“Evolving is life’s greatest accomplishment and its greatest reward”, says Ray Dalio in his famous book Principles. For me one of the areas of evolving as a teacher has been understanding the concept of holistic education. There were elements of self-management and self-awareness that I would work upon in developing in students but there was no consistency or sustained effort. The more I continue to read, understand, and learn, the more I believe that the one area that needs serious work in our education systems is developing these competencies and critical life skill in our students right from junior school. While academic competencies are supported through the academic courses that are offered to students, social emotional competencies remain neglected. We do talk about holistic growth of a child, but rarely do we have a clear action plan for it. According to CASEL, the five competencies that require attention are self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, responsible decision making and relationship skills. UNICEF has consolidated these five groups of competencies into three broad categories, namely,
- Cognitive- critical thinking and problem-solving skills for responsible decision making.
- Personal skills- for awareness and drive and for self-management; and
- Interpersonal skills- for communication, negotiations, cooperation, and teamwork.
One of the critical competencies that must be developed in students right from junior school is self-awareness. Parents and teachers must plan for opportunities for students to bring into their practice activities such as staying grounded and present, calming themselves down and at the same time, respecting the needs of others.
One of the 21st century skills most talked about is communication skill. Verbal as well as written form. However, we also communicate with ourselves through self-talk and it is important that students understand the difference between positive and negative self-talk. It is a skill that students must understand and practice. There is now sufficient research to indicate that we continue to grow and change throughout life. Neuroplasticity occurs in the brain, at the beginning of life and throughout adulthood whenever something new is learned and memorized. Neuroplasticity is the capacity of the brain to change with learning. Negative thoughts and feelings can have a detrimental effect on our emotional well-being leading to low academic achievement and weak social connections. Two strategies that can be used with students to help them develop positive self-talk are: positive affirmations and practicing gratitude.
Positive self-talk is one of many self-care practices that can help students deal with stress and regulate emotions. Parents and teachers can use positive affirmations as a strategy to boost positive self-talk. For example, before they sleep at night or as they start their day they could remember to: State their positive affirmations in present tense and in first person. ‘I can do this’, ‘I will achieve it’, ‘I am a good person’, ‘I choose to work hard’, ‘I will start with this afresh and figure it out’ etc.
They should be encouraged to engage in positive self-talk when they come up against a problem by simply rewording their statement. For example: From saying: ‘I find this difficult’ or I cannot do this’, they can use positive self-talk by rephrasing their statement: ‘I will try this again a couple of times and then ask for help if I need to’ or ‘I will be able to achieve this with practice’.
Another way to encourage students in positive self-talk is to practice gratitude. Practicing gratitude is a good self-care practice and helps relieve anxiety and enhances optimism. Students can be urged to maintain a gratitude journal; it could be an analogue journal or a digital journal. They could write three positive affirmations each day. Students could try the digital journal called Happy Feed. Families could create pods on the app and share their gratitude statements with each other. In case children wish to maintain a diary, then parents could help them by giving prompts that could trigger their thinking. For example:
Think of your favorite dish. Write what you feel when you eat it,
a lovely outdoor experience,
a friend or family member who always supports you,
the time you helped someone,
when someone helped you,
an evening spent with a friend playing
the story that you remember from past that made you laugh etc.
Self-talk is a powerful tool that can help us get through challenging situations. It helps you focus on the good in every situation, boosts self-confidence, strengthen emotional resilience safeguarding us from stress and anxiety on one hand and on the other strengthening neural pathways in the brain.
Do remember that children learn best by example. Model positive self-talk, gratitude, and positive affirmations for children to see and learn.