by LaVonna Roth
How can I serve the whole child if I teach a subject that is strictly academic? This is a common question, and you might be surprised by the answer. Literature is a great way to implement social emotional learning (SEL) and brain research techniques.
When I created Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E.®, I wanted something that could be a resource for all educators teaching any subject and for the lessons learned to extend well past the classroom. The goal is to empower ALL students with actionable skill sets applicable in every area of their lives.
Here’s a quick insight into what each letter in S.H.I.N.E. represents followed by how we connect to literature and life.
“Self awareness is the ability to take an honest look at your life without any attachment to it being right or wrong, good or bad.” -Debbie Ford
Each of us is born with or we develop specific gifts, skills, strengths and talents,. We are ALL gifted in different ways. It is not egotistical to proudly acknowledge our gifts. It’s confidence. All students should be encouraged to confidently identify their gifts.
In addition we all have “opportunities for self improvement.” We don’t want to use the word weakness, because it is not a weakness. No one person is perfect in every possible way. Sorry Mary Poppins.
The empowering news is that we can grow through learning new skills. The methods and timeframes will vary between students, and THAT’S OK. Students need to know methods and timeframes ultimately do matter, but are not indicators of intelligence. Let’s build them up through a shift in our approach to how we teach the what we teach. How? By permitting students to have opportunities to show what they know and can do through their areas of strengths! This approach is a way to differentiate how our students learn and show that learning.
“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” -Oprah Winfrey
We’re teaching our students to identify their strengths, which is awesome, but that’s not the whole of it! As they say in infomercials, but wait…there’s more!
We can now show them how to use their self awareness to pursue their passions. In the same way that each person has unique gifts, he or she also has a passion or multiple passions, and all are equally important. Although these will likely shift and change over time, they are still there. Are our eyes open to them? I hope so, because we can often take where students are challenged and use their passion as the entry point to capture attention and build understanding.
As adults with more years under our belts, we know how hard it is to chase a passion, a dream. It’s scary. It seems bigger than it really is. It feels audacious to even think we could achieve something as bold as our dream.
And it gets harder the older you get. The responsibilities pile on as do the reasons for not taking the next action step. Obstacles in our way are fear and self-doubt, the sentries to the road less traveled.
If students are going to be successful in the pursuit of their passions, they need help. They need champions who can teach them how to manage the fear and doubt that will convince them to settle for mediocre. Self management is the bridge between good and great.
We believe that the “secret sauce” to a fulfilled life is when we marry self (strengths) and passions together. We want to help our students bridge to great and this marriage is a route to greatness.
“It's easy to feel helpless - like you can't fight the tide. But remember: small actions can have a huge impact, and one person like you can inspire others to action.” -Celeste Ng
Once we’ve spent a healthy amount of time focusing on strengths, gifts, skills and talents, we must turn our gaze toward learning to inspire ourselves when we need it, while inspiring others. Our actions can and should influence others, which requires a certain amount of understanding and empathy. More on this later.
As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people's ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life. -Amy Poehler
Our students are seeking to belong since that is a foundation of what we do as humans. Our classrooms are the prime spot for such challenges, inspiration and collaboration to occur. We can be the catalyst for students to recognize the greatness they have and to do something with that greatness.
We can blow open the world of possibilities for our students here! Teach them to take that greatness they have and help them do something with it.
“The choices we make dictate the lives we lead; to thine own self be true.” -William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Responsible decision making leads our students to discover themselves, as does, and maybe even more, the mistakes they make along the way. Those irresponsible decisions. Either way, exceptional is the result. When we help students discover their strengths, their passions, how to stay inspired (and inspire others), and to do something with all of this, they are on their way to being the exceptional person they were meant to be.
Brain Research and SEL
So, the big question is how does this work in conjunction with literature? How do we teach students these very important lessons through fictional and non-fictional stories or literature of long ago? The key is by incorporating the key components above with characters and events happening in literature and building in brain research and SEL conversations.
By having students think through the actions of a character or event and share in deep and meaningful discussions regarding the choices that were made and the outcomes.
We discuss how a character could have handled a situation in a variety of ways. By allowing our students to think through scenarios and relating it to their own personal life, we begin to create neural pathways that cause students to understand they have options and those options have different outcomes.
We help establish tools to know that there is more than one way to handle a problem. These discussions also create opportunities for us to learn that each character has a story. That story is a window into that character’s experiences, choices and thinking.
Once we see the impact that a story has on a character, we can develop empathy with students.
Then we bridge those very same things from character to student. We discuss, share and model empathy (teach empathy) for others based upon their story. We can also gain insight into our own story and how it affects our choices and thinking. Through this lens, we create a way our students see each other, their self and the world.
I am so excited to be speaking at NCTE-CEL on November 19, 2018 and look forward to sharing more about Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E.® and how we can help our students share their S.H.I.N.E. and build a strong belief in themselves. I hope to meet all of you there!
LaVonna Roth is an author of eight books on brain research and engaging instruction, creator and founder of the Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E.® movement, and an international professional development provider for educators.