The Minimalist Educator Podcast

Episode 018: SEL is Not Program with Dr. Krista Leh

December 19, 2023 Tammy Musiowsky-Borneman
The Minimalist Educator Podcast
Episode 018: SEL is Not Program with Dr. Krista Leh
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Discover a fresh perspective on social emotional learning (SEL) with our esteemed guest, Dr. Krista Leh, founder of Resonance Educational Consulting. What if we told you that SEL is not just a program, but the essence of who we are and what we do every day? Join us as we peel back the layers of SEL, highlighting the significance of self-awareness and social-awareness, two often overlooked components in the whirl of self-management and relationship skills. With Krista's extensive background, we navigate how these skills intertwine with our thoughts, feelings, and emotions to shape our actions and daily interactions.

How ready are our graduates to face the real world? Krista emphasizes the need to equip our students with the essential SEL skills and dispositions to thrive beyond the academic sphere. Gain insights into how these nurtured skills enable our young leaders to interact effectively, build healthy relationships, and display resilience in the face of adversity. More so, the conversation takes a fascinating turn as we explore how our actions, decisions, and directions must align with the values of our school communities. This episode is a treasure trove of wisdom for those passionate about fostering a sustainable culture of learning and growth in our classrooms.

Dr. Krista Leh founded Resonance Educational Consulting, which supports educators in building meaningful, engaging, and sustainable cultures that enhance social emotional learning and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Her 24-year career in education includes being a high school social studies teacher, instructional tech coach, curriculum coach, and student leadership advocate. Krista was also an adjunct professor for a Master’s in Education program specializing in SEL. She designed and facilitated Methods of Research, Curriculum Design and Development, and Culturally Responsive Teaching. 

In 2012, Krista was one of 26 educators in the country selected as an ASCD Emerging Leader. Since then, she has worked with educators in nearly 30 states to feel more confident and competent in integrating SEL into learning communities.

Krista holds a B.S. in Secondary Education, an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction, and an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from Lehigh University.

This episode was brought to you by Resonance Education. Resonance Education are consultants who collaborate with educators to create comprehensive, sustainable, scalable cultures of social, emotional learning. You can find them at ResonanceEdcom.


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Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Minimalist Educator Podcast, a podcast about paring down to refocus on the purpose and priorities in our roles with co-hosts and co-authors of the Minimalist Teacher Book, Tammy Musiowsky-Borniman and Christine Arnold.

Speaker 2:

In this episode, christa Lay talks about how developing SEL skills will support students and teachers to be the best versions of themselves. Today's pet down pointer tells us to refocus on what kinds of people we want our students to enter the world. As. Dr Christa Lay founded Resonance Educational Consulting, which supports educators in building meaningful, engaging and sustainable cultures that enhance social-emotional learning and promote diversity, equity and inclusion. Her 24-year career in education includes being a high school social studies teacher, instructional tech coach, curriculum coach and student leadership advocate. Christa was also an adjunct professor for a Master's in Education program specialising in SEL. She designed and facilitated methods of research, curriculum design and development and culturally responsive teaching. In 2012, christa was one of 26 educators in the country selected as an ASCD Emerging Leader. Since then, she has worked with educators in nearly 30 states to feel more confident in integrating SEL into learning communities. Christa holds a BS in secondary education, a Master's in Education, curriculum and Instruction and an Ed Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Lehigh University.

Speaker 3:

On today's episode we are excited to have Dr Christa Lay, who is from Resonance Education Consulting, specialising in Social Emotional Learning Systems for Schools.

Speaker 4:

Welcome, christa. Hello, I'm so happy to be here with you both. Thank you for having me.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, we're excited to talk to you about your work and how it fits in really well with approaches to minimalism, because we know that when we're talking about social emotional learning, we're talking about working with people and that should be our priority in schools. But you know, sometimes that gets muddied up. But before we get into that, can you tell us a little bit about how you, a little bit about your path getting into the work that you do now? Oh, absolutely.

Speaker 4:

So I started off as a social studies teacher. I was in the classroom for 10 years and I actually didn't want. I didn't go into college wanting to be a teacher, but the pathway led me there and I just absolutely loved it. And I specifically chose high school because, while I had an amazing group of friends and a fabulous family, I still felt lost a lot of the times and trying to figure out who I was and how I fit in. So I was really looking forward to working with young people who were maybe experiencing that same thing and getting a chance to teach social studies. While I was there, I asked to be on a committee that we called the student assistance program, so SNAP. We called it student needs assistance programming, and we were helping students who were experiencing barriers to learning mental health, drugs and alcohol use and in one year we had a quarter of our students referred to the team for just concerns and trauma, and so it really got me thinking about how we could be more preventative and proactive as opposed to being responsive. And so how do we build up these skills within our students so that they're not having any issues that were harmful to their learning or to themselves physically and emotionally, or turning to drugs and alcohol. So I started learning about social emotional learning, looking at it from that aspect of being proactive and preventative, and what I realized is that it's not something that only certain students need, it's something that we all need. It's part of natural human growth and development.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I mean I've heard a lot of discourse recently about, you know, SEL lessons or units of work being focused on behavior and how we need to broaden that a little bit more. So it sounds like there is a lot more involved, ideally.

Speaker 4:

Absolutely, and I love there's. There's two things you said there. One, that we're creating these units around SEL, and our philosophy is that SEL is not a program, that there's not specific units and I know there's lots of programs out there because schools want support but SEL is who you are and what you do all the time, every day. You could start with a morning meeting or an advocacy period, but SEL isn't just contained to that 20 minutes or 45 minutes. How are you interacting with people throughout the rest of the day? And it's also not just about building relationships with other people. It's also about who are you, your self awareness, your self management, in addition to your social awareness, how you're viewing other people and how you're relating to other people and those decisions that you are making that align with who you are and what is best for you, but also what is best for the community around you.

Speaker 3:

You mentioned earlier to that kind of skill development piece and you noticed in the work when you started doing the work, that there was these skill gaps and some of the things that in our book we mentioned, like the importance of skill development To develop people versus like just delivering content and, you know, like trying to find the best strategies to help people. But can you talk about the importance, how important skill development really is and how it can help teachers prioritize what they're doing?

Speaker 4:

Oh, that was a fabulously big question.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, sorry I do that sometimes.

Speaker 4:

I think the first piece there is really looking at skill development, and so a lot of the programs that I feel like to Christine your point earlier are focusing on self management and relationship skills and decision making, but we're not giving students an opportunity to think about what is driving those actions and those behaviors and that is really going to our thoughts and our feelings and our emotions. And so we're finding that at least in my research and reading other people's research, I feel like there's a gap in self awareness and social awareness and more of a push for compliance around self management and relationship skills and decision making. And, tammy, going to your point here on skill development, it's one thing to talk about something and to define it. It's one thing else to actually put it into practice in context with the emotionality of a situation. And so lots of the programs will say, oh, we're going to talk about empathy or compassion or what it means to manage your stress, but we have to give students opportunities throughout the school day to practice developing those skills, and part of that means that they're going to fail and that they're going to make mess ups, and then how do we respond to that? So also part of SCL skill development is what happens when a student is still working on developing and not quite reaching, maybe, those benchmarks. In other words, they're making mistakes and maybe not interacting with people well or not managing their emotions. And how are we supporting them while also maintaining natural logical consequences, which is different than discipline?

Speaker 2:

I feel like a lot of people under the impression that we need SEL more now than we have in the past. Do you think that's actually a reality of the situation, or are we being too fragile or something? Is that a real reality?

Speaker 4:

That's another really great question. Social emotional learning has been around and of importance since back in the Greek times of like sacraties and Plato and all you know, but they've called it something different and so even throughout history it might not have been called social emotional learning, but it was called affective education or values clarification or character education, and so this is really just another iteration of it. What I do think is different about it is that when we're talking about character education or values clarification, I feel that there was more of an emphasis on a word and what the word meant, and not really about skill development, which I do think social emotional learning is more active than OK. We're going to focus on this value, if that makes sense, so that active practice is an integral part of it. And I was just on a call with some colleagues who also do social emotional learning work earlier today and we were talking about this and I feel that perhaps it was mentioned in the past, but our society was different then, the way that families were constructed and who made up families, and I do feel that if you study and I through as a history teacher, I understand these pieces what community meant was different and people were not as mobile as they are now, and so the groups of people who could provide supports for students was very different than what it looks like today. And so I think, to answer your question, it's always been at a very important need, but our society has been functioning differently and the way that we're supporting that development has looked a little bit different and has become different peoples. I don't want to say responsibility, but I do feel it's our responsibility as educators to help our students grow in those capacities.

Speaker 3:

So, thinking about this extra responsibility that educators have to develop these young people, it's not really right because it's just part of our job. That's why we're doing this. But how do you approach working with teachers, because you work with different teachers in different schools and districts around the country? How do you approach this idea that SEL isn't a program? Like we said, it's something that we do all the time but they're kind of worried about. Well, I have to keep working on these skills, but I have all this content to teach. Like, how do I manage that?

Speaker 4:

So I have like three thoughts coming at me at once here. One I don't think. Well, when you look at the skills, it's overwhelming. I don't think that anyone teacher needs to do all of those skills on their own. I think if we're very thoughtful and we're planned, if a teacher can pinpoint what skills do their students need is a natural fit for their content and their instructional practices, their physical classroom and their own personality, that's what can make it truly authentic. So as a social studies teacher, I don't need to follow or to explicitly integrate all 50 skills on my own, but let me narrow in and really, like you, prioritize what are the best skills that are a natural fit for my classroom and my personality and student needs and I really focus on those very explicitly. What does this look like, sound like, and co-create that with the students, while I know that the teacher down the hall is maybe focusing on some other skill sets. So I feel that sometimes our teacher community has become very disconnected and siloed. Where you're in your classroom doing your own thing. How can we open that back up again and say we're all working on this together. So it's not the counselor's responsibility to focus on SEAL or PE, teacher and health. We can all do something, and so when I'm working with different groups of people, I can say well, tell me more about who you are, in your strengths, what are you seeing as a need in your classrooms, and let's figure out a way that there's a natural fit to content, so that you don't feel it's taking away from your time but it's actually enhancing the learning environment in your classroom.

Speaker 2:

So obviously we care a lot about prioritizing. We talk about that within our triple P, with the minimalist educator and minimalist teacher Prioritizing by focusing on the individual needs and the cohort needs, absolutely. So if we're thinking about that even more, what would you love to see pared down or pared back or got rid of out of our SEAL work in schools? What would you like to just get rid of altogether?

Speaker 4:

I love this question and it fits in with the other thoughts I had with the question prior. I really think that as educators, it's not about filling students with knowledge, and I fell trapped into this because I got so close to my content, like I love talking about the Korean conflict and the Vietnam conflicts and I'm like, oh, but you need to know about this and this and that, and how do I fit it in? And one of my mentors, dr Todd Davies, was like if you focus on skill development, think of them as hooks on a wall and then you put the content on a skill and if you teach the students the skills, they can go learn any piece of content they want. And so I think about this with SEAL as well. Some schools might have created portraits of a graduate or skills and dispositions that they want their students who are entering into the world after 12th grade to have. And I would say, prioritize and pared down there, like truly what is essential. And I have three boys. My middle is graduating and going off to college, I have one who's going to be a senior next year. And when I ask them, what do you remember from social studies In all of their four years of high school. It's that Franz Ferdinand, his assassination, kicked off World War I. You ask him what do you remember about science? That the mitochondria is the energy of the cell. I'm like that's what you remember after four years. And so it's really not about what are you knowing and content, but what type of person are you, what skills? And so I would pared down, look at all of those SEAL skills and think about what type of person do you want to graduate and send off into the world and as a community? That might look different from one community to another and that's okay because that's based on cultural, social, linguistic identities. But then let's focus on those and pared down on those and what skills do we need to help develop? That will help students be the best versions of themselves and take away those cultural, social, linguistic identities and skill sets, and those skill sets will help them learn content. So I hope that answered your question, but I'm thinking that when we pared down, like that's what we need to do to help them learn content, if somebody says, hey, I graduated from XYZ school, what type of person do you want them to be, they're not going to ask what their test score was on the state test.

Speaker 3:

I think just the way you stated that actually was a great paradigm pointer that we always do at the end of an episode, which is like a thing to think about or a tip for just being more efficient. And if we think about who we want our kids to be when they're done school, you're right, we don't really care that they know what a cell body does. You know it's important, yeah, you got to know those things, but who are they and how are they going to be in the world? And if we don't focus on that skill development, I don't know. I kind of feel worried about if we aren't developing that.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, like, do they know who they are and what their value system is? And I think too, when you know who you are and how you show up in the world, you can better interact with other people and develop better relationships. And then, the more you learn about other people, the more it defines who you are or who you don't want to be. And I, you know, I think for my own kids, I want them to know themselves and feel confident about who they are, respectful and kind to other people and to value that other people have a purpose and things to offer in the world and that when they hit conflict, when they when things don't go their way, that, yes, they're going to be upset for a while, or sad or angry or frustrated, but then they pick themselves back up and pick another direction or figure out a way of working through that conflict or around it. You know, and that to me is more important than knowing friends for an end, which my old history self would not have said, probably yes. So I think it's really what is most essential and, in the busyness of our days and our school days, keeping that as our true north constantly and making sure that all of our decisions and our directions and our actions go in that direction and our actions go in that true north that we've selected.

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much for joining us today, Chris. It's been an absolute pleasure.

Speaker 4:

Thank you. I have enjoyed this as well. Thank you.

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much, and thank you everyone for joining us today. We'll see you next time. This episode was brought to you by Resonance Education. Resonance Education are consultants who collaborate with educators to create comprehensive, sustainable, scalable cultures of social, emotional learning. You can find them at ResonanceEdcom.

Speaker 1:

Be sure to join Tammy and Christine and guests for more episodes of the Minimalist Educator Podcast. They would love to hear about your journey with minimalism. Connect with them at PlanZPLS on Twitter or Instagram. The music for the podcast has been written and performed by Gaia Moretti.

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