Social-Emotional Learning: The Unexpected Ingredient
Let me give you a quick rundown of tonight:
I wanted to make chocolate pudding. This particular recipe calls for a food processor—a device which I have used maybe once before. The lid was stuck. Frustrating. Tried and tried. Text my husband asking for help. Tried and tried. Finally got it off. Success! I put in the yams and maple syrup. The processor would not process. Furthermore, the lid would not open again. Still no help. Doubly frustrating. Tried and tried. Triply frustrating. Now, I am angry. Tried some more. Don’t know how I managed to get it off, but it went flying in the air, landed on the ground. Decided to use the Nutri Ninja™ instead. Difficult because I used the pitcher instead of the cup so I had to keep scooping the food down. Got pudding on the potholder that just came fresh out of the wash. Annoying. Forced myself to clean and tidy the kitchen. Ending up reflecting on this experience. And here I am!
So, what’s the moral of the story? What’s the lesson learned?
As I was washing dishes, I realized that what just happened to me was a great exercise of my social-emotional skills. A simple task like making pudding quickly turned into a problem to solve and a challenge of tenacity!
More and more education systems are recognizing the importance of developing and explicitly teaching these skills as competence in Social-Emotional Learning builds the foundation for all other learning.
Let me illustrate using CASEL’s Social-Emotional Learning framework. It is one of the leading SEL resources used in districts, schools, classrooms and homes:
Now let’s rewind and revisit tonight’s events through the lens of this framework.
I wanted to make chocolate pudding. This particular recipe calls for a food processor—a device which I have used maybe once before. The lid was stuck. Frustrating. Tried and tried. Text my husband asking for help.
I don’t cook often. I’m not familiar with this tool. Maybe there’s a special way to open it.
Who would know how to use it? My husband, of course. I’ll ask him for help. I communicate what I need.
He doesn’t respond right away. I try and be patient knowing that he’s at curling and might not be able to get to his phone at this time.
I’m patient. After he responds, I keep trying.
Tried and tried. Finally got it off.
I know I’m getting frustrated. Let’s stop for a second. (Calming Strategy - Take a Break).
How is everything connected? Where do the pieces latch together? Where do I need to leverage? Let’s try again.
Success! I put in the yams and maple syrup. The processor would not process. Furthermore, the lid would not open again. Still no help. Doubly frustrating.
I’ll communicate my frustration to my husband again. See if he can help me.
He doesn’t respond. I feel the need for empathy. I’m frustrated but I laugh at the ridiculousness of my situation. Maybe it would make a good post on my Instagram story?
I’m self-conscious about cooking because I’m not very good at it. I don’t want to draw attention to the fact that I can’t do something simple like open a lid and make a food processor work. I don’t want to feel stupid in front of others.
I decide not to post anything.
Tried and tried. Triply frustrating.
I keep trying. I’m getting more frustrated. I stop to take a few breaths. I think about the times I tell my students to breathe (Get oxygen to your pre-frontal cortex. It’s better for decision-making so you don’t let emotions take over).
Once I’m calm, I keep trying. I try different things: put pressure here, shake it there, bang it on the counter a couple of times (maybe not the most responsible decision…)
Now, I am angry.
I stop. I text my husband how I feel. (I name the emotion).
Tried some more. Don’t know how I managed to get it off, but it went flying in the air, landed on the ground.
I walk away. I tell myself I’m not stupid and it’s reasonable to feel frustrated. I give myself permission to feel. I breathe.
I keep trying.
Decided to use the Nutri Ninja™ instead. Difficult because I used the pitcher instead of the cup so I had to keep scooping the food down.
I know I don’t want to go through this again.
I decide not to risk closing the food processor. I empty the contents into the pitcher and use the Nutri Ninja instead. (Problem-Solving → Similar outcome, different tool).
Got pudding on the potholder that just came fresh out of the wash. Annoying. Forced myself to clean and tidy the kitchen. Ending up reflecting on this experience. And here I am!
Another small setback upsets me. I think about how my goal was to make pudding not keep everything clean. I let it go and give myself something to feel in control: I do the dishes. I clean the kitchen.
I talk myself down. I breathe. I think about why this situation frustrated me so much and how I handled it. I connect it to a conversation I had earlier today with Jack about the importance of social-emotional skills.
Because I was able to understand my emotions and keep them in check, I was able to think about how to move forward.
I remember the most common frustrations of my students in class: technology not working the way they wanted it to, having to start all over again, trying and trying and failing. The self-talk I just did mimics the conversations I would have with my students. Sometimes my job was to get them to use a calming strategy. Sometimes it was to help identify their emotions. Sometimes it was to support their sound decisions so they could continue. Sometimes it was to reassure them and encourage them to try again.
I don’t know how much of my SEL was incidental and how much of it was taught. I do know that my experience learning about and teaching it to my students has definitely enhanced whatever competencies I already had. Learning about Mindfulness, Zones of Regulation, and Growth Mindsets as a teacher has shaped the way I now interact with the world.
I feel I am more resilient and capable because I have a better awareness of who I am and how to handle myself in any given situation.
By fostering these skills in students when they are most pliable, they will be better prepared not only to handle unpredictable situations in the classroom, but also take on the unpredictable world—from day-to-day occurrences like frustrations in the kitchen, to milestone decision-making like where to live, to helping solve complex problems like how to better conserve resources, or end poverty, or advocate for social justice.
We want to prepare students for whatever, whenever, wherever. One of the best ways we can do that is to help them become better tuned to what’s inside.