Social awareness, is the other foundational domain for SEL competence. Without strong understanding of social awareness is would be very difficult to effectively utilize all other domains beyond. Social awareness is essential for self-management and for building a healthy community. We use the definition of social awareness as the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures. That is a short sentence with a ton of weight and most often asked is, "How do you do that?"
First we define the terms perspective, empathy, diversity, and culture. Defining terms is necessary so that we are sharing common language. Here are the definitions we use:
perspective: point of view, a particular attitude toward something, or a way of regarding something
empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of anther person
diversity: variety or different types of things
culture: a people's way of life or the way groups do things
Social awareness requires both a knowledge of the self and a recognition of and basic understanding of others. There are many, many ways to begin building social awareness skills and if you jump to the Curricula page you will see a wide variety of evidence based material designed to increase social awareness. Below are three questions we use to start the process of considering how we interact with those around us.
What is going on around me?
"What is going on around me? This is a survey of the physical and emotional environment. Is it safe? Is there something here that can eat me? Is there something here I can eat? Is it exciting or boring? What do you I see and hear and how does it feel, what is the vibe. Who is here with me and what are they doing?" When we consciously ask ourselves this question we can build the habit of trying to fully engage in observation of a space, a situation, and others. Teachers often try to engage social awareness skills when they prompt students with questions like, "Look around you right now, what are your classmates doing?" Consider this also, when we don't choose to consciously survey our surroundings we rely on our brain's limbic system to do it for us. If we have experienced any trauma (and are not practicing self-awareness) it could be our limbic system that is potentially running the show or gearing up to take over. The limbic system is a very special part of our brain and we likely owe it our entire species' survival. I am not bagging on it, but just as it is exceptionally helpful in a forest at night, it can be exceptionally unhelpful during a math class.
What is expected of me?
What is expected of me? This is a huge question that, when unaddressed, can create stress for the self and for others. What are the expectations in a given situation. If you're entering a science lab the expectation may be to calmly take a seat. If you're in a basketball game the expectation may be to hustle for the ball or set a pick. If it is your first high school dance there may be many competing expectations to weigh. Identifying expectations can be very difficult for youth and even for adults. If you ask yourself this question and cannot recognize an answer this may be an indication that you need to pause for more observation, ask a peer, or ask a trusted adult. There is a direct connection between expectation and success. So this question is a perfect pivot toward the understanding how you can get your needs met while simultaneously supporting the needs of others.
How can I get my needs met and also support the needs of others?
How can I get my needs met and also support the needs of others? Asking this question excites the brain so much! You're looking for an understanding of what success looks like, you're reflecting on your own needs (that's self-awareness) and your speculating or empathizing with others regarding their needs. Incredible! What is success in this environment? Culture is crucial here. If the activity is fostering an individualistic approach then success may involve self-confidence and assertiveness. If the activity is fostering a collectivist approach then success may involve being humble and conciliatory. Being able to understand both approaches will not only help students build necessary skills it will also help a variety of historically marginalized learning styles and outcomes find equity in the academic day.
Also, what if success in one area is not success in another? Sometimes gaining social success with peers can come at the expense of social conflict with adults. This happens very often in middle school as kids are asserting their own voices and interests. For example, a very well timed joke in class could easily gain a student laughter, admiration, or affection from peers while simultaneously receive eye-shine and aspersions from the teacher. I am not saying that you shouldn't go for the joke, I am only saying that you should be able to choose your behavior knowing the consequence. Oh, and you should also know when to drop the mic and peace out. Too many average jokes undermine the truly great ones!