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.

Oh.my.gosh!

My fingers stand poised above the keyboard, waiting for directions from my brain. For many moments, nothing comes. It’s not that my brain has nothing to say. It’s almost as though it has too much to say. So I wait.

Perhaps it will help to say it again. OH.MY.GOSH! Yes, somehow saying it again has helped.

So. This happened just a few days ago.

I graduated the 200 Hour Training Intensive with Breathe for Change!

I am a certified SEL facilitator and (200 hour) yoga teacher.

OH.MY.GOSH!

How amazing is that?

It’s very amazing — not just because I graduated, but because I learned, I did, I experienced, I grew, and I glowed. It’s amazing and fantabulous how much I did of each of those things. Here’s a bit of what I gleaned and want to remember for my life and my teaching practice.

BE AN UNAPOLOGETIC HUMAN CRUISING ALONG WITH AND TO GRACE
Be kind. Be your best self. Show up knowing that there is grace and goodness in each moment. Apologize for being unkind, don’t apologize for being human. Did something touch you and you were overjoyed? Live it. Were you overwhelmed — enough for tears to flow? Experience it. Being alive is a huge gift. Honor who you are, and be open to greater transformation and grace. 

Wouldn’t this be an amazing lesson for our students? I imagine things like: Don’t apologize when you make a mistake or don’t understand something. Notice it, accept it, learn from it, use it, but don’t apologize. Celebrate the struggle. Celebrate being willing to say “I don’t get it.” Celebrate the learning. And also perhaps, start noticing the things for which we should apologize and the new ways we want to show up.

THERE IS POWER IN MY BREATH, BODY, MIND, AND BEING
It’s amazing how powerful simple things like noticing my breath, and accepting it can be. As I practiced mindfulness with my breath, I noticed myself becoming more aware and mindful in other ways. Just yesterday I was outside and thought, “Have those flowers always been there like that?!?!” It was as though I saw them anew. It was wild.

As I experienced the power of the mindfulness practices, I kept thinking — “Oh.my.gosh. I want to share this with my students! How amazing and empowering would it be for them to experience and embrace the power they carry around with them every moment of the day!”

SHOW UP – MAKE MAGIC
Show up as your best self in each moment. Even if it’s difficult — and it’s often difficult.

Isn’t that a great message to share with others? “Yes, showing up is hard. I get it. Sometimes it’s hard for me, too. It doesn’t mean you’re not good enough, or you’re doing something wrong. It just means some things are difficult.”

I’m thinking of my Kindergartners as they walk into school the first day. It’s a gigantic struggle for some of them. Sometimes it’s a struggle for their parents, too. I wonder how it might feel to have somehow say “Yup, it’s hard, no doubt about it. But guess what. You did the hardest part! You’re amazing, and fantabulous, and super brave. You showed up. You came in. I’m so glad you did. I can’t WAIT to see what kind of magic we create together today, and every day!”

CREATE A PROCESS AND SELL IT
I laughed as I decided on the heading for this section. Sell it sounds so anti-mindfulness and yoga, and yet, I still like it.

Sell it! Help others buy into the process. Use language that conveys the beauty and power of the process. Allow your emotions to express more than your words might express on their own.

The B4C trainers said things like, “I can’t wait to share this incredible process with you.” or “This is my favorite form of meditation. I’m so excited for you to try it.” Their excitement and conviction, made a difference. It heightened our interest level, and encouraged us to about take risks and give it a go.

I’m always doing my best to use my language, emotions, and behavior to rock the peace, positivity, and possibility vibes in my learning space. Intentionally and regularly selling the process and product of learning is a perfect addition to my teaching practice.

I really like the idea of being clear about my excitement and enjoyment of whatever I’m presenting. This also means I need to be assess my process and product. In order to share my excitement, I actually have to be excited. If I’m not excited, why am I teaching it the way I am? And, if I am excited by it, then, yes, share the love!

I CAN CREATE AND HOLD SPACE – LET ME MAKE IT GOOD SPACE
The B4C training was an incredible 6 weeks of creating and holding space for ourselves and each other. The affirmation, joy, and love were palpable and powerful. From the first welcome “Hello fabulous educators!” to the graduation goodbye — “”You matter! We love you!” B4C spoke to us about how they saw us. They spoke to us about who we are. They spoke to us about how they want us to see ourselves. Amazing isn’t it?

Teaching is about so much more than the information I’m sharing or the activities we’re doing. It’s even more than the thinking and creating. Teaching is about helping others to see and know themselves as the amazing humans they already are, and the even more amazing humans they are becoming.

Imagine starting your very first class — or each one of your classes — with this statement, “Hello fantabulous learners. I’m so glad you’re here. I can’t wait to share this incredible thing with you!” Now imagine ending it with “Wow! Look at all you’ve done, and learned! I’m going to open some space for you. I’d love to hear how you feel, and what you think …”

Talk about transformational!



So, yes! OH.MY.GOSH! The B4C Wellness, SEL, and Yoga Teaching Training is amazing. I’m so glad I took the risk and did it. It’s been transformational.

If your interest is at all piqued give them a look. Here’s a link to their digital 200 hour Wellness, SEL and Yoga Teacher Training information and application — no pressure, no commitment, just an opportunity to talk about the program and see if it makes sense for you.

And, whether or not you choose to become part of Breath For Change, remember you make a difference every moment of every day — for yourself and others! Keep being remarkable.

The Woods and the River

The cool air kisses our cheeks
welcoming us back 
to the beauty and joy 
of the woods and the river

We pause 
to capture photographs
of leaves suspended above the ground
by trees that didn’t hold them in life

We stop
to free a witch hazel
trapped beneath a massive birch
felled by a recent storm

We walk
deep into the woods
through pockets of coolness
and dappled areas of sunlight

At the river’s edge
I breathe the air
with every fiber of my being
and remember a Nhat Hanh mantra

Breathing in I calm my body
Breathing out I smile
Living in the present moment
What a wonderful moment.

Smiling
I sit
and slide my unshod feet 
into the cold, rushing water of the river

I exist
in the epitome of mindfulness
body and mind together
in the woods by the river

I relish this time and space
so ordinary 
and yet 
so very extraordinary

The sights and sounds
of woods and river
flow over me
like water over the rocks

My jagged edges are smoothed
and the disquieting din of life
is drowned by the pleasantly deafening 
song of the river

Refreshed
and renewed
We walk again
amidst the trees

The moon greets us as we
emerge from the canopy of green
even now planning our return
to walk in the woods and sit by the river

Look for it. Feel it. Name it.

I had the opportunity to chat with two of my colleagues this morning. It was a great exchange. It was wonderful to see one another (virtually), to listen, and to share. I left feeling connected, encouraged, and uplifted, with lots of things to think about.

One of my colleagues shared that so many people she’s communicating with now have heavy hearts. I could feel the weight as she spoke. People are struggling to feel joy. In the face of so much discord, difficulty, fear, injustice, illness it makes sense to feel a powerful incongruence. How might one legitimately feel joy, or be justified to do so, when so much is wrong around us. Everyone is dealing with such strong feelings – many of them less than positive. It’s a struggle to figure out how to sit with it all.

Thinking about it, I responded. “Maybe it’s because I’m a Kindergarten teacher, but my first thought is to quote Mr. Rogers. — Look for the helpers. There are always helpers.”

For me that translates into look for the good, the positive — there is always good and positive. I thought for a bit and continued. “I think if we don’t look for the good, if we don’t experience, embrace, and celebrate whatever good and joy we find, then evil wins in an even stronger way.”

We must continue the fight. We must acknowledge the things that are not right, the things that anger us, frighten us, or sadden us. We must sit with all those who suffer. We must cry out for justice and mercy. But, at the same time, we must, I think, continue to look for, and find, joy. We must continue to hope.

After talking, I resumed a yoga and mindfulness course I’m taking with Little Flower Yoga. It included a video of children and parents sharing their experiences with mindfulness. I was struck by how much they were speaking to my conversation with my colleagues, and the one I’ve been having with myself as I prepare to start my cancer treatment again this week.

Mindfulness, they said, helps us understand where we are now. It affords us the opportunity to notice everything, and connect with the now, ourselves, and others. It was a real aha moment for me. Sometimes I feel like I need to remind people of how tough things are. Other times I think I shouldn’t feel joyful when things are so uncertain and potentially dangerous. But, as I take a breath and try to see things in my here and now, with kindness and curiosity, I notice that those thoughts and feelings are only part of my now. There is, even amidst the difficulties, many points of light, hope, peace, joy. In mindfulness, I must see and explore everything, give everything voice, light, time, thought — and even in my darkest moments that includes joy, goodness, and hope.

This photo reminds me of some of the reasons I have for joy, hope, peace, gratitude.

There are so many people choosing to help, to love, to pray, to do what is right – in my life and in the world. There are many reasons to be grateful. I am using my breath, my body, and my mind to connect to those truths, and to allow them to inform my feelings and action. I texted a friend that my to do list today includes — see the good, the positive, the blessings, the strength, the safety, and the helpers; speak of them in some way (to myself and others); and let it inform and bless me, and the world.

No matter what, this is my mantra. It is me encouraging mindfulness in myself.

I hope to see the world, and the situations I am in, in the fullness of truth. I know, for myself, it is the only way I will have the strength, courage, and ability to be, and to do, what is best.

An Exercise in Mindfulness

There is a mindfulness practice one can use to counter anxiousness and worry. Become aware of what you see, what you hear, what you smell, what you feel. By doing this you gently remove yourself from the world of your fears. As you notice more and more, you are brought more deeply into the present moment.

I need to spend more time in the present moment, and less time in the future which is not yet here. So much can change between now and that future moment. Why do I fret so much about it? I want to begin to spend more time in the present, aware of its goodness and beauty. I took a moment to do that today. It rained yesterday removing much of the humidity from the air. Today is spectacular — breezy, clear, cool.

I was encouraged to do a bit of writing that uses some sort of stacked words — alliteration, repetition, whatever worked. It seems apropos to use the repetition of small phrases to encourage mindfulness and call myself back to the present moment and all that surrounds me there.

Breezes blow. Breezes blow softly, then vigorously.

Breezes blow.  Breezes blow, and soothe my soul. 

Breezes blow. Breezes blow, and my breath grows in depth and ease. 

My eyes.  My eyes gaze up from my computer screen, and soak in the verdant green that surrounds me.

My eyes. My eyes rise higher and admire the beautiful blue sky accentuated by clouds slowly moving by.

My eyes.  My eyes notice the birds who join me on the patio — as if we are friends. 

My ears. My ears hear the distant rumble of cars, and the sound of my vertebrae straightening as I lean back and stretch.

My ears. My ears delight in the sweet songs of my bird friends. 

My ears. My ears react to the soft worship music on my laptop, and mysteriously slow my breath.

My mouth. My mouth feels the smoothness of the coconut cream in my afternoon matcha.

My mouth. My mouth tastes the delicate sweetness. 

My mouth. My mouth enjoys the green goodness of this delightful drink.

I choose. I choose to embrace and encourage peace.

I choose. I choose to believe the best. 

I choose. I choose to live — as much as I can — from a place of trust, peace, and positivity.

I. I sit quietly and breathe deeply.

I. I pray.

I. I am. 

Creative Spark!

Yesterday, I picked up my copy of Journal Sparks: Fire up Your Creativity with Spontaneous Art, Wild Writing, and Inventive Thinking. I was hoping for a creative spark from Emily Neuburger. She did not disappoint.

Flipping through the first few pages I came upon suggestions of what my journal might be. I’d used that list before to great results. This time I was struck by this possibility:

This journal is a small, handmade, accordion journal (see page 132) that is meant to be completely filled in one day.

Hmmm. I know how to make accordion journals. They’re simple and fun. I flipped to page 132. But, it was page 133 that caught my eye. I’d made these books before as well. I even taught them at a book-making workshop I led for educators. It’s a quirky little cut which allows for many possibilities as you use the book.

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When I presented it to my fellow educators, they were a bit unsure of its quirkiness. The ambiguity of the way the pages progress was a bit disconcerting. I encouraged them to just give it a go and see what their students did with it.

At the time I was thinking book, not journal, so I could understand their discomfort. We typically think of books as progressing in a particular manner. But, now, approaching it as a journal, I absolutely love it! The concept of a journal, filled in one day, on an unconventionally folded piece of paper is fantabulous! The ambiguity actually adds to its fantabulousness. (Note: Perhaps we need to be open to ambiguity in our books as well! It may turn out to be an equally remarkable twist.)

At first I was a bit unsure how I would fill the journal in one day. Would I just sit and fill it? Didn’t know. Didn’t care. Just wanted to do it.

I folded, cut, and folded again to create the journal. I played around with it for a bit before I did any writing/drawing. It’s super interesting the different ways you can open and turn the pages. After a considerable amount of folding, refolding, opening, looking, wondering, I chose the way I wanted to proceed. I put my first entry on the cover. I had places to go and things to do, so I put the journal down and set about the next part of my day.

In my car, I noticed an old tea bag tag I’ve had in there for what seems like forever. Perfect! When I got back in the house, I glued it to the next page. Later in the day I was feeling the need for some stretching so I did a bit of yoga. Awesome. I added it to my journal with simple stick figures and words. Still later I noticed my impatience (I’m working on that) so I added a quote about gratitude versus complaining.

I was struck by the awesomeness of this simply, small, out of the ordinary journal as a opportunity for mindfulness and reflection. Since each page is so small it’s really simple to fill them. You can make a really quick jot, or you can be more involved if time allows, and it makes you happy.

The idea of filling the book in a day was key for me as it forced me to create small moments in my day. The last pages were done right before my night prayers. It was a lovely way to wrap up my day. It gave me an opportunity to record the things I wanted to remember as I closed my day and my eyes.

I shared the finished journal with my brother. As I talked to him, I opened the journal in several different ways. As I did, I realized you could do two days if you wanted. The folds allow the blank pages to be accessed easily, so I could fill in another day if I wished. I also noticed I hadn’t stayed on the same side with all my entries. It might be interesting to do that. He remarked “Perhaps you could watercolor each side and then follow that. It’d be an easy way to maintain each side.” True! And it would be pretty!

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I’m in the process of making this ridiculously simple journal for my friends. It has profound possibility and potential. I love it for the opportunity to be curious, to flip back and forth between possibilities, make choices, reflect, have fun, breathe, be mindful, and do some writing and drawing. I may do several of my own. They’d be great to have to return to, reflect, remember and be inspired.

I kind of want to send one to each of my colleagues — to encourage stopping, breathing, reflecting, creating, and mindfulness. I definitely want to use them with my Kindergartners — and not just as a book (though books are spectacular) but as an opportunity to be, and experience all those lovely fantabulous things.

 


Make your own:

If you use a rectangular sheet of paper (as Emily does) you end up with rectangular pages. You can use a square piece of paper if you prefer square pages.

Fold the paper in half long ways and short ways. Then, fold each half in half. This should get you 16 rectangles/squares.

Following the folds, begin on one of the outer folds and cut to just before your final rectangle (if you don’t stop, you cut the piece off). Turn your paper and continue cutting along the fold to just before the last rectangle. You continue in a spiral-like manner until any cuts would result in cutting a piece off the paper.

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Then re-fold, explore, and enjoy.

Simple things

Simple things can be taken for granted and overlooked, or they can induce wonder and awe.

I recently purchased a manual crank pencil sharpener for my learning space. My girls like every aspect of this simple machine. They enjoy manipulating the lever that secures it to our table. They carefully spin the ring of holes to find the perfect fit for their pencil. They work together to help others sharpen their pencil successfully.

It sometimes takes a bit longer to use than an electric sharpener, but the time is time well spent. As they work and struggle to sharpen their pencils, they practice grit, perseverance, curiosity, and kind helpfulness. They strengthen the muscles of their hands and fingers. And, remarkably, they experience wonder and awe!

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The other day, one of them was chatting with me about the sharpener. I don’t recall our exact conversation, but at one point I took the sharpener apart. Perhaps I wanted to show her the insides, perhaps I was just emptying the shavings.

I was unprepared for her response. When the sharpening gears were exposed, she gasped. Her eyes were wider than I’ve ever seen before. She gently grasped the handle — as though she might destroy the wonder, or damage the machine. As she turned the crank, the gears rotated. She was glued to the movement and with hushed excitement said “Wow!”

 

20181025_092203-01I asked if she wanted to try sharpening her pencil. She said yes and began to work on replacing the cover. I encouraged her to sharpen it without the cover so she could observe what happened. Her astonishment and joy were palpable as she sharpened the pencil, adding to the small pile of shavings at the base of the sharpener.

 

I feel similar things when I use a standard wedge sharpener. I love watching the wood and paint sliced off of the pencil — with incredible precision. I like the crisp sharp point, and I marvel at the beautiful shapes of the sharpening scraps.

20181106_104023-01 Simple things. Big feelings. Important experiences.

I want to be mindful of these moments. Mindful in noticing them. Mindful in helping facilitate and provoke them. Mindful in finding small moments, and large blocks, in which we can play with simple things. Mindful about protecting and nurturing the wonder and awe of the simple things.

I think I will begin saving the sharpening scraps in our makerspace trolley. I’m hopeful they will intrigue and inspire my makers.

At the very least, they will bring me joy, and that’s a good thing.

Time will tell.

 

 

The Power of Language

Lately I’ve been struck by the profound power of language.

Last night at a mindfulness session someone pointed out the difference between saying: “I am a worrier!” and “I am experiencing worry.”

Do you hear a difference? Do you feel one? They are very similar statements, but the small variations cause large differences in meaning and impact.

The first statement says something about me, and therefore about the possibility of my actions or thoughts. I AM a worrier. If I am a worrier, I have no choice. I worry. If, instead, I am experiencing worry, I have choices. I can notice the worry. I can observe it. I can choose to turn towards the worry and learn from it. I can choose to do something to alleviate it. Or, I can worry, lol.

The point is, the change in my language opens possibilities for me! It gives me options. It creates space to be, and to do.

I share the worry example because it helped me to understand my experience of another rather subtle change in language.

I’m writing an article on creativity and leadership. My editor suggested I change “How might we?” to “How can we?”

What do you think? Say the questions to yourself a few times. What do you experience when you read the questions? Do you notice a difference? Do you have pull or preference for on or the other?

I definitely experience the questions differently, and I have a clear preference!

I am experiencing — in my life and in my practice — that the power of “How might we?” far exceeds the power of “How can we?” Sounds a bit crazy, right? But, it’s not!

“How can we?” offers two options: we can, or, we can’t. That’s it. Too often, when given the choice of can, or can’t we choose can’t.

I can’t do that! I can’t walk a half marathon! I can’t solve that problem. I can’t write a story. I can’t do a multimedia presentation. I can’t pass this test.  I’m not able. There is no way. (sigh)

If we avoid the “I can’t!” quagmire. We may fall into the “I don’t know” trap because”How can we?” suggests we are looking for the correct way to do whatever we are doing. If the person being questioned is at all unsure, this often leads to the answer: “I don’t know.”

In both instances — “I can’t” and “I don’t know” — the problem remains unsolved understanding stagnates, learning is limited, and, perhaps, most tragically, the one questioned is now more convinced than ever that they really don’t know, and they really can’t .

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In contrast, “How might we?” is more flexible and less prescriptive. “How might we?” invites divergent thinking, allowing us to go wide with our answers. Even the uncertain can offer ideas because the “rightness” of the answer is not demanded.

Often the answers which fail, are more valuable than those that immediately succeed. They allow us — demand it actually — to reflect, examine, explore, talk, learn and try again. In this process many positive things happen. To name just a few:

  • Understanding (of ideas, materials, students, ourselves, others) deepens.
  • New strategies emerge.
  • Trust, confidence and relationships grow.
  • Thinking and ideas are valued.
  • New ideas are formed.

The power of simple changes in language is intriguing. I’m super excited by the possibilities of HMW questions, and am working on using them more often in my life, and in my practice.

Give them a try. If you do, I’d love to hear your reflections.