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Know Yourself

By Matt Weld
COSEM Board Member
SEL Coach, IL Regional Office of Education #40

Imagine this: you're leading a discussion on fractions, and a student gets frustrated. Their voice cracks, and they withdraw into their shell. Is it because they don't understand the concept, or is there something else going on? As educators, we navigate a complex social and emotional landscape every day. But how often do we stop to truly understand our own internal landscape?

Dag Hammarskjold, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, wrote, "The longest journey is the journey inwards." Self-awareness, that deep understanding of who we are, our strengths, weaknesses, emotional activators, and biases, is the foundation for effective teaching and, more importantly, our own well-being.

Since the Pandemic, there has been an increased call for educator training in self-awareness (Cristol, 2021) with many new studies showing the importance of promoting self-reflection in the pedagogical practice of teachers (Viquez Fernandez, 2021).

So, where do we begin? Let's break it down using the three core competencies from the CASEL framework, a widely used approach to social-emotional learning (SEL).

1. Self-Awareness: Knowing Yourself

This is the bedrock. Lisa Feldman Barrett, a neuroscientist and author of "How Emotions Are Made," challenges the traditional view of emotions as pre-programmed responses. Instead, she argues emotions are constructed by our brains based on past experiences, the current situation, and even our physical state. Understanding this reframing allows us to step back and observe our emotions without being swept away by them.

Here's how mindfulness, the practice of paying attention to the present moment without judgment, becomes crucial. Studies published in the Journal of School Psychology (2020) by Shapiro et al. demonstrate that mindfulness training can help educators regulate their emotions and create a calmer classroom environment. Taking a few deep breaths, focusing on bodily sensations, or simply acknowledging a rising emotion can be transformative.

2. Self-Management: Taking Control

Imagine you're having a rough day. A parent email sits heavy in your inbox, and the fire drill alarm just went off for the third time this week. How do you manage your stress to avoid projecting it onto your students?

Here's where Gordon Hempton, the advocate for quiet and author of "One Square Inch of Silence," offers valuable insight: “Silence is like scouring sand. When you are quiet, the silence blows against your mind and etches away everything that is soft and unimportant.” Can you carve out a few minutes each day for quiet reflection, even if it's just a few mindful breaths or writing one gratitude from the day?

3. Social Awareness: Understanding Others

Self-awareness doesn't exist in a vacuum. Dr. Brené Brown, a researcher who studies vulnerability and courage, reminds us, "Connection is why we're here." Understanding our own emotional landscape allows us to be more attuned to the emotions of our students.

Consider unconscious bias. Research published in Educational Leadership suggests that self-aware educators are better positioned to identify and mitigate their biases, creating a more equitable learning environment (Fiarman, 2016).

Building Your Self-Awareness Toolkit

Developing self-awareness takes consistent effort. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Journaling: Spend 10 minutes each day reflecting on your emotions, reactivity responses, and successes.

  • Mindfulness exercises: Try a simple breathing meditation app (Calm, Headspace, or Breathe: Relax & Focus, for example) or a guided body scan. Even a few minutes can make a difference.

  • Seek feedback: Ask a trusted colleague for honest feedback on your teaching style.

  • Celebrate your strengths: We educators often focus on areas for improvement. Make a list of your strengths to boost self-confidence.

The Journey is Worth It

Self-awareness isn't about achieving perfection. It's about becoming a work-in-progress, a more patient, effective, and emotionally intelligent educator. Remember, as Dag Hammarskjold wrote, "The longest journey is the journey inward.” By cultivating a deeper understanding of ourselves, we can create a more positive and enriching experience for both ourselves and our students.

This journey won't always be easy. There will be setbacks, moments of self-doubt, and days when it’s just ‘one more thing’. But the long-term benefits are undeniable. By investing in your own self-awareness, you're investing in your well-being, your teaching practice, and ultimately, the success of your students.

One Action Step You Can Take Today

Practice Square Breathing for 3 minutes and post a reflection on the difference you felt before/after on the COSEM Member Site.


About The Author

Matt Weld is a part of the COSEM Leadership Team, is the SEL Coach for the Regional Office of Education #40 in Illinois, and the Director of Technology and Innovation for the ROEs of Area 5 (Southwestern IL by St. Louis). He manages and after being a 7th-grade science and ELA teacher, JH assistant principal, and K-8 tech coach. Matt is a Google Trainer and a Registered Yoga Teacher who makes things, reads, and goes outside. He facilitates workshops on finding balance as an educator, including an online Mindful Monday series that incorporates breathwork, intention setting, meditation, mindfulness, and yoga. 

Follow Matt on Social Media:

Twitter/X: @MatthewWeld


References and Resources:

Cristol, D., & Gimbert, B. (2021). Preservice teachers' self-awareness needs post-pandemic. Academia Letters, 2, 11-23.

Barrett, L. F. (2017). How emotions are made: the secret life of the brain. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York, NY, Gotham Books.

Fiarman, S.E. (2016). Unconscious Bias: When Good Intentions Aren’t Enough. Educational Leadership. 74:3, 10-15.

Hempton, Gordon; Grossmann, John (2009). One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World. Free Press (Simon & Schuster).

Viquez Fernandez, S. (2021). The importance of promoting self-reflection in the pedagogical practice of teachers. Universidad Nacional.


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