(1) This unit requires a thoughtful plan to build and maintain a culture of trust. These three pedagogies should be utilized in conjunction with the unit in order to help students build explicit connections, engage in discussions with diverse partners, express their own ideas clearly, and build on others’ ideas during discussions:
(2) Emotional intelligence fosters the following purpose: “the ultimate goal of the social emotional learning (SEL) field is to weave the teaching of social-emotional intelligence throughout children's education so lives are enhanced and crises are rare” (Brackett and Divecha, 2020, 28). But, as the authors point out, “we have a long way to go” (28). Research has shown that SEL skills can be taught when embedded with fidelity. However, in order to “enrich relationships between teachers and students, and decrease aggression” (28), a culture of trust must be established.
“Emotions often are marginalized as a woman’s interest. And they’re frequently viewed as someone else’s issues, not one’s own. When we ask people if they need help learning to regulate their emotions, few people usually raise their hands. If we ask them if the people around them need help regulating their emotions, nearly all the hands go up” (28).
No quick fix, students will use the characters and their hardships as a shield to make personal connections. Instead of adding discomfort to their lives, strategic placement of class discussions will develop an ongoing culture of trust. Unfortunately, “many emotional challenges have roots in systemic social problems like inequality, racism, sexism, and poverty” (28). By acting on the research that proves successful for students, progress is inevitable.
(3) According to “Emotional Intelligence Predicts Academic Performance: A Meta-Analysis,” the Hierarchical Model of Emotional Skills are four critical skills necessary to support resilience in school leaders and reduce burnout. The four skills are: perceiving emotions accurately, using emotions to facilitate decision-making, understanding emotions, and managing emotions to up-
regulate positive emotions and down-regulate negative emotions. Using the appropriate hierarchical order will establish a culture of trust inside of the classroom, making the unit more valuable for students.
(4) Trust, appreciation, and respect are all grounded in self-knowledge, self-love, and self-regulation. “Bringing Mindfulness into the Classroom” is a reminder that maintaining a “great awareness of the present moment, as well as an open and caring heart and a sense of receptivity [will allow students] to learn something from others” (Reuben, 2012, 657). While these qualities are innate in some students, it is important to teach mindfulness in an authentic context. “Among other things, mindfulness teaches us how to work with distractions, and how to be open to whatever comes up with non-judgment and equanimity” (657). Sharing conversations sparked by footage, illustrations, news outlets, and social media posts will ensure that everyone does their part until justice is ultimately done. Targeting and soothing raw emotions will build a platform for students. Being open, receptive, clear, courageous, and compassionate with students will provide comfort.
(5) Foundational to students’ lives, students will explore their own happiness and effectiveness, in addition to their positive impact on others. According to “Gratitude and Appreciation,” we show gratitude by being grateful to someone when we benefit from their kind gestures. On the contrary, we are often grateful that we have access to people and things that improve our quality of life. Using a journal format to increase privacy and the degree of emotions students express, students can write about who they are grateful to and explain why they are grateful. This will explicitly pave a way for students to self-reflect and show appreciation for the people they consider to be important in their lives. Additionally, these positive statements of affirmations will increase actionable change for students who have experienced trauma.
(6) Explicitly building background knowledge requires tapping into student’s interests and experiences will increase the relevancy and deepen students’ understanding and knowledge of the symbolic meaning behind mirrors, windows, and sliding doors.
(7) Students should be prepared to undertake the added responsibility of being tough-minded and tenderhearted. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. explains how “we must bring together tough mindedness and tenderheartedness, if we are to move creatively toward the goal of freedom and justice” (King, 2010, 7). This is important for students to build a more robust sense of self in order to be productive members of society. Our open request for freedom and equality, namely nonviolent resistance, “avoids complacency and do-nothingness of the soft minded and the violence and bitterness of the hardhearted” (8). Sharing informative resources for students to take action or work towards internal change will pivot this unit into a more student-centered exploration of how far back inequality can be traced.
(8) Students are tuned in, watching the protests that have been going on across the nation, in some of our major cities, and right here in New Haven. The level of callousness and pride displayed in the most recent killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor have resulted in widespread protests. Social movements like Black Lives Matter at School, Black Lives Matter, Say Their Name, and I Can’t Breath are active examples of nonviolent resistance movements. We all have to rise up to work on dismantling racism in all of it's forms, through courageous conversations and actionable change.
(9) This situation has added to the pain, fear, and suffering that the COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed on our black and brown communities at large. Displaying explicit support of our families and students will highlight the racial and economic inequalities that have become pervasive in our society. Anger is acceptable; acknowledge that we stand with the protesters and not the violence. We will continue to fight against racism and bigotry in all its forms. Our community is hurting; we must stand united.
(10) Students will use this unit as the appropriate space to imagine educational reform, furthering a world where the lives and futures of students of color are valued and sustained. Undoubtedly, cultivating a genuine sisterhood and brotherhood will help students see “affirming visions of themselves” (Harris, 2007, 153). Students will envision the inequality more explicitly by looking metaphorically through their own windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors as Violet Harris declares in “In Praise of a Scholarly Force: Rudine Sims Bishop.”
“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books” (153).
Students will be required to tap into their abstract thinking toolbox in order to think critically about themselves. Highlighting countless personal experiences in the core text will help students feel more comfortable opposing the unjust systems that challenge us to act.
(11) For students who have experienced pain, they must develop a self-management plan to determine family expectations they will let go of, which cultural traditions they will let go of, and which expectations for the current generation they will not follow. By teaching the foundations of personal maturity, students will ultimately have more self-control and an improved quality of life. Jessica Minahan uses “Trauma-Informed Teaching Strategies” as a resource to remind educators that “traumatized students are especially prone to difficulty in self-regulation, negative thinking, being on high alert, difficulty trusting adults, and inappropriate social interactions. They often haven't learned to express emotions healthily and instead show their distress through aggression, avoidance, shutting down, or other off-putting behaviors” (30). Therefore, this unit uses social emotional learning as an umbrella strategy to increase the cultural relevance in the curriculum.
(12) When tapping into the root of some of the toughest undesirable behaviors, educators must learn to expect unexpected responses. Do not take anything personal; students are developing effective communication skills. “For traumatized students, the ability to learn and behave appropriately can be person-dependent. When they are with a safe and supportive adult, their behavior reflects that” (30). Choosing appropriate responses will reduce problematic behavior. “Giving supportive feedback to reduce negative thinking [will] foster a feeling of safety” (30). Building a supportive, judgment free space will provide more depth to future discussions.