Teaching as Soul Work

“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do
to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul.
Struggling souls catch light from other souls
who are fully lit and willing to show it” (Estes 1992).

A couple weeks after the state of Illinois shutdown for the coronavirus, I met via Zoom with members of the Association of Illinois School Library Educators (AISLE). Our conversation was focused on sharing children’s and young adult literature online. I had shared an early draft of the presentation with iSchool graduate students in IS445: Information Books and Resources for Youth.

The astute grad students pointed out to me that the information in the presentation was persuasive, but I hadn’t made time to access librarians’ emotions around school closures. (We devoted time in our online course for sharing and developing empathy for one another’s shelter-in-place situations, but the emotional component was missing from the presentation I had intended to share as a conversation starter.)

Answer Garden Image; odd- it is different working from home; without direction; feeling helpless and underutilize; restless; worried for my children from hard places; overwhelmed, useless, frustrated with the news/misinformation; worried about our upcoming remodel; missing interaction with othersI took students’ feedback to heart and opened the webinar by asking school librarians to share how they were feeling about their schools being closed. Most shared in the chat; some recorded their feelings on the AnswerGarden web above.

Educators’ Caring Revealed
I believe most members of the general public have been previously unaware of the depth of caring for other people’s children felt by the adults who work in schools. One would hope that the front-page stories of classroom teachers, librarians, and other educators going above and beyond for their students would have expanded the public perception of the extent of educators’ dedication to their students and how critical their work is to the health of our economic, social, and civic lives. The parades and special recognition families have shown educators is also a testimonial to how much families value educators.

That said, I’m sure that many of us have also noticed how educators are expressing their feelings of disconnection, loss, or even grief via social media. While many school districts across the country have spent decades focusing on Social Emotional Learning, or SEL (“the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” (CASEL), there has been little talk of how the pandemic has affected the social and emotional lives of educators. (With a nod to an outstanding exception: Courtney Pentland’s 5/14/20 Knowledge Quest blog post: “It’s Important to Give Grace to Others but Also to Yourself.”

Social Emotional Teaching
What we haven’t been talking about, to the degree I believe is necessary, is Social Emotional Teaching (SET). I believe the abrupt closure of schools and the precipitous change from face-to-face to an online environment environment has brought the commitment and dedication of educators to light. And it has also resulted in educators struggling to deal with feelings that are deep rooted in all people whose work is centered in service to others, or soul work. Here are some of my ideas about applying the SEL definition to SET.

Understand and manage emotions: Through exchanging heartfelt feelings with our colleagues, families, and friends, educators can navigate the uncertainty of these times. Increasing self-awareness helps us understand and manage our emotions.

Set and achieve positive goals: Keep previous schedules (waking, working, eating, sleeping) or establish new routines to meet the changing demands of teaching from a distance while maintaining a semblance of normal in family life. Keep a journal to log both daily accomplishments and gratitude for blessings.

Feel and show empathy for others: Educators are empathy experts. The pandemic creates an opportunity for educators to express their empathy for students, families, and colleagues as well as for complete strangers. It is critical that we authentically model the importance of empathy in social and civic life. As Courtney Pentland observes, it is also a time to show empathy for ourselves.

Establish and maintain positive relationships: We must remain vigilant in noting points of light and expressing optimism when interacting with students, families, and colleagues. Stay connected–heart to heart, mind to mind, soul to soul.

And make responsible decisions: All decisions at this time are made in an environment in which credible information is evolving. Make decisions based on verifiable information and be prepared to alter decisions when new information becomes available. This may be most important for educators in terms of individual student’s ability to learn in the online environment, or the ability of families to support student learning.

Teaching Is Soul Work
The academic year has come to a close for many schools in the Southwest. Students, educators, and families deserve credit for completing this academic year in good standing.

The words on the Collier Elementary School marquee, “we miss you,” are not hollow (see 100% Online K-12 Learning). The faculty and staff in schools around the country and across the globe have been sorely missing their students and families. Many are currently missing the end of the year rituals that celebrate shared learning journeys and help students and educators transition to the next chapter in their lives.

These are among the difficult losses we are experiencing as a society.

As Courtney Pentland suggests in her blog post, let’s give grace to ourselves as well to others. Let’s stand up and show the deep caring of our educator souls and be prepared to continue serving students, families, colleagues, and our communities to the best of our ability whatever may come.

Works Cited

Collaborative for Academic, Social, Emotional Learning (CASEL). “What Is SEL?” https://casel.org/what-is-sel/

Estes, Clarissa Pinkola. 1992. Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. New York: Ballantine Books.

Image Credit: Created with AnswerGarden.ch

This entry was posted in Change, Community Building, Reflection and tagged by Judi Moreillon. Bookmark the permalink.

About Judi Moreillon

Judi Moreillon, M.L.S, Ph.D., has served as a school librarian at every instructional level. In addition, she has been a classroom teacher, literacy coach, and district-level librarian mentor. Judi has taught preservice school librarians since 1995. She has taught courses in instructional partnerships and school librarian leadership, multimedia resources and services, children’s and young adult literature, and storytelling. Her research agenda focuses on the professional development of school librarians for the leadership and instructional partner roles. She has published four professional books; the most recent is Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy (ALA 2018). (See the book study on this blog.) Judi earned the American Library Association's 2019 Scholastic Library Publishing Award. She is currently editing and contributing to Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage (Libraries Unlimited 2021).

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