There was so much that I appreciated about this conference, especially the opportunity to connect and learn from educators from all across the country. I heard inspiring stories about how teachers are engaging their students and colleagues in SEL work and I walked away with many different strategies for advancing SEL in my own classroom and throughout my school.
There are three big takeaways from my time at the convening:
First, I need to take better care of myself. Many of the weekend activities centered on modeling practices that could be used with students and staff. These practices go beyond the traditional 'one and done' approach to professional learning by creating an environment that values authentic expression and communication. It became clear through these activities that we as teachers often forget to take care of ourselves. With everything on our plates, self-care can be easily pushed aside. Conference sessions reaffirmed the importance of being kind to myself so that I can continue being my best self with my students and colleagues.
Second, I need to teach my students to love themselves. All of our students have assets to share. We need to invite student stories and celebrate their uniqueness. One of the EdTalks, led by Teacher Prize Finalist Alhassan Susso, illustrated this through his own work with student affirmations. By affirming students as capable learners and leaders he is able to rewrite the negative self-talk that can be consuming for adolescents. My grant project, funded through NoVo, is also focused on elevating student voice through story and I am looking forward to continuing this work with my students.
Finally, I need to give students space to love each other. It's time to move beyond 'inclusive' classrooms to classrooms that are truly welcoming and affirming. At the convening we discussed how kindness is about more than just 'being nice'. Kindness is intentional and it involves self-awareness as much as it does social awareness. Do students feel cared for by one another in the classroom? It is an important question to ask and one that I plan on evaluating in more detail in the next quarter. As our first quarter draws to a close, I need to go back to the drawing board to identify more meaningful community building activities and strategies for my students.
As the conference wrapped up, I felt excited and energized by all that I had learned. I'm now looking forward to finding new ways to support student learning more holistically and creating safe places for students and adults to share their emotions and connect more authentically with one another.
There isn't anyone you couldn't love once you hear their story.
- Mary Lou Kownacki