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15. Regarding Learning pt. 1

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Good Morning Families, today is Monday April 6th and it is now time for our moment of SEL.

This week we are going to be taking a social emotional learning approach to the topic of learning in general. And, as with all human learning we are going to start with science.

Why science? Because science is one of the ways we humans work to explain the world around us.

And there may be no better science for beginning this work than the science of geography.

We are not in familiar times. Things are different. The physical and cultural learning spaces that may have been routine and predictable may now look and feel very different. Many students and families and educators are finding themselves in these new learning environments. Particularly those of us who are used to learning and teaching in a school building and are suddenly finding ourselves in new physical and cultural learning landscape.

It is argued by some, mostly geographers, that Geography, was likely the first science. Why? Because physical geography is the survey of the physical environment. The earliest people would have, at some point, become consciously aware of the physical environments in which they inhabited. So, be a geographer and pause to explore the physical features surrounding you? Take a moment, observe your physical world. What do you see, or smell, or hear, or touch? What are the physical features of your new learning environment?

I would encourage you to expand your geography skills and draw a map of your physical space. That’s actually another branch of geography called Cartography. It’s the science and even art of map making. Be a cartographer. Draw a map of the physical spaces in which you now learn. If there is a table there, draw a table. If there is a window, draw the window. If your learning space is by or near the kitchen write kitchen on the side showing an arrow for that direction. Draw the doors that go outside. And label the space beyond your doors as “Here Be Dragons”. That’s a cartography joke.

Humanity would not have survived had it not been for those who knew how to observe the physical world and learn how to interact with other humans within it and upon it. That’s actually another branch of geography. It’s called cultural geography. Cultural geography is the study of how humans interact with each other and within and upon the environments in which they exist.

There is a lot of culture in your new learning space. Consider this, if you work on a computer and it is near the kitchen, does your older brother or sister go in there for water and try to make noises to distract your participation in class or embarrass you? That’s cultural geography. You and your brother or sister are acting with one another and within and upon the environment. Do you learn somewhere near a bathroom? Do you have to mute yourself so your classmates don’t hear the tell-tale “flush” from your father? The space you are in will influence your behaviors; that’s also cultural geography. Did you make rules that no one is allowed in your space when you are participating in a lesson? If you did, you’ve acted upon others in relation to the environment. That’s also cultural geography. It’s also SEL, but we’ll get to that in a moment. The cultural piece is how you interact with others, within and upon your environment.

Now that you have surveyed the physical and cultural geography of your space, and you’ve made a map of it, let’s shift into the SEL side of things. By the way, you should know that what we are about to do is essential learning for college and career readiness. You should also know that all skills of college and career readiness are SEL skills. Yes, even filling out a FAFSA. We’ll get to more of that later.

So here is the SEL piece. You must now survey yourself within and upon the physical and cultural space in which you are now learning. This is both self-awareness and social awareness. How does the geography of your learning environment, physical and cultural, shape your learning and how does your learning shape the physical and cultural space? If you would, take a moment to get a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and make a T chart. (J ust a reminder, to make a T chart you take a piece of paper and make a large T on it. That T now gives you 2 columns beneath the space for 2 headings.) At the top of one column write at the top HELPS ME LEARN on the other side write MAKES LEARNING HARDER. List the things, without judgement, that you recognize as helping you learn. For example. If you have a computer, that would definitely go under HELPS ME LEARN. If your computer is old and crashes all the time you might put “old computer” under MAKES LEARNING HARDER. What is it for you? Here’s one for me, music on in the background MAKES LEARNING HARDER. I’m a musician who loves music. Music is never background for musicians because when music is on, that’s where the attention goes. What about you? Take a minute and see if you can identify items for both columns.

Once you have some items on both columns, we are going to begin to use SEL skills from self-management. Look at your list. You definitely want to have the HELPS ME LEARN list larger than the MAKES LEARNING HARDER list. There are two ways to do this, you can either change the environment to fit your needs or change yourself to fit the environment. Let’s start with the “change yourself” before we jump straight to change the environment. A couple of reasons for this. Sometimes environments can be acted upon and change effected. And sometimes that is the way to go. However, by and large, environments are huge constructs that can be slow to change. Environments may support many different people and sometimes, for the most to benefit, you may experience some discomfort. Notice I am saying some discomfort and not oppression or suppression. Oppression and suppression are bigger than discomfort. (You’ll need to use yourself awareness and social awareness to gauge those and that will be another lesson.) But for this lesson we are looking at your new learning space and the degree to which there are things that HELP YOU LEARN or MAKE LEARNING HARDER. Here is the true might of SEL. And this is why it is such a powerful tool for students and families and staff to have and use.

SEL skills go with you, no matter where you are. SEL prepares a person for the road, because you cannot always prepare the road for the person. That means, if you learn these skills for yourself, you will be able to successfully navigate a huge number of environments, people, social settings, situations, you name it. And in fact, if you have the skills to travel all these roads, you may actually have the understanding, creativity, and energy to make changes to the roads that may help others navigate them with more ease. Or allow others to access the roads that had once been closed due to poor construction.

Look at the MAKES LEARNING HARDER list. Are there any items on that list that you can change? Okay, honestly, I do ask the people in my new learning environment to not play music while I am trying to write this. That would be me, shaping the road for myself. However, sometimes my fellow learners, also known as my family, play music to meet their needs.

One of my family members is 6 so, in that case, since I’m 45, I either go somewhere quiet if I can, or I use those green, foam ear plugs; Walgreen’s, box of 10, $4.99. That’s preparing myself for the road. In that way, I can still make the MAKES LEARNING HARDER list shorter. It’s just me that I’m changing, not the environment.

Can you adjust anything about yourself that will let you cross out something from the MAKES LEARNING HARDER list? For example, if your computer is mobile, can you move it away from the kitchen?

Take a minute and see if you can adjust anything within yourself that can shorten the makes learning harder list.

And here is the last piece of SEL support you may need for your new learning environment. When the physical environment cannot be changed, and you cannot figure out a way to balance your needs with culture that has adapted within that space you may need to use your social engagement skills to invoke a Social Management Artifact. What is a social management artifact? Social management is one of the domains of SEL. (you can read more about it on Most simply, social management teaches us about the devices, written and unwritten, explicit and implicit, overt and covert, that humans use to regulate social interactions. So you can’t change the environment, it would not work to fully change yourself, so you can use a social management artifact to shape the culture within the environment.

Use your social engagement skills to bring all your people to the table. Use your self-awareness to share what you’ve learned about the physical and cultural environment in which you are now learning. Use your social awareness to ask and listen to what they are thinking and feeling about the shared physical and cultural learning environments. Then, together, you can create a social management plan that best benefits all. Maybe it is a family charter for learning? Maybe you call it a social contract, or norms, or compromises, or whatever you want to call it, rules, laws, methods, agreements. It doesn’t matter what you call it. What matters is that together you have created a set of identifiable expectations to help the people in your new learning environment be as successful as they can be; physical, socially, emotionally, and now academically.

You can do this! You are already an emotion scientist, and look, now you’re a geographer. And together, those skills will help you become the best mathematician and reader and writer that you can be. Oh, and don’t forget Physical Education. Get active, eat well, be healthy.

I wish you the very best and look forward to connecting in whatever way we can, tomorrow.

Until tomorrow,

May your thoughts and feelings be with you.

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