Owning Your Thoughts – Social and Emotional Learning

Seedling Kids My very wise and philosophical friend Hjalmar said he had heard a quote along the way that he wanted to share with me. “You don’t own your first thought…but you do own your second.” He went on to explain that the first thought we have when something happens is often very instinctive. It can be “fight or flight” related and evoke an extremely emotional and reactive response.  

I thought about this and agreed, but added a third part to the quote. I said, “You are right. You don’t own your first thought, but you do own your second, and you definitely own your actions after that!” We both laughed, but it is so true, and it is something important we must teach our children along the way.

Dr. Stephen Covey covered this very well in his writing about proactive behavior. You can read about it at a very accessible level in his son, Sean Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.”

The Coveys captured the principle with, “You cannot control what the world does around you.  You can control how you react to it…and ultimately how you behave.” That is proactive behavior and the earlier your child grasps this, the more advantage he or she will have in the world.

Schools throughout the nation are becoming aware that it is not enough to teach the basics of education to children, particularly if they have been raised in low socio-economic or other difficult circumstances. Many of these children have not been exposed to self-control techniques, just as they have not been exposed to early childhood enrichment activities. Educators are becoming aware that in order to be taught, children need to be rested, healthy, fed, and understand how to control their emotions and behaviors.

In Austin Independent School District, there are many programs that are designed to help in these areas where help can be given, but the one I will point out today is the Social and Emotional Learning Initiative. This has been rolling out at pilot schools over the last two years, and I became aware of it through my work with the Seedling Foundation’s Seedling Mentoring Program for Children with a Parent in Prison. The Mentor Directors at Seedling asked AISD to present the SEL information to their Mentors, to help them “speak the same language” as their Mentees who attend these schools.

A recent Seedling Mentor Support Luncheon featured Mrs. Sherri Raven, the Director of the program at AISD, and she shared specific techniques, terms and strategies with the mentors, for each of the grade levels at AISD. The Mentors left with a small, instructional card that correlated with the grade level of their Mentee, and with new tools in their tool belt for great mentoring and coordination with the schools.

Discipline referrals, absenteeism and yes, even academic performance can be affected by consistent use of these techniques. These are the goals Austin ISD hopes to achieve in these first pilot schools, and later throughout the district:

  • “Students will develop and demonstrate self-management skills, regulate emotions, monitor and achieve behaviors related to school and life success.
  • Students will develop self-awareness skills, have knowledge of one’s emotions, develop an accurate and positive self-concept, and recognize individual strengths and external support systems.
  • Students will develop social-awareness skills needed to establish and maintain positive relationships including recognizing feelings and perspectives of others, appreciating individual and group differences, and contributing to the wellbeing of one’s school and community.
  • Students will demonstrate interpersonal skills needed to establish and maintain positive relationships, including using social skills and communication skills to interact effectively with others while developing healthy relationships and demonstrating an ability to prevent, manage, and resolve interpersonal conflicts.
  • Students will demonstrate decision-making skills, problem-solving skills, and responsible behaviors in school, personal, and community contexts.”  – source AISD Website

To learn more about Social and Emotional Learning, visit the AISD Website. I look forward to seeing the long-term changes this investment in our children’s future will bring, both through education and through mentoring.

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