June 4th, 2020

The Jewel in the Wound

Thank you for asking pertinent, timely questions of thoughtful individuals in education. Reading these responses, I am humbled and proud to be a teacher.

A few days after our school shut down, one parent contacted me and franticly asked if I could Zoom her child into an independent worker. He is a lovable, bright kid whose growing edge has been in developing a problem solving attitude. Inside his mother’s question, I heard such overwhelm and anxiety. I believe she didn’t want to make mistakes and felt a greater burden of education on her shoulders. At that time, I counseled her by saying that her child will learn as he shelters at home. He will learn to express his emotions. He will learn to ask for help. He will learn to be resilient. He will learn about togetherness. He will learn life lessons that usurp all academic ones. I told her that we would teach him, together.

I am learning. With 18 years of elementary school teaching experience and a degree in counseling psychology, I am, of course, still learning. My reaction to the pandemic was one of unconscious anxiety that wore a cloak of scattered thinking. It was the jewel in my wound because it brought me back to mental health practices with greater investment than ever before. I thirsted for grounding balance.

My pain helped my students. It led to me to the organization, Six Seconds: The Emotional Intelligence Network (https://www.youtube.com/user/6secondsorg) The organization was established to spread emotional intelligence around the world in both private and public sectors. As I understand it, it was started and is run by loving educators. Seeing the need during this time of COVID19, the leaders of the organization began offering online courses. The first session of Grow U Online (https://www.6seconds.org/grow/ ) that I took centered around the theme of vulnerability. I Zoomed into break-out groups with people of varied ages, professions, geographies, and ethnicities. I Zoomed into a wholeheartedness that, pre-pandemic, only touched the periphery of my life and interactions. (Virtually) there, I found connection that pierced the numbness of disbelief, disembodiment, disillusionment and reminded me that the children who are in my care desperately need that, too. I then Zoomed with them about vulnerability. In one of our more recent check-ins, an introverted ten year old typed the comment, “To be more myself in more of my circles of belonging, I would need to know myself better.”

I love the idea of reimagining education with SEL at its center. To create a network of emotional resiliency and self awareness among our children, I can only echo the importance of SEL training and professional practice for teachers, the support for more school counselors who are free to truly counsel, community service (Project Based Learning) and peer mentoring relationships through video conferencing, and arts integration as means for expression. The integration of SEL into content areas seems a worthy goal. At the same time, in my experience, lessons explicit to emotional intelligence are crucial. I find that they are best taught through stories.

In reimagining California’s approach to education, I believe with all my heart that the expertise of those leading Six Seconds, if called upon, could be a great advantage. They have even created a rubric for clearly articulated desired student outcomes in regard to emotional intelligence.

Fear is the barrier. The mother who wanted her child Zoomed to independence fears he will fall behind academically. As a teacher, I fear sacrificing time on pure academics to devote instead to SEL—and does it ever take time to responsibly metabolize feelings!—may put my students at a disadvantage when it comes to state testing (even though, intellectually, I understand that SEL boosts academics). I am grateful that testing was suspended this year. It freed me to teach like I’ve won the lottery, as I used to say, and embark upon Passion Projects with my students. (A good reference for the process is Genius Hour by Andi McNair, and I’ve found https://renzullilearning.com/ to be helpful for organization of writing in the Project Wizard.) Perhaps some teachers fear holding space for their students’ emotions while others may understandably fear their own retraumatization. We teachers tend to fit the martyr archetype and must learn true self care in order to be effective in raising the emotional intelligence of our students.

I hope the jewel in this wound opens the door to inviting soul into the digital or physical classroom. Thank you for opening the discussion.

Tags: Climate and culture, community building, connection, Mental health, student-centered

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