M1S2 Self-Awareness, Mindfulness, and Your Students

In the CASEL model of SEL, one of the five core competencies is “Self-Awareness”. In this session, we addressed how you can help your students make connections between mindfulness and self-reflection. First we examined the CASEL definition of self-awareness which is:

“The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior. The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.”

  • Identifying emotions

  • Accurate self-perception

  • Recognizing strengths

  • Self-confidence

  • Self-efficacy”

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Our opening practice was the classic (MBSR) exercise called Mindful Raisin Eating. I shared this because it lends itself so well to instruction with younger children, but can also lead to profound realizations with adults or experienced meditators as well. For me it’s a wakeup every single time I do it, just to realize how tuned out I’ve been to the sensory experience of being a human!

We discussed what self-awareness we discovered with our last formal practice “Just Breathe”, and what that had to do with our students. Participants shared insights about how disorienting it can be to think of our self watching our self and hypothesized how students might receive that. Some people shared that that same experience can be freeing and that we can be honest in sharing it with students, explaining that self-awareness can have both comforting and discomforting aspects.

We read an article about Emotional Intelligence and what it means now. Here’s a bit more about Emotional Intelligence. It was popularized in 1995 by Daniel Goleman, though it was coined by some researchers a few years before him. Goleman says that although the concept has gained wide popularity, the embrace of it by teachers has been the most gratifying to him. At the time, EQ (EI) was based on the ideas that we can detect emotions accurately and control them rationally. We have a more nuanced understanding of the brain now (and the brain-body duality) and now know that emotions are not expressed consistently and that cognition is not “above” emotion, and therefore can’t be used to control it. The idea of the triune brain (reptilian, emotional, intellectual) is not a good model, we know now. Those aspects of ourselves are not simply layered as a hierarchy but instead wired together in complex ways!  Our brain’s job is predicting. That’s what it does with outside sensory stimuli but also with body stimuli too.

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Having more experience with granular emotions, makes it more likely that our brain will learn new, interesting emotional responses. Learning names for more emotions can (be one way to) increase our emotional awareness and capacity for emotional granularity. To that end, we took a look at two popular versions of emotion wheels to increase our vocabulary around emotions, beyond those most obvious and simplistic emotions of happy, sad, and angry.

We discussed a finding from a recent study that showed that literary fiction leads to more empathy (both over the long term and immediately after reading a passage) compared to other forms of reading. When asked what other “hacks” they were aware of that might increase emotional intelligence, participants hypothesized that other forms of art could have a similar effect (music, visual art), and that certain connection-centered activities might as well.

Our closing practice was a challenging one! Participants were asked to sit face to face with a partner practicing stating plainly what their present moment awareness was tuned to. Keeping eye contact, each participant took turns with their partner saying “in this moment I am aware of …” and noting something sensory or emotional that they could pinpoint. It is an exercise that both relies upon and cultivates great vulnerability! It could be a challenging but fulfilling experiment to share with students.

General tips for sharing mindfulness practices with children:

5-7 year olds

Developmental issues- may not be able to understand the theory of WHY they should do this work, instead more likely to respond to the benefits of the practices themselves. That doesn’t necessarily mean that each specific practice must immediately be pleasing, like a game, even for a child. They may respond positively to the inclusion of meditation, self-awareness explorations, etc. simply for the sake of it being part of a predictable routine.

Instead of “calm down” or “what can you do to calm down?” Try saying “would you like to do a calming breath with me?” Would you like to watch the glitter bottle with me?

8-11 year olds

Able to more accurately self-report their feelings and reasons for their behavior. Can make self-awareness practices more targeted, but possibly more uncomfortable or confrontational for them!