The Importance of SEL as a Student and Teacher

By May 22, 2018July 23rd, 2020No Comments

Laura Ansteatt, Team Lead, Elementary

My work with our elementary school sites this year has provided me with an opportunity to reflect back on my own educational experiences as a child and the reasons I wanted to become a teacher. My parents, who were my first teachers, provided me with a strong foundation and love of learning.

My formal education began in kindergarten, but honestly, I remember only bits and pieces of the specific academic lessons that were taught in class. What I remember much more clearly are the teachers I liked, disliked, and loved. I grew up in New York, attended public schools on Long Island, and was lucky enough to have many great teachers. Although SEL was not formally used, many of my teachers believed in teaching the whole child, and it was a natural way they used to educate their students. Looking back, two teachers stand out in my mind from elementary school, and they were my inspiration to become a teacher.

Ms. Cook and Mr. Ottaviano

The first was my 2nd-grade teacher, Ms. Cook. I remember very little of the academic skills I learned in 2nd grade, but I really remember how she made me feel. I felt like she cared about me. I also felt encouraged, capable, and challenged as a student. She took the time to get to know me, helped me build on my love of learning, and pushed me to work harder even when at times I struggled. Ms. Cook naturally encouraged me to build my social and emotional skills. As a second grader, she helped guide me to be more self-aware and learn to manage myself. With her help, I began to achieve goals in my academic life, and I was able to grow as a young person.

The second teacher was Mr. Ottaviano, my 5th-grade teacher. I remember being challenged academically in his class and pushing myself harder to succeed. He was a tough teacher, but he also made learning and our classroom community fun. 5th-grade is the first time I remember having to work hard at everything. The academic work was more challenging, and friendships were more difficult to navigate. Mr. Ottaviano made a point of including team-building activities in our classroom on a regular basis. We had weekly class kickball games and academic competitions in class where we were expected to support each other and work together in our learning. I know I learned a lot that year in ways that extended beyond my academics. I also became more socially aware and learned to strengthen my skills in building and maintaining relationships.

My Teaching Style

I think my teaching style has always been a reflection of these two teachers. Strong and fun-loving, tough, and encouraging, but most of all, caring. This style was extremely helpful during my time as a middle school teacher. I have always believed that middle school teachers have to be passionate about the work they do. Middle school students can be very rewarding and very challenging students to work with. As an elective teacher, I had the advantage of a curriculum that allowed me to get to know students better with many lessons focused on SEL skills.

Strengths and Weaknesses

I recently had the opportunity to spend time with this age group again during workshops at a local school. One of the activities chosen for this workshop was a personality quiz. The students really seemed to enjoy learning more about themselves and their peers. As we explored the different strengths and challenges of each personality type, some students began to question whether they were placed in the “right” category. Thinking back, I know my childhood self would hardly recognize the adult that I have become. In talking with these students, I explained how the SEL competencies related to learning more about ourselves and our growth as human beings.

For all of us, the “strengths” of our personality types seems easier to embrace than the challenges. Regardless of our age or experience in life, reflecting on our personal challenges can be difficult. I explained to these students that self-awareness is the first step to understanding ourselves, learning, and growing. Once we can recognize our strengths and challenges, we can learn to best use these traits. This self-awareness can also lead to possible efforts to manage ourselves and what we view as weaknesses.

My SEL Journey

My journey as a young student provided me with the foundations I needed to grow emotionally, academically, and socially. As a teacher and now in my role at Frameworks, I continue my journey of learning and growth with a solid foundation in SEL skills. Our recent Head and Heart Awards luncheon and the partnerships with our local schools and community inspire me to work even harder to spread our message about the importance of developing SEL skills in our youth. It is a group effort, and I look forward to working together with parents, schools, community members, and students to make SEL a priority for all the youth in our community.