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  • Gina Olabuenaga

Content Strategies for Self-Awareness: An SEL Connected Book Preview

Updated: Apr 2

This is an excerpt from the book SEL Connected by Alicia Peletz, Gina Olabuenaga, and Kristy Lathrop (Applied Coaching for Projects 2021), chapter 1, on CASEL's SEL Framework (2020) "Self-Awareness".

"Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom." - Aristotle


We perceive the world through the lens of self. Accurately and honestly naming and reflecting on our identity requires first and foremost the skill of self-awareness. CASEL (2020) defines self-awareness: the abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. These are further distilled into a set of capacities:

  • Integrating personal and social identities

  • Identifying personal, cultural, and linguistic assets

  • Identifying one’s emotions

  • Demonstrating honesty and integrity

  • Linking feelings, values, and thoughts

  • Examining prejudices and biases

  • Experiencing self-efficacy

  • Having a growth mindset

  • Developing interests and a sense of purpose

Through these capacities, students develop an understanding of their identities, cultural assets, and positionality to power. As stated in the introduction, the extent to which social and emotional learning can be used to promote equity is based on the explicit and intentional focus through teaching and enactment. Let’s take a look at an example:

Strategy: Mood Meter

What it is: A tool outlining a continuum of feelings

Capacity: Identifying one’s emotions


General SEL Focus

Students learn vocabulary for various emotions and practice accurately identifying their emotions.


SEL for Equity

In addition to learning the vocabulary, students explore the underlying causes of their emotions and connect them to personal, social, or cultural identities. They also consider the impact their emotions have on others.

As you review the strategies in this section, consider how you will explicitly address equity. When done well, students have the ability to “interrogate their power and privilege, as well as racism, homophobia, sexism, and other forms of violence, to consider what changes they can make within themselves and their world to achieve more equity.” (Simmons, 2019)


In this, and for every section that follows, we present three (3) strategies. It includes information such as activity steps, scaffolds, and tips for online facilitation. At the end of each strategy, there is the story of a strategy in action we call the "spotlight." This is intended to provide shape and color to the strategy in the context of a specific content lesson and grade level.


One of the promises of this book is a bridging of social and emotional learning strategies into everyday content lessons and experiences. And while three is a good start, we wanted to offer more. Below we present additional examples, one content example for each domain capacity. The examples are written at a high-level to allow for adaptation across grade levels. Keep in mind that the examples are merely that, examples. Capacities can be taught within any content area or grade level.


 Capacity Content Examples Integrating personal and social identities World History - Examine the social identities of a place and time and compare that to students’ personal and social identities in the present day or place. What observations, wonderings, or critiques do they have? Identifying personal, cultural, and linguistic assets Math - In collaborative problem-solving opportunities, students showcase their unique approaches to their solutions to both determine and celebrate student assets. If appropriate, discuss how these are aligned or in conflict with current norms. Generate ideas for how to lift up and celebrate different ways of knowing.  Identifying one’s emotions Music - Connect musical pieces to the emotions they evoke within students. Present a variety of pieces across cultures and times. Engage students in an exploration of the creator’s intent, message, and impact. How has culture or identities shaped responses to the musical pieces? Demonstrating honesty and integrity Physical Education - Learn the rules and principles of a game or sport. Elevate the importance of playing with honesty and integrity and ask students to make commitments to each other about the rules of play. After the game (or during if appropriate) students reflect on the extent to which they demonstrated honesty and integrity. They then set goals and identify steps to shift actions or behaviors to be more in alignment with the capacity.  Linking feelings, values, and thoughts Art (History) - Review art from a given time period. Identify the feelings that come up. What thoughts are attached to those feelings? How are those connected to students’ values? Explore how personal or cultural values shape responses to a piece of art. Why is that? To this, you may include an examination of who the artists are and their context. What do we notice about these artists? Why are they valued?   Examining prejudices and biases Media Literacy - Students examine an event (ideally current and relevant to students’ life, identities, histories, or communities) from various perspectives and media sources. Students consider and discuss various layers within that event such as: what language do they use to talk about the event? What details do they emphasize or omit? Then take the work inward. What reactions do they have to the pieces they reviewed? Do they agree or disagree with their perspectives or how they presented the material? How might those feelings be connected to prejudice or bias?  Experiencing self-efficacy Writing - Design a writing process that includes a number of manageable, well-supported development steps and multiple revisions. Doing this will create small wins along the way as they move towards developing a larger piece of work. Make the revisions about small, targeted adjustments (e.g., revise just the topic sentences) rather than rewriting the entire piece.   To further support the development of self-efficacy through the writing process, have students do two types of reflections or check-ins: emotional check-ins and metacognitive reflection. The former is about identifying emotions in order to know if students are experiencing self-efficacy. If they are not, provide coaching as needed to interrupt self-defeating and deficit language and offer additional scaffolds to ensure they can feel successful with the task.  (E.g., Student - I can’t do this. Teacher - You can’t do it yet.) With the metacognitive reflections, students should consider their learning successes, where they are stuck so that they can practice advocating for their needs.   Having a growth mindset Science -  During science labs or experiments, make it a practice to name mistakes and challenges and use them as opportunities to learn. This requires a positive, asset-based approach in order to help students adopt a growth mindset. Periodically, take a moment to reflect on learning over time so students can take notice of the change and growth they have experienced. The idea to help them see they can do hard things and use mistakes or challenges to think flexibly and deepen their understanding.  Developing interests and a sense of purpose World Language - Provide students the space to lean into their interests by asking them to pick a topic that is important to them. Ask them to engage in learning about that topic in the target language. Challenge them to prepare for and engage in a conversation with someone about that topic. If possible, bring in additional native language speakers to participate in those conversations with students. This will give relevance to their learning and allow them to more deeply explore their own areas of interest.

Want the rest of the book? Subscribe to our website to receive your free copy starting on February 15th, 2020. In the meantime, check out some of our other SEL blogs below





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