3 Ways to Strengthen Self-Awareness

The CASEL framework is regarded as a well respected framework for Social Emotional Learning. Over the next several weeks, we are going to feature a series that focuses on the 5 competencies that make up the CASEL framework.

Sometimes, the first step towards achieving a goal is to reflect. Reflecting on what’s going well, what needs to be done still, what others are saying about the progress, are all very important pieces to attaining next steps. However, what if the most important reflection we can make as district leaders is within ourselves?

Working from a systems perspective with social-emotional learning (SEL) is challenging considering all the moving pieces. Due to this, it’s even more important to choose wisely when beginning to think about strengthening your district’s SEL practices because it sets up the foundation for your SEL work. Beginning with self-awareness will make it possible for you and your district leadership teams to make sure you receive and process objective feedback, continuously align your actions with district values, as well as take a look inward to take inventory of your own emotions. Practicing self-awareness ensures that decisions made in your district will have a positive and meaningful impact because it guarantees that the decisions stem from a place of deeper reflection. Here are three ways you can begin to strengthen self- awareness at a district level.

1. Seek objective feedback

Feedback is widely used in the educational field and beyond. Everyone understands the importance of receiving feedback so that both adjustments can be made, and successes celebrated. Simply asking for feedback from stakeholders will likely yield low, generalized results, and it will not provide the authentic feedback needed to move your district towards its goals. For example, if the respondents are the same small group of people every time, then only one portion of the community’s population is being heard. However, in any district, it’s difficult to find methods of seeking truly impartial feedback, but still very important. Therefore, by initiating actions such as sending out community surveys, holding community forums, as well as having a dedicated email or phone number people can respond to with feedback, it opens up communication channels from stakeholders who otherwise might stay silent. Good quality feedback can help a leader to understand the lived experiences of the community being served by the K-12 school system. Consistently seeking to have all voices heard can strengthen your district’s level of self-awareness in a way that will lead to growth across all areas. When your stakeholders see a leader practice self-awareness in this way, it models it so that they are encouraged to practice this themselves.

2. Align actions to values

When thinking about practicing self-awareness, one action step you can take as a district leader is to pause and reflect on the ramifications of decisions being made both big and small across the board. Taking time to reflect on if your actions or district policies and initiatives align with the values and mission of the district can be a key component to becoming more in tune with how your district is serving its community. We invite you to take a minute to jot down 3-5 values that are important to your school district. Next, consider a tough decision that you had to make recently. Now, connect the values to that decision and reflect on where the values are visible in that decision. Having a tool or practice in place for before and after making decisions will help your stakeholders become more aware of how decisions are connected to a school district’s mission and values.

3. Take inventory of emotions

You’re probably wondering about this one. It’s not your typical self-care suggestion of yoga (although yoga is great and has a place here!). A huge part of practicing self-awareness is looking inward and taking into consideration how you, as a district leader, are feeling in or about a specific situation. We all have a tendency to react in the moment, or respond in ways that we think are helpful, appropriate, and/or warranted. One way to take inventory of your emotions, is to ask yourself some simple questions:

  • Why did you react the way you did - is there something else connected to your response?

  • What other emotions are you feeling and where might they be coming from?

Responses can come from many different places. In emotive situations, it can often be difficult to identify the most appropriate emotion stemming from the event. For example, you might think you feel angry, but really you are frustrated or disappointed. It is important to pin-point the most specific emotion. The benefits of this kind of analysis allow for practicing self-awareness that helps us become more connected to ourselves. This also supports clearer communication amongst a district because the heightened sense of awareness allows for sharing more authentic experiences.

All of the CASEL competencies for SEL are important. They work together to provide a wrap-around SEL lens for your district. Before any outside work can happen with schools or community partners, reflection needs to take place. Trying out the three suggestions above will help you to become more aware of your district’s areas for growth, and where to go next; as well as highlight areas to celebrate. Being more self-aware is the first step in strengthening your district’s social emotional learning. By allowing yourself the time to be intentional about being self-aware you are inviting your district faculty and staff to do the same. Leaders who model self-awareness are more likely to forge stronger, more authentic connections to their stakeholders. These connections provide the foundation for creating and sustaining trusting relationships across your district.

Download our helpful guide to promote district-wide SEL with the CASEL framework. This guide presents 3 ways to strengthen self-awareness at the district level. Feel free to print this out and share with your district leadership teams.