“Do What You Think Like”

By: Steven Tobias, Psy.D. 

What do Character Education, Mindfulness, religion, emotional intelligence, Weight Watchers, and your mother all have in common?  They all want you to think before you act, which is actually hard to do.   

As human beings, we tend to do what we “feel” like.  When we act based solely on our emotions, we are using our reptilian brains, and then we shouldn’t be surprised when we respond like an alligator, chameleon, or snake in a highly charged emotional situation. Unfortunately, we have a strong tendency to respond reflexively with “fight or flight” triggered by primitive parts of the brain.   Thinking seems to be a fragile ability, which is why we have to strengthen it.

So, what can we do?  First, soothe the beast.  Take care of yourself.  Have fun.  Be with others you love.  Do meaningful and rewarding activities.  This reduces the stress that feeds the tyrannosaurus inside you.  Yes, you are too busy with work, needs of your family, home, and distraction of screens (but that’s for another blog).  Get your calendar  (I’ll wait)…  Put “ME” time on the calendar.  Do it now, or you will never “find” the time.  You can decide later what to do, but make sure it is what you want and is pleasurable.

The above is a prerequisite for thinking.  The more stressed you are and focused on others, the harder it is to think.  Now that your life is back in balance, let’s work on thinking.

  1. Reflect: What is going on? How do I and others feel? This stimulates your deliberate human brain to control your impulsive reptilian brain.
  2. Consider: What is your goal? This will give you direction and purpose.
  3. Decide: What can you do? What else?  What have you done before?  The more solutions you can brainstorm, the better chance of success.  Then, set a deliberate plan:  who is involved, what are you going to do, when are you going to do it, where are your going to do it, and how are you going to do it?  By the way, the “why” is so that you can get what you want.

This is doing what you think like, not what you feel like, and is more likely to get you what you want emotionally, socially, and materially.

Want to learn more? Join us for the next webinar in our SEL Expert Webinar Series presented by Steven Tobias, Psy.D. This webinar will teach how to be aware of and control emotions that lead us to poor decision making, how to set deliberate goals for oneself, and how to follow through with actions that are consistent with what one really wants.  The trick is to “think” while feeling, and this is harder than one might think.

By: Steven Tobias, Psy.D. 
Steven Tobias, Psy.D., is the director of the Center for Child and Family Development in Morristown, New Jersey. He has over thirty years of experience working with children, parents, families, and schools. Dr. Tobias feels a strong commitment to children’s social and emotional development and provides consultation to schools as a way of reaching many children, including those who are underserved in terms of their social and emotional needs. He has coauthored several books with Dr. Maurice Elias, including Emotionally Intelligent Parenting and Raising Emotionally Intelligent Teenagers. He has given lectures throughout the United States on topics related to parenting and children’s emotional development. Dr. Tobias lives in New Jersey. Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D Professor of Psychology at Rutgers., and Steven E. Tobias, Psy.D Director for Center of Child and Family development are the authors of several books including: Boost Emotional Intelligence in Students and Emotionally Intelligent Parenting.

Stressed Out? SEL Tips to Manage Stress before it Manages You

By Christina Cipriano, Ph.D.

Teacher attrition costs the United States roughly $2.2 billion dollars annually; an estimated half a million teachers either move or leave the profession each year.

Why? Because they are stressed out. In fact, in a report by the American Federation of Teachers put out last month, educators in the US aren’t just more stressed out than ever before, teachers are stressed out more than the average employee working outside of education. Hostile work conditions with colleagues, high pressure demands of high stakes testing, diminished autonomy, and inadequate planning time are cited as key reasons why this generation of teachers’ psychosocial health is on the decline and they are leaving the profession.

How can we expect our students to want to learn if their teacher’s don’t want to be there?

Stress is our body’s way of responding to events that threaten or challenge us. When we encounter stress, our bodies react by redirecting blood flow to our muscles, increasing our blood pressure and heart rate, and elevating our adrenaline circulation and cortisol levels. What makes matters worse, prolonged stress can lead to diminished physical and mental well-being, increasing your likelihood of illness and life dissatisfaction, circumstances which ironically increase your likelihood of being stressed! Research teaches us that individuals are more likely to feel stress when experiencing negative emotions, navigating uncontrollable, unpredictable, ambiguous situations, and when confronted with simultaneous task demands.

Contemporary teaching is by definition, therefore, a stressful endeavor!

What if there was a way to reduce teacher stress, while also improve behavioral and academic outcomes for students school-wide? There is, it’s called SEL, and there is mounting empirical evidence to support the claim that SEL provides teachers with the strategies, culture, and collaboration they need in their school day to reduce their stress and optimize their teaching.

So you have too many demands on your plate? You can’t possibly get all you grades and evaluations in on time? What are you going to do about it? Think again- there’s always a way to dissolve the threat by making that stress a challenge to overcome!

SEL teaches us to turn a threat or stressful situation into a challenge. Appraising the cause of your stress as a challenge works to reduce your stress by changing how your brain is processing the event. When we phrase a threat as a challenge, this reappraisal opens up pathways for increased neural connectivity and message sending to promote your effective problem solving to meet the challenge. It’s not simply will power, its science!

I’ll show my principal that I can get this done by tomorrow well. It will take up my time this evening but my other demands are not as time sensitive and I can show myself that I can push myself to achieve when I put my mind to it! The reality is that when we switch our mindset to view a stress as a problem we can solve we promote the achievement of solving the problem!

Note that not all stress is bad. Research suggests that we have an optimal range of stress which is productive, rather than detrimental, to our health, well-being, and happiness. Some stress is actually healthy for promoting our productivity and happiness. How? We need that adrenaline and cortisol release to drive our productive behaviors and our satisfaction with experiences.

The SEL evidence-base provides insights into how to manage stress before it manages you.

What’s the big deal with SEL?

By Christina Cipriano, PhD

Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL, refers to interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies that underscore the way we understand, use, and manage emotions to learn. Emotions drive how we think, pay attention, make decisions, manage our time, and countless other processes that impact how students and teachers show up in the classroom.

The Rethink Ed SEL for ALL Learners platform is a school-based social and emotional learning (SEL) program for enhancing the psychosocial health and well-being of teachers and students while creating an optimal learning environment that promotes academic, social, and personal effectiveness. Psychosocial health and well-being refers to the knowledge and skills needed to promote mental health, emotion regulation, and prosocial behaviors—knowledge and skills that are necessary for optimal development.

Educators, parents, and legislators acknowledge the need for schools to address the social and emotional needs of students in order to provide a rich learning environment. In fact, a systematic process for promoting SEL is the common element among schools that report an increase in academic achievement, improved relationship quality between teachers and students, and a decrease in problem behaviors.

Ideal SEL curricula are those that address the full spectrum of children’s needs by cultivating a caring, supportive, and empowering learning environments that foster the development of all learners in the school. Rethink Ed SEL was designed specifically to meet these criteria.

6 Reasons We Love Social Emotional Learning (And You Should Too!)

If you’ve been to a conference, spoken with colleagues, or read the news lately, you’ve probably been hearing quite a lot about Social Emotional Learning, or SEL. SEL helps students by promoting self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. If you don’t already love SEL, here are 6 reasons why you should:

  1. Students learn how to deal with complex emotions. Navigating emotions can be difficult, especially for children and teens. In fact, a child or teen commits suicide every 3 hours and 33 minutes. One of the major focuses of SEL programs is to help students successfully regulate their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different scenarios. This helps students change their way of thinking to better manage stress, motivate themselves, and make better decisions.
  2. Teachers feel less stressed. According to a recent survey, 73% of educators report feeling stressed often at work, and 24% report feeling sometimes stressed at work. These educators also report feeling emotionally or physically exhausted at the end of the day. SEL programs can help improve student success, which certainly helps reduce educator stress. Additionally, educators can benefit from improving their own SEL skills, by learning how to manage stress, make better decisions, and communicate with others more effectively.
  3. SEL provides schools with a bullying prevention toolkit. Students who are bullied are twice as likely as their non-bullied peers to develop negative health effects. According to the CDC, defiant & disruptive behaviors are associated with engaging in bullying behavior, while poor peer relationships & low self-esteem are associated with a higher likelihood of being bullied. SEL programs help students improve their ability to empathize and take the perspective of others, respect others, negotiate conflict, and seek help when needed. SEL programs also help to increase self-confidence.
  4. Students are more employable. According to a recent report, employers are looking for employees who have strong communication skills, are self-motivated, able to solve problems independently, and work well with others. These are all skills SEL programs focus on!
  5. Students are less likely to be incarcerated. A longitudinal study found that the level of aggression exhibited by children at the age of eight is a strong predictor of criminal events over the next 22 years. With current statistics showing that a student is arrested every 31 seconds, we should all be looking at strategies to prevent conduct problems & reduce aggression in our schools. SEL programs help students develop impulse control, respect others, and make ethical decisions.
  6. School districts save money! For every dollar school districts invest in SEL interventions, there is a return of 11 dollars! An 11:1 return on investment is pretty fantastic!

 

Join the movement: Check out Rethink Ed’s upcoming SEL product line.

Integrating Social and Emotional Learning into Everyday Instruction

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is emerging in schools throughout the country. Some states are even developing and implementing social and emotional standards. The desired outcome of SEL, children and adults who apply understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions (CASEL, 2018), is admirable. Every teacher would hope their students would achieve these outcomes during their school years. But how do teachers make this happen? What should teachers do doing the day to produce this outcome for students?

There is agreement that SEL instruction should be integrated into activities throughout the day. This might include helping students engage in relaxation activities prior to taking an exam to assist with self-management or prior to exiting onto they playground student are prompted to look around and see what they might do to include a peer who might be feeling excluded in the activities. It’s important that teachers are prepared to teach these skills and that they are systematically applied in an effective manner that supports acquisition.

To promote student’s skill developing teachers can model the social and emotional skills themselves and provide direct instruction to their students. Students can also be prompted to practice these skills to support generalization. If a student is learning calming strategies like breathing prior to an exam they might be asked to practice this skill over a weekend when something stressful happens and report back when they return to school on Monday. Or a writing prompt of empathy might be given during literacy lessons, assisting a student to reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses in their application of empathy.

The responsibilities of schools have extended past just teaching academics. Students need social and emotional skills that will allow them to succeed in a world that is multi-cultural, requires collaboration and that celebrates effective communication. Educators are developing repertoires to teach social and emotional skills into their daily practice.

Put You Back on Your To-do list: SEL Informed Self-Care for Educators

By Christina Cipriano, Ph.D. & Tia N. Barnes, Ph.D.

More tasks on your to-do list than hours in the day? Than days left in your week? Than months left in your school year?

If you are in education, odds are your self-care is on the bottom of your to-do list (if it’s even there at all)!

Why? People who pursue helping professions (like teaching, nursing, and human services) also tend to have personality types that compel them to put the needs and demands of others before their own. Helping professionals seek to comfort, appease, please, and secure the well-being and livelihoods of others, and generally demonstrate a tendency towards compassion, giving, and selflessness. Helping professions by nature are accompanied by work conditions riddled in high stress and continuously evolving demands in the service of others. These character traits and work conditions can leave the well-intentioned helping professional thriving in their work while simultaneously overextended in time and resources to take care of themselves once all the work is said and done.

Research from the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) movement identifies self-care as critical to stress reduction, classroom management, and overall teacher health and well-being. Self-care is engaging in activities or practices that help you limit or reduce stress. Self-care activities or practices can fit into seven categories: physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, social, relational, and/or promote a sense of safety and security. There is no universal Band-Aid for self-care, the key is identifying activities that minimize your stress and promote your health and well-being.

Try these five steps to put you back on your to-do list:

  1. Step 1. Evaluate Your Self-Care:
    • Make a list of everything you do- the whole day- each and every activity. Think about a typical workday during the week from the moment you wake up to when you go to sleep. Review the schedule and determine both whether you like each activity and who the activity is for- do you enjoy the activity and are you engaging in the activity for yourself or others? Then take a moment to calculate the number of hours in a day that you actually enjoy. The number of hours you enjoy in a day that are for you? Warning: This may be a disappointing number!
  2. Step 2. Consider the Possibilities
    • Next, take a moment to think about some activities that you could add into the work day (these do not have to take place on a particular day; create a list of possibilities of activities you can add into your day to increase your enjoyment and lower your stress).
    • Since we want to not cause additional stress with self-care, narrow your list to 2-3 activities that you want to incorporate more regularly and write them down.
    • Be modest in your goal to promote realistic change in your self-care practices.
  3. Step 3. Identify Your Barriers
    • Think about the barriers that impact your ability to engage in self-care currently. Generate a list of barriers- there is never enough time, money, energy, or resources! These are likely the excuses we give for why we can’t take care of ourselves right now, or ever!
  4. Step 4. Rethink it
    • Switch your thinking from dead-end barriers to brainstorming problem-solving ideas to remove those barriers. No time or money to get to the gym? Watch a free workout video at home after hours. No time to explore a hobby? Piggyback on activities your spouse or friends enjoy.
    • Generate a list of activities you can put on your list to overcome barriers to self-care.
  5. Step 5. Just do it!
    • Now take the time to put you into action.
    • Be modest and realistic- even the smallest action is starting to invest in you. The reality is, you can always find room for you if you think hard enough. Try registering for a weekly class, scheduling recurring appointments, have a standing dinner date with friends on your calendar, follow an active online social network, listen to a favorite song, get dressed up for a dinner in with a partner, a five minute mindfulness pause in the car before entering work, pack your lunch, call family members on a drive, say what you are thankful for at dinner… the list can go on as long as your creative energy will let it!

It is not selfish to take care of yourself- you can’t serve from an empty vessel. Like they say on the airplane before takeoff, secure your safety vest before helping others. Don’t cross you off your to-do list- invest in you to enable you to get it all done.

Social and Emotional Learning to Address Behavioral Deficits: 6 strategies for a systematic approach to teaching SEL

By Jennifer Wilkens MA, BCBA

Research supports the view that curricula should be designed to engage students, have the ability to connect to their lives, and positively influence their levels of motivation (Coleman, 2001; Guild, 2001; Hall, 2002; Sizer, 1999; Strong et al., 2001). The most effective social and emotional learning (SEL) requires a collaborative approach that involves everyone from district leadership, to educators, to families working together to ensure students receive the support they need. Creating a culture to implement social emotional learning (SEL) effectively in a strategic and systematic approach that involves all stakeholders is needed. Below are 6 strategies for a systematic approach to teaching SEL:

1. Provide Practice:

•Provide opportunities for the students to practice this skill in a safe environment (e.g. role playing with adults and peers, role playing with toys, role model or action hero as props, use of video modeling).

2. Provide visual cues:

•Create a visual reminder of the behavior you want the student to self-monitor and use reminders.
•Place the visual cue on the student’s desk, and draw his or her attention to it, before you begin the self-monitoring exercise

3. Teach in steps:

•Teach the student to monitor another person’s behavior. For example, you can show the student how to record the number of times a peer makes nicecomments to their peers.
•After the peer makes a kind comment, ask the student whether the target behavior occurred and prompt the student to either record or not record it.
•Provide several practice opportunities and fade prompts by no longer asking the student whether the target behavior occurred.
•When the student can monitor another person’s behavior, teach him or her to monitor his or her own responses for the same activity.
•Provide prompts as needed, until the student can self-monitor independently.
•Teach the student to self-monitor a variety of behaviors. For example, if you are having the student self-monitor an attending behavior, you can ring a bell to remind the students to make a check mark, on the self-monitoring sheet, if they were looking at you when the bell rang.

4. Use Reward Systems:

•Use a reward system to reinforce accurate self-monitoring of a target behavior.
•Provide a reward when the student engages in and self-monitors a target behavior at a predetermined rate.
•Attach rewards to a decrease in no desired behaviors.
•Also, provide better rewards for increased occurrences of the target response.
•The teacher should monitor and check the accuracy of the students’ self-monitoring.

5. Provide Tracking Sheets:

•Provide the students with self-monitoring sheets, to track the number of times they engage in a target behavior. For example, you can provide a sheet with check boxes to track one behavior that you would like them to increase
•Provide a self-monitoring sheet, where the students make tally marks every time they engage in multiple behaviors that you would like them to increase.
•Provide a tracking sheet for the students to monitor both behaviors to increase, and decrease.

 

6. Practice with Peers:

•Have the student practice self-monitoring a target behavior with an adult.
•When the student can self-monitor a behavior independently with an adult, have the student monitor the same behavior in the presence of one or two peers.
•When the student demonstrates the target behavior, prompt him or her to record the response. For example, you can gesture to the check box on the self-monitoring sheet. Fade prompts by no longer gesturing to the check box.
•Provide opportunities for the student to practice this skill in the presence of his or her peers, until he or she can self-monitor independently.

Teaching Students to Be Their Own Boss: Applying SEL to Optimize Executive Functioning in Your Classroom

By Christina Cipriano, Ph.D. and Susan E. Rivers, PhD

Ready to learn. Natural leader. A role model for peers. A pleasure to have in class. Most likely to succeed.

These statements reflect parents’ wishes for their child’s report card and teachers’ hopes for students in their classrooms. The skills underlying these qualities are learned and can be intentionally taught. Scientists have identified evidence-based skills that promote success in school, work, and life. Children can develop them over time through quality interactions and experiences in their schools, homes, and communities. Teachers and schools can intentionally embed practices that support their development into daily interactions.

That means that every student has the potential!

As educators, we can foster these skills for success by adopting a social and emotional learning lens. By integrating key strategies of SEL competencies, including self-awareness, self-management, and responsible decision making, teachers can effectively support student success. By helping students become aware of their thoughts and feelings (self-awareness), they become better able to understand and manage their behaviors (self-management). Having self-awareness and managing behaviors helps students make responsible decisions (e.g., how will this behavior allow me to reach my goal in this situation and long term?). Creating and maintaining supportive relationships also matters for student success and is dependent on skills of social awareness and relationship management. Teachers who help students develop social awareness, guide them in becoming aware others people’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings, understanding other people’s perspectives, and feeling empathy. These skills help students maintain supportive relationships and engage in behaviors like active listening, cooperating, managing conflict, and being kind, considerate, and respectful to others. Students are more likely to excel when they have self and social awareness and when they manage their behaviors effectively and responsibly to meet their personal and relationship goals.

This isn’t just about the students.

Teachers have the opportunity to model these strategies to for their students effectively through direct instruction and global modeling. Teachers need to authentically model regulating their emotions, being aware of their feelings, showing compassion, and understanding that feelings impact learning and decisions. Teachers need to authentically acknowledge their strengths and those of their school community, be cognizant of their biases, and demonstrate resilience in the face of obstacles. Teaching the practices without modeling them consistently is ineffective- students of all ages will see right through you! Teachers can’t simply teach it, they need to be it!

Join our monthly webinar series to learn more about authentically modeling and teaching SEL practices in your classroom.

Teaching Students to Be Their Own Boss: SEL Strategies in the Classroom

By Christina Cipriano, Ph.D. and Susan E. Rivers, PhD

If we want to create a classroom of students who can be self-aware and in control of their emotions and behaviors, we need to direct their attention to their minds, bodies, and behaviors. If we deconstruct the competencies they become feasible to implement in any classroom, and value-added beyond the lessons of Social and Emotional Learning!

Our youngest students need support moving out of egocentrism, a way of thinking and processing their world which dominates and overrides their ability to make accurate appraisals of themselves and others. As children make this transition, it is key to support their learning to accommodate new ways of thinking about themselves and others. Here are some ideas for embedding SEL in your daily interactions and lessons with your youngest students:

•Ask students to talk about their likes and dislikes, and to listen to the likes and dislikes of their peers
•Draw connections between feelings and behavior (when I feel angry, I yell; when I feel sad, I choose to be by myself)
•Show them how thoughts can be used to manage their feelings (when I feel angry, I think about something that calms me or sing a song that will make me calm)
•Help them set short-term goals and support them in achieving success

Older children are increasingly able to recognize their strengths and preferences, and differentiate themselves from their peers (i.e., “I may be the top student in my class at math, but I am never picked first for the soccer team; Sam always is”). They also have a growing capacity to think about thinking (“metacognitive strategies”) to support their learning and memory. Songs, rhymes, acronyms, and word games are productive and generalizable strategies to promote learning and attainment of new knowledge. Harness students’ expanding metacognitive capacities to explore the relationship between their self-regulation and success through a lens of self-awareness.

•Invite students to write, draw, or talk about their strengths and areas they want to grow into strengths
•Support students to regulate in regulating their emotions and behaviors, and practice behavioral control
•Practice goal setting for themselves and their classroom community

Adolescence is hallmarked by both the students’ belief that their experiences are the most extreme, unexpected, exciting, and different than anyone else ever has nor ever will experience (“You can’t possibly understand how my heart is broken right now!!!”) and an overwhelming focus on believing that they are the focus of everyone else’s attention (we call this the imaginary audience phenomena- “everyone is looking at me all the time and cares and critiques everything that I do”). Further complicated by an increased production of hormones, physiological and psychological changes, and increasing demands of school and home, this time period is particularly challenging across all learning domains. Educators can scaffold their students through the storm and stress of adolescence by using SEL strategies as a foundation can to help students get out of their own heads!

•Providing students with generalizable strategies for emotional and behavioral regulations
•Teach students to identify, appraising, and managing stress
•Promote situations to problem solve, set and execute goals, for self and others
•Evaluate what-if scenarios

Bullying Interventions

By: Christina Whalen, PhD, BCBA-D
Director of Research

School-wide bullying programs can decrease bullying incidents by about 25% or more (McCallion & Feder, 2013). There are four primary roles in bullying incidents – the bully, the followers, the target, and the bystanders. The bully or bullies are the students that are engaging in the bullying behaviors and the followers are the students who go along with the bullies or support the bullying behaviors. The target is the student or students who are being bullied and the bystanders, which are most students, are the ones who are nearby when the incident occurs or are aware of the bullying incidents but not directly involved.

Research shows that the most effective way to stop a bully is when a bystander intervenes. This can decrease bullying incidents by about 50% (Davis & Nixon, 2010). Bystanders should not confront the bully; rather, they should interact with the target in a positive way and remove the target from the situation. For instance, if a bystander observes a student being bullied in the cafeteria, they can give a compliment to the target like, “Nice goal today in soccer; that was great!” While ignoring the bully, they can engage the target and invite the target to come sit with them and their friends in the cafeteria.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) programs have also been shown to decrease bullying incidents. These programs target positive social behaviors that build the necessary skills and coping mechanisms to handle challenges more effectively and ethically. The gold standard for SEL programs is the CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) model which suggests teaching self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and social awareness. Building these skills can improve academic performance and school climate and can reduce behavioral challenges and bullying incidents.

Bullying is not a problem that is specific to school settings. A general shift in our thinking and attitudes is essential to minimize these incidents. Schools should teach staff, parents, administration, and their students how to prevent and respond to bullying. Parents and community members should be aware of red flags that their child is being bullied or is bullying someone and should work with their schools to minimize these incidents. Decreasing bullying not only helps the students who are targets, but also improves the learning environment for all students and helps the student who is engaging in bullying to more effectively manage their behaviors. A more positive school climate also decreases stress and improves staff job satisfaction.