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Good Morning Families, today is Tuesday May 26th 2020 and it is now time for a moment of SEL.
First, I hope you all had a lovely Memorial Day. I’d like to send a shout-out to all our family members, and yours who have served or are serving in our Armed Forces. And in particular to recognize those who have sacrificed their lives in that service. If you can, try to make a space today to give some thought for these people. If possible, maybe reach out and say hello in whatever way works for you.
This week we are going to start learning about something that can benefit you in your life. Particularly when facing unpleasant or uncomfortable feelings. It’s called Cognitive Behavior Therapy or CBT. It’s got science behind it!
It does have science behind it! And that science is very promising when it comes to skills of supporting people in managing fear and worry and anxiety and depression and all sorts of things.
You might know that CBT can work for people, but did you know that it can work for school communities also? Well it can! In fact, many of the ways we may use to support ourselves, can also be used to support others. So even if you aren’t the one feeling the anxiety or fear or worry or obsessive thought, someone else might be. So, if you learn about some of these skills, you can help others.
CBT is a form of talk therapy that many licensed mental health professionals use with clients and patients. Now this is not a medical journal and we are not doctors and we are not doing mental health care work. However, we are educators, so we can provide education about this. In fact, in therapy sometimes providing education about the practice is called psycho-education. I always liked that term, sounds tough and cool. Psycho-education. Really, it’s just education about the psychological practices.
There are very many well qualified medical professionals you can learn from. Here is a link to the first and foremost is www.beckinstitue.org That’s the website of Aaron T. Beck, MD. He is the globally recognized father of cognitive therapy. But this sounds very medical, how could this be helpful for schools?
Great question, the answer comes in many forms but by and large, the basic principles of CBT can easily inform best practices for how schools develop social management plans. Remember, social management is one of the Washington State Domains for K-12 Social Emotional Learning. And social management is a really powerful and important part of any school function. Pro-social, culturally responsive social management plans are the things that the Heart of Learning and Teaching is helping schools to build in order to be compassionate and productive for students and families.
However, it is also through social management that some social categories of people have been and are still being negatively impacted. Social management plans that make things harder for some members of our society might be explicitly written into law, or implicitly present in bias. This is why it’s so important for us to learn and teach about this aspect of social emotional learning.
And, the best way to learn about these social management devices is to have some foundational support from CBT by recognizing and providing common expressive language for thoughts and feelings. And you might think this is just for the kids, but really, if we do our job right, you’ll see, this is just as much for the grown-ups.
So, we go back to start learning some of the basic language and practice from CBT. And that is this. At its core, CBT teaches people how to be brave, how to face fears and unpleasantness, and how to manage those feelings. It’s not about avoidance, which believe it or not, can actually either make fears worse or make fears stronger, or make you think you’re right to worry. It’s also not about making you suffer more than you need to. It’s all about managing your thoughts and feelings in ways that allow you to be the fully-functional person you can be.
And just FYI, it’s not the only system that does this, it’s just one of the ones that science has tested and found abundant evidence that it can work to improve a person’s quality of life. But know that it’s not about keeping you from having uncomfortable thoughts or feelings, it’s about being able to have skills for managing them when you do.
We’ll go through some of the strategies this week but, as with most all things in Social Emotional Learning we need to start with self-awareness. For us to function as a learning community we need for the members of our community to be able to have the skills of recognizing how they are feeling. In order to do this, we need to have a system that allows for members to share how they are feeling. This system needs to be able to have the capacity for all the feelings people can feel. It needs to be able to meet the feelings with compassion and validation. Then it needs to provide all the members of the community support and strategies in the way to express those feelings in ways that support the individual and the community at the same time. You can’t sacrifice one for the other. Pretty challenging, but teachers do it all the time. In fact, you are probably doing it right now in whatever space you are in.
If you have those things, then you can start to help people to be able to manage their feelings. However, if you don’t have the space and ability to recognize your feelings, and you don’t have the capacity for members of a community to have a voice in what they do with their feelings, you are only creating a system that makes people conform to a system that may or may not work for everyone. For students whose presentation or culture matches that of the leader it may take little to no effort to conform to that system because it is so familiar. However, if your presentation or culture does not match that of the leader you may need to use more energy to figure out how both manage your feelings, and conform to this new system. That’s not really fair.
It can also lead to exclusion and isolation and could send the message to the person on the outside that they are the ones who are wrong. That could damage self-concept, particularly if the person developing at age 5 or 6 or 13 or 24 or 46 or whenever.
So, for today, just try again to recognize how you are feeling. Ask yourself, “what am I thinking?”, “how am I feeling in my body?”, “how do I want to express myself?” and “how can I express myself?” Start with this for today and tomorrow we’ll continue our work. Until then, may your thoughts and feelings be with you.