kindness meditation.

The B4C folks added a level of imagination which I find to be fantabulously helpful. “Imagine a door opening at the bottom of each foot, and breathe whatever is not helping you out through those doors.” It’s so funny, my doors aren’t always the same doors. Sometimes they are large and grand, sometimes shaped like a hobbit door, sometimes tiny little things. I’m not sure why. But, they are always beautiful, and the thought of opening them to release the ick brings me joy.

So, I opened the doors in my feet, and imagined various things that weren’t helping me. Some of them flew out easily and seemed to become tiny flowers as they left. Other things got caught in the corners, and needed a bit more encouragement to leave.

Then I brought to mind the person with whom I’m experiencing the difficulties. I imagined them in my minds eye, and began the loving kindness meditation. First I reminded myself that, just like me, they want to be happy, safe, healthy, and free. Then I sent them loving kindness. “May you be happy. May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you be free.” I repeated it several times imagining myself actually saying it to them, and imagining them experiencing all those things.

Will this make our difficulties go away? Probably not. Will it change my brain and how I respond to this person? Will it bring me more peace and less of the angst I’ve been feeling? Will it help me to be my best self? I hope so, and I trust in the science that assures me it will.

So with another breath I use the power of my creativity to imagine possibility. With each breath, each thought, each moment of loving kindness, each choice to hope, I will bring what is possible to life.

Was I Kind Enough?

Wow, I just read this excerpt on the Pedagogy of Play blog. It’s a post by Ben Mardell entitled Vivian Paley: In Memoriam.

Vivian asked me if I remember the questioner and then queried, “Was I kind enough?” I explained that I thought she was extremely kind, but Vivian was not convinced. She mused, “I think she wasn’t comfortable. I hope I was kind.”

There are many lessons we should take from Vivian Paley and her work. Asking “Am I being kind enough” is certainly one of these.

Pedagogy of Play Blog – August 26, 2019

When I read that, I was immediately transported to my Kindergarten classroom. I saw many students — past and present — behaving, and interacting with me and others, in all sorts of different ways. As I look at each, I wondered “Was I kind enough?” Like Vivian I respond “I try to be kind. I hope I was kind enough.”

Vivian’s other comment bears a bit of thought as well. “I think she wasn’t comfortable.”

Again I think of my students. There are so many times that they aren’t comfortable.
They miss their loved ones.
They aren’t sure they can do it.
They are having strong emotions.
They make a mistake.
They hurt a friend.
The reasons are nearly endless.

Do I bear them in mind? Do I notice their lack of comfort? Do I consider whatever behavior or emotional moment they are having might be because they are not comfortable? If so, do I respond with kindness, or do I respond in a less than kind way?

This past week I had a few girls who were being quite unkind to one another. I raised my voice at them and told them to “Sit down!” After they apologized to each other. I asked them how I sounded when I told them to stop and sit down. They said angry. I agreed. “I was angry. What you were doing was very unkind, and you could have hurt each other.” They looked at me without saying a word. I continued. “It was right for me to feel angry, and to tell you to stop, but it wasn’t ok for me to sound, or be, mean. I could have felt angry, but then I could have taken a breath and told you to stop and sit down in a much kinder tone” I paused. “So I need to apologize you.”

I used our apology protocol. I went to each girl, looked her in the eyes, apologized, asked if she were ok, and if she needed anything. One of the girls said “It’s ok.” I responded, “No, it’s not. You don’t need to tell me it’s ok when it’s not ok, just accept my apology.” She did. When I asked her if she needed anything, she said “Please don’t ever do that again.” I told her “I will do my best. Would you please do your best to be kind to your friends?” She shook her head yes.

Notice each other. Take a breath. Be kind. And when you aren’t as kind as you might be, apologize and try again. Such a great way to live and teach.

Way back when. Back when we were some of the wee ones in school.

Intent-based Leadership in Kindergarten

My brother just hipped me to the concept of Intent-based leadership. He sees value in adding it to our coaching practice. It sounds promising so I’ve started watching the plethora videos he suggested. As I watch I have to say I agree with him, and I’m thinking — “Wow! This isn’t just a good idea for our fencing team, this would be great to share with my Kindergartners!”

Leadership, responsibility, intent, learning, in Kindergarten
(created the photo art with goart.fotor.com)

Intent-based leadership looks like another awesome way for my Kindergartners to grow in their CASEL 5, as well as, academic excellence and joy. It will encourage my students to think about what they know, what they don’t know yet, what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and what and how they’re learning. My hunch is it’s going to be a powerful tool in the classroom.

Intent-based leadership was developed by L. David Marquet, while a Captain in the US Navy as a Commander of the nuclear submarine Santa Fe. Two quotes on his website hooked me! (I’ve adapted them for the classroom.)

Imagine a school (work place) where everyone engages and contributes their full intellectual capacity. A school (place) where people are healthier and happier because they have more control over their work – a school (place) where everyone is a leader.

Teaching (Leadership) is communicating to students, colleagues, and parents (people) their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.

How fantabulous is that? I’m still exploring and pondering, and there are a gazillion good ideas to consider, but here are five of my “OH!” and “AHA!” moments regarding using intent-based leadership in the classroom

#1 There isn’t one source of power, information, and leadership on the nuclear sub or in our classroom. Students and teachers share in the responsibility of learning and growing a fantabulous classroom community.

Do I have a lot of information as the teacher? Yes. Do I bear a large portion of the responsibility? Yes. Do I have a considerable amount of power? Yes.

However, do I have all the information as the teacher? No. Do I have all the responsibility? No. Do I have all the power? No. My students also have a considerable amount of information, responsibility, and power.

My Kindergartners are knowledgeable about many things — they understand what they love, what motivates them, what they think they know, what they think they don’t know, what they actually know and don’t know, what’s going on with them and their friends, what’s going on at home, and so much more.

Ask any of my students if they have any responsibilities in our classroom. Each will say yes. They have class jobs. They are responsible for how they behave, what they say, what they do or don’t do. It sometimes takes them a bit to realize just how responsible they are. Here’s a common conversation.

Student: “My mom forgot to put my folder in my bag, Miss James.”
Me: “Your mom forgot to put your folder in your bag?
Student: :Yes.”
Me: “Whose folder is it?”
Student: “Mine.”
Me: “Who forgot to pack it.”
Student “My mom.”
Repeat until ….
Me: “Who forgot to pack your folder?”
Student: “Me?”
Me: (with a big smile) “Yup! Hope you remember tomorrow!”
The folder always makes it in the next day.

My students are strong, rich, and powerful. Some understand that and use it well. Others don’t realize the power they have. Still others know they have power, but don’t always use it in the best way. I’m eager to help them recognize, embrace, and use their power well. The fantabulous humans in my Kindergarten and I are going to have a remarkable leadership journey together this year!

Our classroom community will flourish when we all co-exist as bearers of knowledge, responsible classroom citizens, and powerful leaders. As we step into our leadership opportunities, listen to one another, reflect upon what we hear, and value one another’s ideas, my Kindergartners will begin to blossom. They will experience and understand themselves as valuable and essential partners in our classroom community and in their learning journey.

If David is correct — and all the data suggests he is — this will reduce tension in the classroom while increasing productivity and happiness.

#2 It’s valuable to know what you intend to do, why you intend to do it, and how you intend to do it.
There are times my students need to do what I tell them to do. But there are other times when they are able to choose between various options. It would be amazing for them to be able to choose based on what is most valuable and helpful to themselves and their learning.

For instance, in reading they might listen to reading, read to someone, work on writing, or do some word work activity. How do they choose what to do? Do they simply follow a schedule I set up for them? If so, then they intend to follow directions. There is value in following directions that is true, but there are also times when it would be good for me to allow them to decide what they intend to do.

For instance perhaps they intend to — share a favorite book with a friend, or listen to reading so as to learn about snakes, or do word-work so they can learn their sight words and thereby grow as a reader. How awesome is that? They understand why they are doing what they are doing, and are working with intrinsic motivation.

I want them to know that even if they haven’t received specific directions from a teacher, they can still do wonderfully productive and fantabulous things. I want them to be confident in their ability to think, reflect, and make good decisions. And, I want them to actually make those good decisions.

This will require a good deal of trust on my part. I will need to trust myself, my students, and the process. And, I will have to be willing to take it one step at a time.

I know I will need do a good bit of frontloading, modeling, and scaffolding. We will have to build relationships, trust, and skill. There will be many discussions: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? What did we experience? What do we want to experience? What did we learn? How did we learn it? When might we do that again? Is there anything that might work better?

The process feels incredibly daunting, and, at the same time, amazingly powerful and exciting.

#3 Student: “I intend to …” Me “What am I thinking right now?”

When my students tell me what they are motivated to do, and what they intend to do, it will be important for me to engage in conversation with them. Sometimes it might be — tell me more. Sometimes it might be “What am I thinking right now?” These questions allow my students to take ownership of themselves and what they intend, while at the same time having the benefit of my thoughts, experiences, and sense of things.

Some of the things I’m thinking might be:
Is it safe? Convince me that it’s safe.
Is it productive? Convince me that it’s productive.
Is it the right thing to do? Convince me that it’s the right thing to do.
Is it kind? Convince me that it’s kind.

This type of exchange is a learning experience for my students and myself. I get to learn what they’re thinking, and why they’re thinking it. I discover areas that aren’t clear to them and that might benefit from greater explanation or experience. They get to think through the process, consider their actions, and remember the purpose of the particular learning moment.

Again, I’m struck by the enormity of the process. And yet, if my goal is to begin to help my students become their best, most brilliant selves, I must take the chance. If I hope to help create not just students who can do what I ask them to do, but humans who can make good decisions and impact themselves and others in powerful ways, then it’s time to give it a go.

#4 We are all leaders and all followers

This isn’t about anarchy. We are all leaders, and all followers. We cannot just choose to intend to do something that is against the guiding principles of the organization. We choose to be part of the organization — in my case, my students’ parents choose to have their children be part of our classroom community. After making that commitment there are certain ways we must comply. For instance we must do our best, be kind, and treat each other with respect. There are other ways we can exercise our leadership and creativity. It’s always about learning and growing and being our best possible selves as individuals and a community.

#5 You can do it, *Molly (*Insert your name here.)

In one of the leadership nudges, David suggests we use our name when encouraging ourselves. Instead of “I can do it.” I would say “Molly, you can do it.” At first it feels a bit silly, but after trying it, I like it. David posits that using the third person way of speaking to ourselves puts us in a bit of a less emotionally charged space. I experience it as though a kind friend is giving me the encouragement. I’m definitely going to suggest it to my Kindergartners. I think it will be valuable, and be worth a few chuckles.


So, there you have it. I intend to embark on the profound journey of intent based leadership with my Kindergartners this year. And, I intend to have a fantabulous year together. Wish me luck!


Here’s a bonus nugget so you can get a feel for intent-based leadership from David himself. The three name rule. I’m thinking about how to incorporate it into our classroom community.

SEL and Setting Intentions In Kindergarten

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an essential part of living and learning. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has 5 core SEL competencies, called the CASEL 5 – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making.

According to CASEL, the social emotional learning that happens as we develop and use these 5 core competencies “is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

I don’t know about you, but I think that list of outcomes is spectacular! I read it and say, “Oh, yeah. I want that!” And, I don’t just want that for myself. I want it for my family, my students, and gosh, for the world.

I’m always looking for ways to enhance the SEL in my classroom. My question is always how to most effectively and efficiently give my students agency over their own SEL. I think I’ve found an answer in intention setting.

We talked a lot about setting intentions in our B4C training. We considered: How do I want to show up? What do I want to notice? What emotion do I want to cultivate?

Sometimes our instructors would invite us to join them in a particular intention. At other times they would encourage us to take a moment, and then set our own intention for our practice, or our time together. As I set intentions, I noticed myself using the CASEL competencies.

Self-awareness and self-management: What am I feeling/thinking? What did I hope to feel/think? What do I need? What might help me reach my goal?

Social awareness: Who is around me? How might I influence them, and them me? How do I want to show up in relationship to them? How might I grow?

Relationship skills: How might I show up as a leader, speaker, listener, and/or collaborator?

Responsible decision making: Might I increase my curiosity, courage or kindness? What is my role? Might I think more critically, more creatively? What is happening today? How does all of this impact my decision of how I might show up?

My best intention setting happens when I am present to myself, others, and the moment. I’m able to breathe, notice, think, and choose an intention that actually helps me to become the person I want/need to be in that moment in time. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But, I tell you it’s true. Our minds are incredibly powerful, and our thoughts, emotions, mental images, and inner talk actually shape our brains, our experiences and our very selves. There’s tons of research out there if you’re interested. Here’s one article from Stanford News on the ability of our minds to shape our reality.

I definitely want to share the practice of setting intentions with my Kindergartners.

I imagine the power my Kindergartners will experience as they decide how they want to show up — kind, brave, happy, curious. I am sure there will be lots of modeling, lots of inviting them to join me in an intention, and lots of conversations about our intentions. We will have opportunities to share our intentions. We’ll wonder and talk about how it might look for us to live our intentions to be kind, or to be a good friend, or to be brave. At other moments we’ll check in with ourselves and each other to recall our intentions, reset them, or simply celebrate remembering that we set an intention. We might explore what happens if we set an intention and then forget it, or don’t actually do what we intend. It’s all part of our SEL and growth as our best selves.

I’m super excited to begin this work with my Kindergarten colleagues. My intention is to honor them as capable human beings, and give them tools they can use now and in the future. I’m hopeful this supported agency and growth in the CASEL 5 will empower them to be more self aware, more mindful, and more in charge of themselves and our classroom community.

I believe in the goodness and ability of my Kindergartners, and I believe in the power of this process. I know that there may be times I will need to intervene, so I will of course, remain in the mix. But, my plan is to remain more as a lead learner and model, rather than an arbitrator of all things necessary. I’m confident we will experience a positive difference in our classroom community – socially, emotionally, and academically.