What a time on our planet and in our nation—climate crisis, supreme court justice hearings, #me too dialogues, and the mid-term election around the corner. With so much stress, tension, and challenge on a collective level—it is even more essential to take care with ourselves and to intentionally support and engage our students.
To support you to create an inspiring, inclusive, relationship-centered classroom in the midst of all the turmoil, we want to offer some perspectives and practices that come from the four strands of our Engaged Teaching approach. The four strands of our approach—Cultural Responsiveness, Social and Emotional Learning, Mindfulness, and Whole Systems Thinking—are the foundation of all of our offerings—and we see these strands as inter-related capacities and practices that nourish and invigorate the minds and hearts of teachers, students, and parents. We have also seen that when schools wish to make long-term systemic changes—paying attention to all four strands is essential.
For example: if we created a social and emotional learning curriculum that didn’t address cultural bias—we would not truly be serving the social and emotional needs of our students. And if we don’t provide ways for students to learn to manage stress and cultivate attention in real time through mindfulness practices, students will struggle to pay attention and show up for the academic, social and emotional work. And if we only think of ourselves as one isolated individual teacher working in our individual classroom—we might miss the opportunity to shift our larger school culture in ways that would make our individual and collective work more effective and joyful.
Working with all four strands at once creates a kind of flywheel effect, where each strand positively influences the others—creating a profound synergy. It is a bit like weaving a basket from four differently colored reeds. Each colored reed brings strength and support to the overall vessel that we are creating. Each strand is powerful and useful on its own. But, woven together, the four strands create a vessel where profound whole school shifts can occur—impacting the lives of every student, teacher and family member who is connected to the school.
This month, we can begin relating to the four strands by doing an assessment of our classrooms and schools—to see what is present and working and what might be useful to develop in the future. Below you will find a description of each of the four strands followed by reflective questions to guide your inquiry and assessment.
Four Strands Practice:
When we are stressed or there is stress in the system, it is common to go back to our habitual ways of dealing with challenge. In these next days and weeks, notice how you tend to cope with stress—in both positive and negative ways. And choose one thing you might wish to do differently—whether that’s turning off media at a certain time of night, taking intentional time to breathe between classes, committing to exercise, or creating a mindfulness practice that can support you.