Saturday, February 1, 2014

The importance of social-emotional learning programs in schools

By Michelle Hughes

Michelle Rosenfeld Hughes was born in 1960 to two public school teachers, grew up in New York City, and attended public schools. She spent the first twelve years of her teaching career as a progressive public middle school teacher in Red Hook, New York. In her twelfth year of teaching, No Child Left Behind policies took hold and, after struggling to find ways to continue real teaching and learning, like many, she found it impossible to remain teaching in the system. She left public education to begin the middle school program at High Meadow School in Stone Ridge, NY, in 2001 and assumed the headship in 2010. High Meadow is an independent not-for-profit progressive school serving 165 children from Nursery to 8th grade. In addition to her work in schools, Michelle is a writer of fiction and essays on education. She received her BA in Visual Arts from SUNY New Paltz and her MA in Elementary and Museum Education from Bank Street College of Education.


Fitting Caring In: Social-Emotional Learning By Fiat Or Accident

It has been a challenge in this nation of ours to come to a common vision for our educational system. We are still a nation of states, and as with everything else, we have widely varying values and expectations with regards to education. There is a deep disconnect between research and reality, theory and classroom, when it comes to broad adoption of social-emotional literacy education and caring practices. If we have the research in place that overwhelmingly supports a framework of social-emotional literacy education in the classroom, then what is the hold-up?

Along with many other questions about best practices, the Common Core Standards, and Race to the Top, we’re in an ongoing debate about whether schools should be responsible for the social-emotional development and literacy of children. And the variety of opinions is perhaps widest of all for this particular issue. There are schools and entire districts that embrace social-emotional literacy (SEL) programming for its potential to reverse trends in anti-social and violent behavior, create a safe and productive teaching and learning environment, and increase attendance and test scores. Other schools and entire districts eschew SEL because they believe it is not the role of the school to become involved with the ethical or social-emotional aspect of a child’s life. Still others point to mounting pressures of the standards movement, decreases in state aid, and lack of time as reasons why these programs are desirable, but not viable.

Here’s the thing: whether or not we set out to provide social-emotional literacy education, we are providing one. Whether by fiat or accident, our children are learning about self-awareness, empathy, and the navigation of conflict from watching the adults and older children around them, and they are navigating the unwritten rules of the hallways and playground. Humans are social animals, built to survive in the setting into which they have been thrust, and they will learn what they need to get by, even if what they learn is maladaptive. With brains that operate in complex and interwoven ways, it is not possible for teachers to teach only math or reading. When we teach our children, we teach the whole child—the intellectual being, the emotional being, the social being—even if we do not intend to do so.

For this series, I talked with a small group of educators to learn more about the insight they have to impart regarding SEL programs, and what they were doing to "fit caring in" to a teaching and learning day increasingly out of their control. The teachers I interviewed are veteran public school teachers of more than twenty years who have made reputations on running classrooms that foster personal growth and responsibility, self-awareness, and empathy. In some cases, pre-packaged programs like Responsive Classroom and Mindfulness have complemented their teaching methods. In other cases, they have crafted their own approaches over years of building their classroom practice. All but one are from New York State, and represent the range of rural, small city, or big city schools.

In the following six weeks, I’ll explore the responses of the interviewees to questions that arise out of the work of educational theorists such as Nel Noddings, Daniel Goleman, Paolo Freire, and William Glasser. I also invite you to consider questions like the following for yourself.

  1. Nel Noddings describes two types of caring. Natural caring is person-to-person, beginning with parent-to-child. Ethical caring is for ideas, knowledge, and social causes. Is there reason to cultivate both in the learning process and the classroom community?
  2. What is the role of self-awareness and emotional intelligence in the development of academic knowledge and skills (both for teachers and for students)?
  3. Are there basic human needs that must be met for all members of a learning community to fully and willfully engage in teaching and learning?
  4. What are the obstacles to addressing these essential facets of teaching and learning, how are you navigating around them, and what is your approach?
  5. In what ways might teaching be viewed as social activism?

Teachers rarely get to share about their practice. In most articles about education, including one that was recently published in the New York Times Magazine, we hear from principals, theorists, and district and state leaders. We read about teachers, but we rarely hear from them. And I think this speaks to the very core of the problem we face in education—the ones delivering the education to our children are rarely consulted and almost never trusted in matters of educational development and decision-making. Even as we increase the educational qualifications of teachers, we decrease their decision-making powers in the classroom. The critical expertise of this small but varied sampling of educators might shed light on what teachers bring to their schools and classrooms as researchers and practitioners.


Why Fit Caring In? Teachers Defend Caring as a Vehicle for Learning, Self-Awareness, Interpersonal Skills, and Citizenry

In teaching social and emotional learning, we help our children grow into adults with a greater sense of self.
Theorists from Aristotle to Piaget, from Daniel Goleman to Joshua Freedman, have argued that educational systems addressing the whole person—the emotional, ethical, and intellectual—provide the fertile ground needed for children to effectively develop and grow into thoughtful and productive learners and citizens. There are various reasons behind this mentality, and when I spoke with educators during the interviews for this blog series, they enthusiastically addressed all of them.
The most superficial reason, and the one we seem to promote most readily, is that schools engaging children in the acquisition of social and emotional skills and knowledge such as empathy, self-awareness, resilience, and frustration tolerance have higher performing students, fewer disciplinary issues, and better attendance. One middle school teacher in the northern Hudson Valley of New York explains this by saying, “The case for caring is laying the affective groundwork so that learning can happen. If the caring is not in place in middle school, it becomes like ‘who are you? why should I listen to you?’” When it comes to building social and emotional literacy, he argues, “Teaching provides an extended, captive audience virtually unparalleled in human experiences. If not now, when?”
On a deeper level lies the rationale that in teaching SEL, we help our children to grow into adults with a greater sense of self, who build stronger relationships and are more effective workers and citizens. Another teacher looks at the development of, and connection between, self-awareness, learning, and mindfulness as critical to learning but also to the ability to function in a group: “Self-awareness and emotional intelligence play very important roles as one acquires and builds new academic knowledge and skills. An awareness of self is important, but the developmental shift that children make around 6-8 years-old to include those around them is crucial. A term that I think captures this shifting perspective is mindfulness.”
A fourth grade teacher in a rural elementary school sums up what is perhaps the most widely impactful implication of a “caring” curriculum: educating for citizenship. “There are many reasons to cultivate both natural caring and ethical caring in the classroom,” this teacher says. “The most crucial of these is to help children become future citizens of the world. Self-awareness helps children develop empathy because they are able to connect with how they have felt during similar situations, and this aids in positive decision-making that results in promoting peace and understanding.”
Keeping our eyes and hearts on why and how we engage in cultivating citizenship is critical. A high school psychologist laments, “The little bit of civic teaching that comes out of the state in connection with providing caring classrooms and schools is the Dignity for All Students Act. But the problem with that is that it is coming out to the students as, ‘If you don’t ...then this will happen,’ instead of all the members of the school, administrators, teachers, and students, adopting the act because it is the right thing to do.”
As teachers and school leaders spoke more about why they fit caring in to the increasing demands of the classroom—at a time in which their students’ futures and their own job statuses are so heavily determined by test scores—they referenced the mounting scientific evidence behind the pedagogy. A school leader in Brooklyn, New York, who courageously defends the time and attention of her staff in building a caring school environment, notes, “It’s interesting. I just read a book about social-emotional learning that states the scientific rationale for the importance of caring in learning, that without that attachment a child can’t learn. Once the relationship is established between the teacher and the child then empathy can be developed...if the goal of education is to have productive citizens, the one quality they will need to have success is empathy. If they learn early, they will carry that into middle school and beyond. Empathy can indeed be taught; some kids need that teaching.”
These educators eloquently make the case—we cannot turn away from our educational responsibility to directly and consistently teach these skills if we want to raise children who are capable of both natural and ethical caring. In the next blog in this series, we’ll talk more about how they do this.

How to Fit Caring In: Teachers Talk Strategy for Social-Emotional Learning

The teachers and leaders I interviewed for this blog series attend to the social-emotional development of their students with a core belief that it is integral to the work of teaching, whether or not they receive support or discouragement for doing so. They have created authentic approaches and practices that endure, because of or despite the larger school culture, as a reflection of what seems to be their profound personal resiliency, resourcefulness, and integrity. But they have also done the research to support these approaches and easily articulate why attending to the social and emotional development of children is critical to learning and inherent in the work of teaching.
We now have tomes of research supporting this rationale. Yet, David Levine, author of Teaching Empathy and national consultant to schools on school culture and social-emotional learning, says that

Authentic teaching of SEL skills in the classroom and the whole enterprise of building schools of belonging is at an all-time low in the 20 years or so that I have been doing this work. Indeed, many teachers and school leaders bemoan the lack of support for this important groundwork in their classrooms.

Many of the teachers I spoke with work in districts that are not allocating professional development funds, in-service time, or administrative support for SEL work in the classroom. Believing strongly in the connection between learning and the cultivation of social and emotional literacy, they have built their own approaches and mechanisms for fitting caring in within their classrooms.
One urban high school art teacher describes one method she uses, “I make a point of touching...a pat on the back, shaking of hands. I ask questions that have nothing to do with what we’re doing in the classroom because I want to engage those kids. They may want to be an artist or not, but I want them to accept the environment and feel safe; otherwise they won’t engage.”
A middle school teacher says, “The first thing I do is look in their eyes and get a sense of where they are. I do ‘pull-ups and strokes’ [a teacher-developed process for sharing what is going well and not so well in the children’s’ lives], and they love it. This makes them comfortable in bringing me up to date and allows them to get on with the business of learning. If a kid’s dog is hit by a car, that kid is probably not going to learn today...but three weeks later if they are not learning, we know something else is going on.”
The tone of the classroom is set from the very first day as routines, agreements, and teacher modeling that encourage the development of classroom caring and citizenship take prominence. One fourth grade teacher describes what this looks like in her classroom:

My approach to creating a caring classroom community is to spend time at the beginning of the year developing guidelines for behavior with the students and practicing active listening. Guidelines are developed around being able to realize ‘hopes and dreams.’ Positive and negative consequences are logical, and humor is infused throughout the day. We start each day with a morning meeting that includes a greeting led by a student, and everyone receives and passes on in a respectful manner. I schedule small group ‘lunch with teacher’ sessions as often as possible to model caring and kindness.

Another teacher expands on this:

We are essentially building our foundation for the year—how we will relate to one another, how we treat each other, how we communicate with one another, how we can lean on each other, and ways that we can support each other. This foundation is crucial as we begin to take on the academic curriculum together. We have a history upon which to draw and go back to if need be. It is that history that often will highlight the basis of ideas, knowledge, experiences, and social causes that we will explore in and around our set curriculum.

The classroom is a hotbed of human activity and development. The impact of the family lives, feelings, social relationships, and learning styles of children on the classroom cannot be marginalized. It can be emotionally exhausting for the teacher to handle the many needs of her class, particularly when she is working in isolation. The teaching community can be the greatest resource, or hindrance, for the teacher who is seeking tools and approaches for meeting these needs in a proactive and reflective manner. Some colleagues may be inspired by such collaboration, while others might resent the precedent such a teacher might set. Building a healthy teaching community is hard work, but these teachers feel strongly that it serves students to do so. In the next blog, we will discuss their experiences in their various teaching communities.

Obstacles and Support for Fitting Caring In: The Role of the Teaching Community

“What support do you receive and what obstacles do you face in creating caring classrooms and schools?”
That’s one of the questions I asked teachers as part of my research for this blog series on “fitting caring in.” I wanted to know how teaching community, professional development and the curriculum, and leadership on the school, state, and national levels can foster or hinder the development and implementation of social-emotional learning and literacy in the classroom.
Both the teachers and the school leaders in this cohort talked deeply about the need for a dynamic and productive teaching environment. Some of the teachers point to how disheartening and lonely teaching can become when there is a teaching culture that discourages innovation and excellence in order to preserve the status quo. Social-Emotional Literacy programs tend to flourish in a collaborative teaching environment, despite the obstacles, and they flounder in competitive, isolated teaching environments, even when the resources are there. SEL programs flourish when leaders support teachers in authentically building practices into their work with students, and they flounder when external programs are brought in without this deeper work of integration. As one teacher said, “You don’t ‘cover’ empathy.”
The teachers reflected on the importance of teaching style and collaboration to the engagement and learning of students. “We need to be aware of our teaching style and how we can craft our lessons in different ways to meet the varying needs within our class. I especially appreciated staff development that we did years ago with regards to Thoughtful Education work by Richard Strong and Harvey Silver. It drew on principles from Multiple Intelligences Theory, and focused on learning and teaching styles. I found it very insightful and often draw from it as I work with the students throughout the year,” says one third grade teacher. ”The job of teaching can be so lonely and when you have someone to bounce ideas off of, it increases your own mindfulness.”
And teachers who collaborate in the classroom can use each other to reflect more effectively on their approaches and delivery of lessons. Another teacher elaborates on this point, “I am teaching with a part-time special educator this year, and in facing an entirely new curriculum and testing, it has been great to have a person to collaborate with in understanding and implementing it. By chiming in with each other in the teaching we are modeling for the kids how people can support one another in learning.” When such professional development, cohesion, and support is not in place, teachers cannot trust that their leadership or colleagues will act towards students with a common language or set of values. Students in such a setting will experience completely different responses to the same behavior from adults. While one teacher might inquire caringly when a child seems angry or distant, another might take the child’s posture as challenging.
One middle school teacher brings home the point, “Without a team approach, if a kid comes in and they are in crisis there is no mechanism for me to prepare my colleagues for these kids and the minefield that might explode in their classes. The caring teacher is isolated and unsupported in such a setting and cannot fully trust that a student will get their needs met elsewhere. ” The child cannot determine the language and cultural expectations of the land, and the teachers are as cultural islands, each with its own set of norms. As one high school teacher laments, “The safety and trust grows from the teacher, and the teacher can always do that behind closed doors. You may never get that support from your teaching community.”
School leaders can literally shape the emotional tone of their schools, leading their teachers to feel engaged or distracted. One teacher was “excited to return to school this fall, as our superintendent shared with us that we are not that Annual Professional Performance Review number and that the system needs to be fixed—that it is not sustainable... I have always felt support from our district and building administrators in taking time to address what needs to be addressed.” Our school leaders elaborated, “If you are not taking care of your teachers, you are not taking care of the kids. The teachers need to feel safe, that they are valued and trusted...In our school I meet with every teacher twice a year and set up partnerships of special ed./regular ed. teachers as well as grade level teams.”
School leaders support positive school culture through forging the space for professional development of SEL programs, but also through saturating the curriculum with opportunities for teachers and students to build skills such as citizenship, service, and civic engagement. These saturated curricula impart academic knowledge in literature, social studies, and science, while building in opportunities for service, self-reflection, and empathy. In her school in the Catskills of New York, one fourth grade teacher illustrates the point: “My principal has always supported Trout in the Classroom (an environmental stewardship program), as well as our participation in Green Connections (partnering with classes from NYC), and annual stream cleanups. These environmental programs afford students the opportunity to participate in a very immediate way of caring for their environment.” In addition, “Our entire student body participates in monthly character education assemblies.”
A Brooklyn principal explains that, “Setting the expectation that there is collaboration, and that is worked into the schedule, ensures it happens. So no one is going into the classroom, closing the door. This is a cultural expectation that school leaders don’t hear from the top. As a school leader I spend a lot of time protecting these objectives of education during these pressures of No Child Left Behind and the Common Core.” The effective school leader provides the model for comportment and collaboration, but also provides the direct supervision, supports, guidance, and encouragement that teachers need at this very challenging time of high stakes testing and new teacher evaluation systems. And just as teachers must model what collaboration looks like for students, administrators must model collaboration for their teachers.”

Fitting Caring In: On Professional Development, the Curriculum, and External Pressures

For a recent New York Times Magazine article, Can Emotional Intelligence be Taught?, Jennifer Kahn traveled the country observing different social-emotional literacy programs and approaches in schools, asking the questions, “Can emotional intelligence be taught?” and “If it can, then can it be assessed?” Most of the programs Kahn cites come to the schools pre-packaged with trainings and materials to support them. Some of the SEL programs cited in Kahn’s article are stand-alone and come with established principles and lessons to explore and reinforce these ideas in the classroom. These are adopted by schools and come with “how-to” teacher trainings and lend themselves to assessment as they often come with discreet goals and benchmarks for the classroom and the school. Programs are often expensive, but easier to front-load, as they take little innovation or interpretation on the part of the teacher to be implemented.
While the article was informative, there was a noticeable shortage of teacher voices represented in the conversation, so it is hard to know how they are integrating the principles of these programs into their classroom practices. Interestingly, in my discussions with school leaders and educators, I found that they tended instead toward using approaches--such as Responsive Classroom and Mindfulness training--which lend themselves to adaptation for place-based needs and values more than pre-packaged programs; they are expected to be interpreted and conveyed in ways that are authentic to the teacher and the setting.
To maintain a commitment to caring schools and social-emotional literacy, ongoing teacher training and curriculum development is necessary. Our school leaders and teachers felt strongly about the need for ongoing professional development and saw a direct connection between this work and the harmony in their schools, as well productive learning. Therefore, one Brooklyn principal spends a lot of time cultivating relationships with professional development leaders who can support this ongoing work with teachers. She has no choice but “to go out on a limb to protect these social-emotional objectives of education, despite the pressures of the standards movement.”
A Dallas principal I spoke with began MindUp training three years ago, “which allowed for a common vocabulary and explanations for the impact of how the mind works, and how emotions can hijack your mind and actions if you are upset...this speaks to self-awareness.” She explains further, “ All of our classrooms have a practice of mindful breathing exercises three times a day. If you have a kid who is completely dis-regulated you can forget about academics. Once children can have some agency over their emotions they can participate effectively in learning. We have many visitors in our school and they always note the happiness and excitement of the students. Our teachers had strong feelings about the support or lack of support they and other teachers and service providers received for the SEL work they do with children.” In addition to training in Responsive Classroom and a variety of mindfulness approaches they cited school-wide programs and initiatives that support caring, such as “Banana Splits.”   
When implementing any new curriculum, there is a real difference for the teacher who has had a chance to make it their own. But it is particularly important with social-emotional literacy programs, because as other curricular pressures crowd in, they remain committed to fitting this highly personalized and important work into the life of the classroom. As we have discussed earlier in this series, time management, goal-setting, and classroom materials are currently largely pre-determined by mandated curricula, so teachers are called upon to be creative in how they fit caring in to the daily life of the classroom. This extends to analytical teaching practices that address the individual learner, such as differentiation of teaching and goal-setting. These practices are also critical to creating a caring classroom, as it makes space for all learners. Two teachers describe the impacts: “External pressures are now driving the curriculum to the point in which everyone is to be teaching the same thing at the same time, which makes differentiation and integration almost impossible.” And, “Daily aligned teaching stops differentiation and stops the ability for the teacher to move ahead when the kids are getting it or stop and reteach when a kid is just not getting it. What happens to the kid who does not have the opportunity to get help because they work, take care of younger siblings, or have parents who cannot help?”
Even those who work in supportive educational environments struggle between meeting requirements and tending to the needs of students. A third grade teacher talks of the time pressures, “Coming back from PE I see that the class is upset about lack of sportsmanship in the game that was played. I have a math lesson that I am ready for and that I really need the full 50 minutes for. Will it really be time well spent going on with Math or will most (if not all) of the students be preoccupied in trying to process what happened on their own? I know of many teachers who would march on with the lesson, only having to come back days later as the class was not on task with it and missed most of it!”
But as our fourth grade teacher explains, sometimes they can find the answers in the problem, “Believe it or not, the modules that New York State has developed to teach the Common Core have lots of built in time for students to work with partners and groups in which all students share and are acknowledged.” Another expands by pointing out that, “Teachers must walk the walk, understand and appreciate differences, know every individual. It takes longer, but not really if you work it into the practice.”
One school leader makes the case that this is not a zero sum game, that in fact, children learn better, feel better, and perform better in caring environments. Her school has developed a multi-pronged approach to strong social-emotional literacy through focused programming, curricular integration, and parent involvement. And, “Although we are not required to do it, we do the state testing to have an apples to apples comparison of our data to the local public schools...we believe that if you have quality teachers who teach creatively and responsively and cultivate critical thinkers, then you will have kids who do really well on the tests through an authentic curriculum. The teachers are clear, and the assessments are performance assessments, the curriculum is brained-based and the kids see themselves as scientists, authors, and artists. They have agency over their learning. This translates to engaged learners.”
Education movements such as No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the National Common Core Standards, do not include social-emotional literacy in their standards. But as the maxim goes in education, we assess what we value and we teach what we assess. The New York Times article was largely focused on how SEL practices could be assessed, and if so, what are we actually looking for? It is much simpler to measure for the more superficial layers: attendance, increased test scores, and decreased disciplinary referrals, than it is for the deeper layer: a future productive life. As a means for supporting the whole child principles implemented in her school, one of our principals I spoke with tracks students for eight years after their fifth grade graduation. The data measuring high school completion, college attendance, and general well-being is used to compare their students’ progress to outcomes of other schools of similar demographics.
The ability for schools to prove that their students can perform well on the testing associated with these standards will determine the child’s path in school, and the evaluation of that child’s teacher. In New York, for example, the  Annual Professional Performance Review ties teacher evaluation to testing. The fear attached to this system does much to undermine schoolwide attention to the social and civic development of children and collaborative climate of the teaching community. But creating professional development opportunities that teach educators how to build social-emotional learning into the curriculum ensures that teachers are not feeling torn between academic and affective learning, but feel confident that their curriculum supports both kinds of learning. Literature and history are full of opportunities to “feed two birds with one seed.” What this cohort of educators have done is made use of the professional development opportunities for building their palette of approaches to cultivating caring classrooms. When these have not been available, many of them have researched and developed their own approaches. But they have also probed their academic curriculum for opportunities to reflect, build civic responsibility, and develop empathy and self-awareness.
I would contend that this is much harder and deeper work than meeting academicstandards, requiring a level of introspection on the part of the educators that is challenging to achieve. It takes leaders willing to hardwire it into the school culture. As one teacher said about collaborative culture, “setting the expectation and working it into the schedule ensures it happens.” In David Levine’s work with teachers and students he offers an authentic culture-building process as opposed to another curriculum to cover, and the feedback he gets from building leaders and teachers is that “the school feels transformed!”

Fitting Caring In: Teaching as Social Activism

As a child of two public school teachers, growing up on the upper west side of Manhattan in the 1960’s and 70’s, I developed an almost a priori assumption that to be a teacher was to be an activist. Teachers were weighing in on pedagogy and bringing progressive education into our neighborhood schools like missionaries. They were influencing policy such as local control of schools. And they were debating the role of the city’s powerful teachers’ union. Activism is perhaps a natural extension of the educator’s practice and purpose.
It was shocking for me to join a much transformed profession, twenty years later. To feel so silenced by my colleagues, my union, and the profession as a whole, presented enormous frustration that I learned to circumvent by pursuing change through more indirect channels, such as the curriculum. But although many teachers feel oppressed by the focus on testing, it was gratifying to find that those I spoke with were also finding their own ways to pursue activism in the classroom. One principal shares that, “In a school like ours, teachers do see themselves as social activists whether they are involved in the anti-testing movement, the union, or in their teaching in the classroom. It is in what we are teaching as well as what we are doing. Cultivating student voice develops their ability to advocate for themselves, their ideals, and others.”
One educator I spoke with echoed these sentiments by saying that, “Teaching is definitely a form of social activism, as you are intentionally creating lessons that will help create a shift in perspective for your students—either looking at a point in history through a different lens, discussing what a character in a story may be feeling, or the like. When teaching about the civil rights movement, be sure to include the various perceptions and what they were rooted in. Are there times when our own prejudices have prevented us from acting?” A high school art teacher shares, “In the hardest times at our high school, I have really felt like a cultural worker using art and culture to enable students to know who they and each other are. I felt that from the beginning they need to be able to understand each other. In the digital age, there are more kids living outside of social norms and I wonder how they will succeed.”
When the harshness of the economic gap is easily perceived and playing out in the classroom, another teacher notes that, “certainly when you are working with kids in poverty you can’t do that work and not feel compelled to speak up about what is right for kids. Whenyou see the divide...strictly based on what money can get you... Education has the potential to be the most democratic thing we can do...We just want things to be fair.” Here is the heart of the matter: Are we feeding them when they are hungry? Connecting parents to needed services? Nurturing our students’ strengths? Helping them to identify and appropriately express their needs and feelings so they can become effective self-advocates and citizens? If Bloom is correct, then no kid is learning who does not have someone accountable for meeting these essential needs.
And through the practice, as another teacher describes, “Teachers take on an activist role because it is their responsibility to guide children. This is a very powerful and difficult role that requires diligent self-reflection, because a teacher needs to keep each whole child’s development in mind while managing the emotional environment of many. The goal is to help children develop expansive and inclusive thinking-and-doing habits, rather than narrow and exclusive ones.” With our children facing so many hurdles to surmount, it is critical that we educators see ourselves as activists in their lives. With so many profound challenges to human survival upon us, it is critical that our students have models and opportunities for positive social activism. How do we act to support their attempts at these hurdles? What will our mark have been on their lives? What helps us to identify our own personal change agency so that we can effectively shape the school environment for the benefit of children?