The symbiosis of writing and social-emotional progress
Emotional intelligence, resilience, social-emotional learning – these terms are trendy in social media and are in the foreground in initiatives for the start of school in 2021 and young people a form of trauma.
Psychologist Patricia Steckler notes, “Mental health experts are surprised at the current rise in depression and anxiety. We thought that with warmer weather, access to COVID-19 vaccines, and easing restrictions on socializing, people would be happier. Instead, we see a significant increase in depression, suicidality and anxiety, more in line with the post-traumatic stress disorder that occurs when extremely stressful, often life-threatening situations subside. “
The new school year is just around the corner and the socio-emotional well-being of the children in the classroom is not only important; It’s critical. And that’s not just a post-pandemic need. Becoming emotionally aware and resourceful is a life skill. Dr. Susan David, world-renowned author and researcher, says that “The way we navigate our inner world – our everyday thoughts, emotions, and self-stories – is the most important factor in our success in life.”
The bright spot in all of this for us teachers? The integration of social-emotional learning into everyday school life makes our life easier, not harder. I promise. It won’t feel like another thing on your plate. As soon as you do, you will feel that something has been removed from your plate. Why? Because as you and the students begin to tune in to what’s going on inside and use it as a source of creative and intellectual expression, the peer-to-peer learning culture becomes easier, gentler, and more compassionate. You will find that writing promotes social-emotional growth.
Write what you know – and what you feel
As a writing teacher for 26 years, I have found that the act of composing can be a powerful tool to develop one’s emotional intelligence and resilience. Students who are able to access their thoughts, emotions, and self-stories and then literally and figuratively set them aside, give themselves a voice. Over time, they rely on writing to communicate, navigate, and get around with what life brings with it. Writing even helps students with the most chaotic backgrounds gain some level of control and organize their experiences.
I was surprised to find that the quality of their writing improves when students resort to the social-emotional learning that their teachers have taught explicitly and implicitly. The experience of learning self-management, self-confidence, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making (CASEL competencies) leads to stronger writing. It makes sense after all. Writing, no matter how formal or informal, starts from within. So the more emotional the author, the more powerful the writing.
So let’s explore some ways you can incorporate the mutually beneficial combination of writing and social-emotional learning.
Fiction and self-management
Let’s start with the CASEL definition of self-management: “The ability to effectively manage one’s emotions, thoughts and behaviors in different situations and to achieve goals and desires.” Since students learn to deal with difficult emotions, especially in challenging situations, this can Writing can be extremely helpful. Then I like to turn to the genre of fiction. We know that great truths are told in fictions. Writers often learn more about and work with emotions when doing so with a “made up” character.
Start by asking students to create a character, but pick a known problem that the character can solve.
In one example, a brand new kindergarten kid who was home during the pandemic felt lonely. He decided to write a story with Black Panther as the main character. In the story, Black Panther met a doll. The story read: “Black Panther waited and waited and waited and waited. One day a beautiful butterfly was born. Black Panther asked him to be his buddy and the butterfly said yes. “
Do you hear this young writer almost giving advice to himself? “Wait, be patient, and you will be with others again.”
In this next high school writing example, the student was having trouble getting along with an older brother. She loved him so much, but the older brother saw her like an annoying younger sister. So she wrote a story about two sisters, Chloe and Casey, who had a strained relationship. In this story, however, Chloe shows up for younger sister Casey when things get tough.
This student writer shared the story with her brother. This brother became much more conscious of how he was treating them and they were able to resolve some (not all) of the tension.
So, one way to incorporate SEL and writing is to take on real-world challenges with fictional characters who successfully master the tough parts of relationships.
Personal narratives and self-awareness
CASEL defines self-esteem as: “The ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts and values and how they influence behavior in all contexts.” Sometimes it is healthiest to look directly at emotions and write stories about moments when these emotions are prevailed. That is, write personal narratives.
To find those personal narratives that go deep into building emotional intelligence, it can be helpful to give a tool like the Mood Meter from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence or this tool to my friend and educator Liz Pappas (published by Benchmark Education Company) use.
One of the most important steps to becoming emotionally more intelligent is to name emotions on a granular level. People generally name just a few common emotions like angry, stressed, or overwhelmed. When people can pinpoint more specific emotions and then examine the times when they felt this way, they learn how to manage their moods and build resilience. And of course resilience is the goal of SEL.
Model How to select a topic
To help students learn how to write personal narratives, ask them to use the emotion list to identify a more specific emotion that they want to write about. And then ask the student writers to think of times when they felt this way. These moments become stories, and they are irresistible for students to design and refine because memory is important.
You may want to model this process by thinking out loud and perhaps jotting down a few words on graph paper. For example, I could choose the word whiny and think of the time my oldest child went to college in Dublin, Ireland. This experience can be the focus of my personal narrative. Students can then try out the process you are modeling to develop their own personal stories.
Once you sense that students are ready for greater complexity, invite them to choose more than one emotion that they were feeling at the same time, because when you think about it, we all feel multiple emotions at the same time. This invitation not only gives students permission to feel multiple emotions at the same time, but also gives students the opportunity to write about those emotions and then examine them once they are written.
Build in time to think
The test is an integral part of the SEL. As part of the writing process of an emotion-based personal narrative, add a little time to reflect. You might use these questions to guide students as they reflect:
- When I responded to my emotions, was that the best result for me? For others?
- When I felt these emotions, did I stop and decide what to do next?
- If I had mixed feelings, how did I process them all in a healthy way? What could I do differently next time?
Or offer some writing-oriented reflection prompts:
- What have I done to really make my feelings clear to my reader?
- How did I organize my writing to show the many emotions I was feeling?
- How have I been brave while writing to show my true feelings?
Using personal narratives to hone self-management skills is both rewarding and powerful.
How do you integrate writing and social-emotional growth? Share in the comments below.
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Read also Teachers and parents want SEL and service learning, but implementation in schools is slow.
Patty McGee is the author of the upcoming book Writers Workshop Made Simple: 7 Essentials for Every Classroom and Every Writer with Benchmark Education. She often hosts the Teachers Talk Shop podcast. Patty has been an educator of all kinds for 26 years. Her first and best-selling book is Feedback that Moves Writers Forward: How to Escape Correcting Mode to Transform Student Writing. Tweet Patty at @pmgmcgee