Throughout this 5 part blog series, we have talked about how complex being a district leader is, and why keeping the CASEL framework for SEL in the forefront of your leadership practice is key to making progress as a district. As we bring this series to a close, there is one final competency that hasn’t been explored: social awareness.
Social awareness is defined by CASEL as “the abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts." Social awareness appears to be one of the more obvious competencies to work on and implement as a leader because it involves being able to understand, value, and utilize all perspectives. As a district leader, your work involves continuously gathering feedback, planning, and moving your district forward towards the goals you set. Once we start to explore this competency, however, it becomes clear that social awareness involves tying together multiple, complex perspectives in order to truly understand how to best serve your district and community. As a district leader, your social awareness needs to come together primarily from three groups: district leadership and vision, the schools within the district, and the families and communities served. In order to have the most genuine and meaningful social awareness for your district, you need to utilize all three to your advantage.
Below, find 4 ways to strengthen social awareness within your district:
1. Provide as many opportunities to gather perspectives as possible
One crucial piece to strengthening social awareness in your district is to ensure there are multiple opportunities for all points of view across the district to be heard and accounted for. This should come in various modes that are accessible to all stakeholders. For example, while the standard email surveys will work for some, other members of the community might not have access to give feedback or ideas in that way.
There are additional ways you can gather important feedback. One way is to hold open community forums not just at schools. Using other high traffic areas in your community such as a park, a popular local business, or coffee shop will open up the opportunity, and elicit feedback from stakeholders you otherwise would not be able to under different circumstances. Also, as a district leader, you probably make many official visits to schools within your community. While those visits provide you with valuable information, it’s also just as important to informally visit schools and attend school events.
Stakeholders will be more likely to approach you and offer feedback, as well as be more open to have conversations with you in an informal setting. This builds social awareness in the community because you are sending the message that you truly value all perspectives and feel you are an equal part of that community as well.
One crucial piece to strengthening social awareness in your district is to ensure there are multiple opportunities for all points of view across the district to be accounted for. (Tweet this)
2. Utilize the strengths across your system
Problem-solving, as well as planning and implementing initiatives are two things that district leaders need to be highly skilled and adept at. One way to both build your social awareness as well as gain support with implementing ideas and initiatives in your district is to utilize the various strengths of the community. Whether seeking out feedback towards finding a solution for a challenge in your district, or working on an existing initiative, taking into account the various stakeholder groups and the strengths they offer is important. Being aware of and capitalizing on the strengths within your district ensures that everyone has a part in solving the problem or moving the initiative forward. Doing this also communicates to your stakeholders that you are aware of the value of multiple perspectives in your greater community.
Each group, from school leaders to parents to community stakeholders, will have different strengths and perspectives to offer that district leaders should take advantage of as much as possible. Using each group's strengths allows for a more inclusive and well-rounded district perspective. By adding more perspectives to your school system you are supporting social awareness by showing you not only value those perspectives but that it’s important for them to be included in solving challenges and planning as well.
3. Encourage and facilitate growth towards collective cultural competency
Another key piece of strengthening your social awareness as a district leader is to work towards building cultural competency within yourself and your school system. School districts are pluralistic places with a multitude of values and beliefs running through them. Showing stakeholders that their beliefs and values are seen, heard, and honored is an important part of strengthening your social awareness because it shows you have the capacity to understand their perspectives while demonstrating empathy. Knowing that their cultures are not only acknowledged but valued is an ongoing process that will reap many benefits. It allows for all the people in your district to feel that they are valued, and have an equal part of building towards your district’s goals.
It’s important to not only encourage work around building a broader cultural competence in your district but also to facilitate the work by providing both high-quality resources, as well as ongoing opportunities for professional development. Engaging in this process builds social awareness by allowing your district to see you, their leader modeling and working on building cultural competence, it sets the tone for them to do so as well. Doing this opens up opportunities for your district to be a welcoming place where all stakeholders can truly work together.
Work towards building cultural competency within yourself and your school system. School districts are pluralistic places with a multitude of values and beliefs running through them. (Tweet this)
4. Lead with empathy and gratitude
School districts are made up of and function because of the hard work of many different people. From the district leadership team, to individual schools, to parents and the larger community, there are a multitude of people all working together, towards a collective goal. Recognizing this, and leading with empathy and gratitude is a great way to strengthen your social awareness. Expressing your gratitude for your school and community members builds their confidence in you as their district leader. By letting them know you appreciate them, it builds trust between them and you. This trust will lead to greater communication. For example, by choosing to have empathy and gratitude at the forefront of your leadership, it will open up genuine opportunities for feedback and forward movement in your district. Assuming positive intentions from everyone is not always easy to do. However, by having empathy for people’s perspectives and experiences, as well as gratitude for their work in your district, helps to make assuming positive intent more viable. Practicing empathy and gratitude will let you understand the motivations and behaviors of your staff, community and family members on a deeper level by giving you a deeper perspective on them. Social awareness strengthens through this practice as you grow more informed about your community, your stakeholders realize you hear them, and are grateful for their contributions. This also impacts your building leaders by having them see you model this practice.
Social awareness is a key component to a strong, healthy school district. By working towards strengthening your social awareness across your district, you are modeling inclusivity that the rest of the district will follow. Creating a district where everyone feels genuinely valued will let your district continue to move towards meeting its goals and desired outcomes.
Click here to download a free guide on strengthening the pillars of social awareness in complex systems, to use in your school and district and share with your colleagues.