In my previous blog post titled “Social-Emotional Learning Series: Cultivating Skills All Students Need to Thrive,” I identified classroom management, lack of engagement, and general student apathy as challenges that plagued the 2021-2022 school year. Teachers have an opportunity to approach this new school year differently by dedicating class time to cultivating social-emotional learning skills that are critical to a high-functioning learning community. In this blog post, we’ll explore the first competency of social-emotional learning: self-awareness.

What is self-awareness?

Self-awareness is a cornerstone of social-emotional learning. Without self-awareness, students struggle to manage themselves, make responsible decisions, build healthy relationships, and understand and empathize with others. 

Self-awareness is a multifaceted competency that encompasses a person’s ability to:

  • Identify their emotions, thoughts, and values and recognize how they influence their behavior.
  • Be aware of their interactions, feelings, and relationships with others.
  • Understand one’s strengths, limitations, and weaknesses.

To help cultivate self-awareness in classrooms, educators should consider the following questions:

  • What routines can help students to identify their emotional state to better understand themselves from day to day?
  • How can I help students reflect on the connection between their feelings, thoughts, values, and behaviors?
  • What classroom routines can help students to develop higher levels of self-efficacy and confidence? 
  • How can I help students to identify and utilize their personal, cultural, and linguistic assets?

Benefits of Developing Self-awareness

Dedicating time and energy resources to cultivating self-awareness benefits individual students and the ability of the learning community to function in a healthy, positive, and productive way. Research suggests that when individuals see themselves more clearly, the benefits include:

  • Higher levels of confidence and creativity
  • Improved decision-making skills
  • More effective communication and collaboration with others
  • Stronger relationships 
  • More likely to demonstrate integrity 
  • More persistence when completing complex tasks
  • Healthy psychological well-being (Eurich, 2018; Sutton, 2016; Feldman, Dunn, Stemke, Bell & Greeson, 2014).

So, how do we help students develop self-awareness?

5 Strategies Designed to Help Students Develop Self-awareness

Strategy #1: Start Class with Check-ins 

Begin each class with an informal conversation or check-in activity. Teachers can dedicate time to a whole class check-in with each student sharing their response to a prompt. If that is too time-consuming, teachers can put students in small groups and allow them to check in with a handful of peers.

A regular check-in routine that asks students to share their feelings and experiences builds community and empathy while also helping students feel more comfortable engaging with their peers when working on academic tasks.

Click to access this slide deck.

Strategy #2: Feelings Graph

Encourage students to take a few quiet moments to take an inventory of how they feel physically, mentally, and emotionally.

  • Are they tired, stressed, happy, hopeful, or frustrated?
  • What is causing them to feel this way today?
  • Did something happen that impacted them positively or negatively?

Once they’ve had a chance to gauge their feelings, ask students to graph their emotional state on a piece of chart paper and write a short reflection explaining why they put themselves at a particular spot on their graph.

Tracking how they feel over time can help students identify trends in their emotional state and gain clarity about the people, routines, situations, and interactions that positively and negatively impact them. If they understand how different variables affect how they feel physically, mentally, and emotionally, they can make choices that will positively impact them.

Strategy #3: Model Stress Management Strategies

Rates of stress, anxiety, and depression are rising (Pincus, Hannor-Walker, Wright & Justice, 2020; Wan, 2020). Helping students practice stress management strategies can help them deal with their anxiety and stress in a healthy way. When woven into the fabric of their days at school, breathing, meditation, and mindfulness routines can help students develop the skills necessary to manage their stress and build confidence in navigating challenging situations.

Educators can begin one class each week focusing on a mindfulness activity to help students check in with themselves and hone the skills necessary to deal with moments of stress and anxiety.

Strategy #4: Who am I? Thinking Routine

Project Zero developed this thinking routine to encourage students to explore their identity and the identity of others. It “encourages students to reserve judgment, take time to find out more about what they see and/or hear, and explore more deeply and broadly other people, and develop a greater understanding of similarities and differences.

Strategy #5: Practice Mindfulness STOP Skill with Role-play

Role-play asks students to assume the identity of a person placed in a situation or scenario that mirrors something they might encounter in the classroom or in life. The scenario might challenge them to think about how they would react if a classmate made a rude comment, they received a low score on an important assignment, or they had to work in a group with a student they did not like.

As students engage in a role-play scenario, encourage them to practice the mindfulness STOP skill of:

  • Stopping or pausing before responding or reacting.
  • Taking a deep breath and becoming aware of their breathing.
  • Observe what is happening inside their bodies and what is happening around them.
  • Proceed mindfully based on the information they learned from checking in with themselves and taking a moment to observe the situation.

These mindfulness activities do not require significant time, but they are more likely to positively impact a student’s level of self-awareness when teachers carve out time each day or week to dedicate to these routines. Teachers should consider dedicating time during a welcome routine to these exercises. Beginning the first 5-10 minutes of class a few times each week with an activity designed to boost self-awareness or encourage mindfulness can help students get comfortable identifying their feelings and thinking critically about the impact of their interactions with others.

My next blog post will focus on the competency of self-management!

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