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Social Awareness

Please take a moment to check in on the class feelings board if you would like.


Social awareness is the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community supports. The main focus of social awareness in SEL is typically on recognizing and understanding other people's feelings.


Social awareness requires practice with active listening and observing others. In order to do this, students must learn to:


1. Truly listen, and to make the speaker feel heard

2. Pay attention to tone of voice

3. Watch facial expressions and body language

4. Observe the full context of the situation, and anticipate potential needs/wants

5. Observe and discuss social norms

6. Express empathy


An important part of learning social awareness is developing relationship skills. Better relationship skills lead to increased connection, which we are neurobiologically programmed to desire. With COVID19 and our shelter in place orders, that connection has suddenly been yanked out from under us, creating a sense of loss and loneliness for many.


A key relationship skill often practiced in school settings is collaboration. Collaboration can be actively taught as part of group projects, free play, and even during class discussion. Effective collaboration includes being open minded, developing trust, and conflict resolution skills. I typically let students know that they will be evaluated on their collaboration skills as well as the content of their work, and include collaboration skills on student rubrics for all group projects.


Empathy and Appreciation: One fun way to build empathy is to give your students an 'Acts of Kindness' challenge. Explain that to do effective acts of kindness, students need to observe others and think about what would make the recipient happy - not what the student themselves would want. Ask students to document their acts of kindness, ideally in a way that can be shared with their classmates. For example, you could ask students to create short videos about their act of kindness using FlipGrid or to create Padlets. For older kids, share the Berkeley study on acts of kindness and their impact on happiness. The study discovered the greatest benefit to self came from doing 5 acts of kindness all on the same day, once a week every week for 6 weeks. Teenagers could even do my #fiveacts challenge on Tik Tok!


Social Detective: You can teach students active listening and observation of others by playing 'social detective.' Ask students to think of a situation coming up in which they will be interacting with others. At this time, it will most likely be other family members in their household. Have students draw the anticipated scene and place each family member in it. Then ask students to give each person a thought bubble, and to write in one thing that person might be thinking - something the person might be feeling strong emotions about or hoping for.


Another way to play social detective is to use picture books. Stop at an interesting scene and ask students to notice everything they can about the scene and the people in it. This can also be done with movies. Here is a sample worksheet from the Michelle Garcia Winner Social Thinking series.

Cry Baby: This is a simple 'social detective' type activity as well. Show students a picture of a crying baby, and ask them to think of all the reasons a baby might cry. This is particularly effective as young babies can not yet talk to communicate their needs, and so students must work hard to be observant and practice empathy skills.


Turtle Time: Ask students to sit and observe people by acting like a turtle. They should move their head around in a slow, exaggerated fashion. Ask them to write (or draw) everything they notice. Then ask them to think of a behavior that would be appropriate for them when entering that scene...and one that would be inappropriate. For example, if their brother is having a school video chat, it would not be appropriate to be loud as they enter that scene.


(They do not have to be turtles. They could be spies with binoculars, or anything else they can come up with!)


The Main Point: Host small group virtual chats, ideally with 2-4 students per session. Ask students to take turns sharing a short story about their day, and ask other students to listen carefully. Then have each student practice showing they were listening by identifying what they felt was a 'main point' in the story, along with an appropriate emotion word. An example might be, "It sounds like you felt really scared when your sister got sick."


Same But Different: Tell your students a statement in a neutral tone, and then practice saying it in different tones of voice. Ask students to differentiate the possible emotions and thoughts of the speaker.


Feelings Cards: There are countless online resources for creating a stack of 'feelings cards.' These are simply a collection of photos of people expressing different emotions. Ask students to identify what they notice in the photo, helping them make careful observations. Then ask them students what they think the person is feeling. I enjoy doing this activity with gifs, as they show a bit more of the natural movements of a person's body and face.


Whichever images you choose, please don't use emojis for your feelings cards. They teach very little, as they are not realistic expressions and have no body language.

Connection: Students are in need of connection to their peers, and as teachers we can serve as facilitators for this. Schedule video chats with students in small groups of 2-4, and send out a sign up sheet ahead of time. This allows students to sign up for slots with friends they are missing. If that does not work well for your schedule, you can also create 'break out rooms' in Zoom chats to allow a few students to be together during a full class video chat.


Some ideas for games students can play together virtually are Simon Says, Guess Who, I Spy, and Twenty Questions.


Vulnerability and Belonging Discussion: For older students, just a great TED Talk that can be spun off into a discussion about connection: Brene Brown and the Power of Vulnerability.


Next Up: Self Care



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