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The ultimate goal of our social-emotional teaching has been to empower students’ socially-emotionally intelligent choices. This can be referred to as encouraging responsible decision-making, the term used in the SEL standards. We will explore ways to further fulfill this fifth SEL competency. Specifically, we will explore ways to achieve the three major objectives of this competency: to develop, implement and model effective decisions and critical thinking skills, to identify potential outcomes to help make constructive decisions, and to consider the ethical and civic impact of decisions.

First, we can remind students that we are always making choices, often without awareness that we are doing so. We can further remind them that these choices are based on assumptions, that are typically filled with exaggerations. They can be encouraged to pause, notice, and edit their assumptions, based on the tools they have been developing.

Students can be reminded that their choices have impact, whether or not they were aware of or planning to make them. Further, students can be helped to remember that our choices add up to the person that we become. Students can be encouraged to consciously “design” the person that they want to be by making conscious, thought out choices that align with that “design”.

Students can be helped to take on the responsibility of making socially-emotionally intelligent choices across various areas of their lives. Students can be helped to understand that when we make choices, we are doing so in response to our needs at the moment. Students can be reminded that they can make those choices thoughtfully, rather than react without filtering their decisions.

You can use a variety of activities to help students explore the options they have to meet their needs, and the skills and information they can use to make the most effective choices. You can help students predict the possible outcomes of their choices in various settings, giving them the foresight that can help them make choices leading to their most desired outcomes.

You can give your students an example of two friends who were arguing and have now angrily walked away from each other because each friend wanted to play something different. You can ask them what each person needed (to do what they wanted to do), how they felt, (frustrated) and whether they were responding thoughtfully or reacting (reacting). You can then ask the students to name an assumption they were making in the situation (I must get angry if things don’t go exactly the way that I want them to go, I have to pressure to always get my way).

You can then ask the students the information they could put to use and the skills they could employ that would help them make a more effective choice (two people can work together for a win-win solution, we can take everyone’s needs and perspectives into consideration, active listening, compromise.) You can then have the students write a rap, story, or draw pictures that illustrate this.

In order for this process to be most useful, it is helpful if the students apply it to themselves. You could ask the students to explore choices they make in a variety of situations in this way. They could explore situations such as struggling with school work, dealing with teasing, or frustrations with siblings.

You could suggest specific situations based on what you know about your students and their experiences. You can encourage students to work with on certain issues with which they struggle the most, and practice the skills that are most needed. You could ask the students to role-play the best possible choices they could make in these situations, highlighting the information and skills they utilized. In this way, you are providing an opportunity for a rehearsal for life.

As they are navigating a variety of situations, students can be reminded to pause and see what information they need to apply and which skills they would might use. Students can be helped to generate possible solutions to problems, and develop strategies to respond appropriately in unfamiliar situations, seeking help when needed, and exploring new opportunities.

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