Hey everyone, today is Monday February 8 2021 and we are spending this month focusing our Social Emotional Learning on what it means to be a racial being in the United States of America. This is such a big topic that we need to break it up into smaller components so we don’t just have a “performance” of Black History Month, but we can actually learn some skills that can help our communities and society to be more inclusive and supportive.
Last week we talked about the basic resources necessary for supporting humans to live and to thrive and just to remind you, those are land, air, and water. If you remember, access to arable land (that means land you are growing things on), clean air, and clean water has not been equitable. And many people, depending on the color of their skin, did not have access and may still not have access to arable land, clean air, and clean water.
Not having access to these things can impact people in two other resources that we will talk about today. Those resources are time and energy. Time and energy are two things that can really affect people and we’re not talking about energy like electricity from the wall, we’re talking about energy in your body, energy you need to either spend or save. We’re talking about life energy.
Your brain is always monitoring your body budget. That is particularly true of how it stores and how it spends its energy. For example, your body will need to spend more energy for you to run a mile through the woods than it will to read a book on the couch. No judgement about reading on the couch, just it doesn’t require the same type of energy expenditure. In response your body will need to restock it’s supplies in different ways afterward. Also, you should know that energy spent doing something you love may not have the same impact on your feeling and thinking as energy spent doing something you don’t love. So wild as it sounds, if you love running and hate reading, running may spend more energy but you may feel more drained after reading. Wild. Either way, after spending energy, healthy food and water options will help the body to draw and store potential energy in more efficient ways. This can allow the body to have more energy for longer, than eating junk. Again, we’re back to access either arable land, or the healthy products that come from arable land.
The body uses energy and resupplies energy as needed, even when you’re not paying attention to it. One of the very cool things that brain does is allow you to not pay attention to it. However, one of the things that SEL does is teach you how to pay attention to it, so you can choose to. So here is one way. Check-in with yourself. Ask yourself how much energy it takes you to do something. See if you can notice your energy levels. Here’s a cool way to do this, see if you can notice your emotion information. One of the ways we can measure emotion information is in its relation to energy.
Sometimes emotion information may come with a great deal of energy. That’s one of the reasons, when we use self-awareness, we ask about how we are feeling in the body. Where is the energy? For example, if you ever experience emotion information that may be described culturally as “anger” you may notice an increase in energy. Some folks report that when they are experiencing anger, they feel energy in their hands, shoulders, maybe feet, or foreheads or neck. This energy is usually something the body wants to spend in some way. Either immediately through some actions that relieve the energy like running, yelling, fighting, pointing a finger...not sure which one. Or over time, the body uses the energy for expression like writing music, participating in a march, working in your community, or speaking in public.
Time is also a resource, but not really in the same way as energy. Time is often measured in schools several ways. How long is a class, how long is a quarter, how long ‘til lunch, why is lunch so short, when is an assignment due, how long to spend on a unit, how long until spring break. The perception of time, which is often personal, even though the language is shared in a community, can really impact a person’s relationship with what they are doing. For example, if you had 10 minutes to answer 6 math problems that might seem great especially if the math problems are single digit addition. However, if you had 10 minutes to calculate:
P versus NP the Hodge conjecture, the Riemann hypothesis, the Yang–Mills existence, and mass gap, the Navier–Stokes existence, smoothness the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture you might feel stress. And if you are wondering what I just said, don’t worry, I have no idea and neither does Mr. Manzo, he literally just googled, 6 hard math problems so, no energy spent there!
Emotion researcher and Mr. Manzo’s emotion hero Marc Brackett defines stress as the feeling that we have when we are facing too many demands, without the resources to complete them successfully. Think about that for a minute. Energy is a resource that we need to utilize in order to do things and time is a resource that we experience in regards to completing something. So imagine how much variation of energy exists in any given class you have. Check-in with your self. If you are a student, think about which class requires the most energy from you. And remember, managing uncomfortable feelings can require a lot of energy so before you just say PE, consider what types of energy you need to spend in various classes. And teachers, you should consider what your energy spending is like from class to class. Does 1st period cost more energy then 3rd period? Is 6th period the same as 4th period?
When it comes to time and energy you could see how students and people from all walks of life could be impacted differently. Some students home lives and cultural expectations may be very similar to the culture of school. If that is the case, it will take less or the same amount of energy for the kid to understand the system of school as the system of home. But, if you’re home culture is very different from school culture, then it could take a great deal of energy to understand how school works. In this regard, some kids are spending more energy shaping themselves for school then others. This is an issue of equity and the energy expenditure is going to impact them.
The same is true with time. Whether we acknowledge it or not our school system has a huge bias toward favoring students who can do things fast over students who take more time. Even at the earliest ages of kindergarten, the students who can complete assignments faster then others will gain the favor of unaware teachers. They will, when met with teachers and adults who have limited SEL skills, receive preferential treatment and social elevation over students who take longer to do things. And remember, the perception of time is subject to the perceiver. A week doesn’t necessarily feel the same to all people. And in fact, research as shown that the perception of time can change for people depending on what they are working on and who they are working with.
The same bias is present for teachers and school staff related to how much energy they need to expend on a given student. When a student struggles with behavior choices and negatively impacts others then the teacher is obligated to use their own energy to manage both the student and the classroom. That’s a heavy lift on a teacher. Not only are they managing their own body budgets, but now they are managing the body budgets of all the students and a couple who are trying to play lead banana in the fart-smith orchestra! That’s a ton of energy expenditure and it can have a consequence both on the teacher's body in the moment, and how the teacher perceives the student or students who caused the imbalance.
So, what does all this mean for us? Great question. We need to consider a couple of things about our school. First, how do we spend our energy? Here’s a thing you can do as a class. Check-in, as a group. Give everyone space to reflect about how much energy they spend or gain from the class. Give people a chance to share. Make a class chart. Unpack the data. That’s something Seattle schools people LOVE to talk about, the data. So talk about it. What does it mean? Graph it. Are all people spending or gaining energy in the same rates in your class? What does it take for some people to be successful? What does it take for you? How similar is the culture in your home to the culture in your school? What about your classmates? Then ask, what does time feel like in this class? What about in different common assignments and activities in this class? The answers to these questions will help you gain an understanding of equity within your group.
Here’s how this is connected to Black History Month. This level of work has not historically been done in institutions and this lack of work has become what part of the word privilege means. That is, not needing to think about how much energy it may take to shift from your home culture to school culture is a form of conserving energy. That conservation is a privilege. That conservation can give someone an inequitable advantage throughout their school day. So ask yourself, does our school consider African American Culture Values and Norms when creating Social Management Devices? Ask yourself, does our curriculum allow for equitable access for students to see themselves reflected equally as heroes or capable or valued or worthy? The answers to these questions will help gain an understanding of what energy expenditure is like for all the people in our community. And not to forget about time, but the way in which energy is spent, may have an impact in the perception of time spent doing stuff. These are very important resources to consider. Until next week, may your thoughts and feelings be with you.