Curriculum Approaches

The Art of SEL, Episode 3: Self-Management

In the third episode of The Art of SEL, Jonathan dives into the topic of self-management. Self-management is the ability to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. Through art education, we have a plethora of opportunities to help students develop their self-management skills. Jonathan talks in-depth about those art room opportunities today with art educator Chelsea Dittman and professional learning director Vince DeTillio.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Jonathan: We’ve all had those moments when we question, what was I thinking? When I was in the first grade, we were visiting family friends many hours from home. I had such an amazingly fun time that when it was time to pack up the car and head home, I didn’t want to leave. Wrestling with the emotions of returning to normal life and the end of a family vacation can be hard for anyone, let alone a seven-year-old. As we pulled away from their house, I did this super impulsive thing. I started to bite tiny holes into the plasticky fabric on the inside of the door of my mom’s car. To this day, I cannot tell you why in the world I did this, but I remember it and my parents’ response, a few miles down the road. I made this impulsive action because I was not equipped to successfully process and then manage my emotions.

I probably should let this experience go by now, but my inability to make sense of what I was feeling has stuck with me. Self-management is a continual process that adults struggle with as much as our student artists and it’s also the topic of today’s episode.

Hi. I’m Jonathan Juravich and today we’ll be exploring self-management on this episode of The Art of SEL.

A definition of self-management inspired by CASEL, is the ability to manage one’s emotions, thoughts and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. As we learn to identify our feelings and the environmental influence on our emotions, how do we learn to process and manage our responses? Art education provides more than enough opportunities to explore and practice self-management. A student who is frustrated by what they see in their head versus what’s on their page may react in very different ways if they’re equipped with self-management strategies. Do they keep trying and practicing? Or do they draw a giant X through the paper? Or tear it up and throw the paper away? The way a teacher handles paint water spilling may stick with a student for quite some time and have that teacher rethinking their response later. Because teachers have as much to learn about processing and managing their thoughts and reactions as anyone else. How do we genuinely explore this competency in reality?

In this episode, I’m joined by Vince DeTillio, the director of professional learning with Olintangy local schools in Powell, Ohio. Now spoiler alert, this is also where I’m a teacher. And Chelsea Dittman, an artist educator at Garfield Elementary School in Marion, Ohio. Vince has led the school district through professional learning experiences that focus solely on what happens to student learning when they’re equipped with self-management or self-regulation strategies. All right so Vince, do you have a descriptive word to tell me how you’re feeling right now?

Vince: I do. I’d say today, a word that really comes to mind for me or a feeling is just a feeling of being hopeful. Just so much, I guess, going through so much over the last year, but also seeing the weather change, being able to be vaccinated, to have my family vaccinated. I don’t know I just feel like the best is yet to come. There’s good things coming around the corner. And I think that’s the best place for me to be right now is feeling hopeful.

Jonathan: As we speak about our emotions and identifying them, an important part of that is also self-management. For you, what is your understanding of what exactly self-management is?

Vince: Yeah, I think it’s a work in progress that’s for sure. But I think what the one way that helps me understand self-management and I think other terms that get lumped underneath that is the idea of sort of becoming your own coach. I think it’s something that where I need to, as a learner, as an adult, as a person who has any goal, I need to get better and hone my skills for giving myself feedback, providing myself the support I need, assigning myself practice, things I need to work on. And then I really see that playing out in terms of my ability to monitor my progress, my emotional progress, my progress in my thinking, the progress in my behavior, but always kind of working towards a goal. Helping myself work towards that goal.

And then I guess the other way I also think a little bit about is what it’s not. It’s a way that I like to understand things. And this is probably a newer realization is that it’s not being self-absorbed it’s not being self-obsessed about you. It has a lot to do with how your behaviors, emotions and thinking are affecting others and being very cognizant of that. Whether it’s a student in a classroom or as an adult out in the quote-unquote real world.

Jonathan: I also think of though about my seven-year-old daughter, as she’s learning to ride a bike, because she has taken on the practice of telling herself, “You got this, don’t give up.” Talking to herself as she’s doing it. And I’m like, this is amazing. And you do got this.

Vince: I thought you told her that.

Jonathan: No.

Vince: Well that’s awesome. Well, we’re both teaching our daughters how to ride a bike right now. That’s awesome. I’ve been trying to teach my daughter that and I’ve been saying, “Close your eyes, see yourself riding the bike, feel the wind in your face.” And she’s looking at me like, what are you talking about, Dad?

Jonathan: Yeah, like come on, Dad. But really, yeah, my seven-year-old, the one time I was running next to her and she started saying, “You got this, you can do it.” And she wasn’t talking about me, she was talking about herself.

Vince: She’s coaching herself.

Jonathan: Yeah. Yeah.

Vince: That’s cool.

Jonathan: In a school day though, it’s no secret, there is so much stuff to cover, so much content. And I think about why is it important that we as educators support students’ ability to self-manage their emotions and thoughts? there’s so much going on so why is it important to do that?

Vince: If we’re educators and we’re here to, because we believe that learning and especially deep learning is important, which I think most educators believe that. I think we have to be concerned with creating classrooms and conditions for students to not only think about content, but also think about how they’re feeling, to set their own goals. We have to pair these together. I think if we don’t pair these skills, like self-management with learning, I think you get surface-level education. I think you get just rote memorization and not much transfer outside of the classroom. But I think what our best teachers have realized is that the deep learning that they get from their students is because they’re also working on these dispositions, these skills behind the scene. I think that’s the first thing for me is you have to change your mindset. This is not on Friday, we’re going to talk about self-management.

This is it has to be embedded in the learning process. When I think about emotions and I think about emotional management for me, when things are challenging and the learning opportunities I create are challenging for you, you have to be willing to note your frustration, to also be proud of yourself. You have to ask yourself, “Is this the best emotional state for me to be in right now? Do I want to change my emotion? Is this emotion helping the rest of the learners in the classroom?” Getting students and getting anyone really to ask themselves those questions is an important part of management and it impacts learning. We need to really teach students how to be these expert learners and expert learners know that when things aren’t going the way they want or when I’m stuck, when I don’t know what to do next, I need to look at my thinking and I need to have options.

And we call it metacognition, you call it whatever you want, but the idea of being able to adjust your thinking and saying, “Hey, I need another perspective on this. I’m stuck on this piece of art that I’m working on.” Or, “I’m stuck on this piece of pottery. I need someone else to look at this.” That behavior right there is self-management to me. Knowing that your thinking is not producing the results you want. I really feel like, again, both that emotional connection and understanding how you think are such integral parts of learning. I don’t see how self-management can be sort of divorced from real learning.

Jonathan: Well, and just today, with first grade, we were making these emotional self-portraits. They’re drawing themselves with different emotions and I had a first grader that was so angry, flat out angry and frustrated that he threw his papers on the floor, he sat there crying. He didn’t have the self-management skills to really control and understand the behaviors he was going through, his emotions. And in the end, yeah, sure he finished the work. It looked great. But for him and for everyone in the classroom, everyone, it was a challenge. Today was hard. And there’s a kid right there that its self-management strategies would really be important. Critical.

Vince: Yeah. That also exemplified the idea that we didn’t talk about behavior, but how behavior for me is really that it’s the visual piece of emotion and thinking. And whatever he threw across the room, that was sort of manifested from how he was feeling and how he was thinking. And again, teaching students those strategies to regain your focus, to change your emotional state. And I said this before, it’s a work in progress with me. But I think these are things that adults are working on all the time. I’m constantly working on refocusing, even today. I struggle with that and it’s every day. I come in saying, “Okay, I got to focus more than I did yesterday. What can I do differently? How can I set up my day differently? How can I give myself breaks?” These are all self-management strategies that I’m still toying with as an adult learner, thinker and someone who has a job where that kind of requires that.

Jonathan: Well and that’s interesting too, because so often we’re like, wait, why does that kid not know how to behave or manage their emotions or things like that? But we’re struggling with that daily as well. That realization that, it’s our own self-awareness as well, that those are the things that we’re experiencing so of course a seven-year-old will too. Or an 18-year-old.

Vince: Yeah. And then when we think that we treat these things as something that you arrive at, I think that’s a real problem. And that probably goes back to why it feels like one more thing sometimes. If you’re treating it like something we have to get through and then I’m an expert self manager and I am for the rest of my life. I just don’t think that’s the way these kinds of skills or dispositions. You have to constantly be practicing and you have to put yourself in situations where it is tough to do those things. And I think that we know that when we challenge ourselves, these skills become much, much more important to our success.

Jonathan: Well, so as the supervisor of professional learning, you help lead the district through a focus for an entire year’s professional development on self-management and self-regulation. And were there any surprises or new revelations that were kind of uncovered by taking an entire district of educators through that topic?

Vince: This is, I think a really huge turning point in how we’ve tried to present professional learning versus development in the district is that giving teachers a chance in space to think about the idea on their own terms in their own lives first. Not going directly to, how do I teach this to kids? It’s no, what are my strengths as a self-manager, self-regulator? What are my weaknesses? Talk to their peers. What can we do in my school in my classroom to support the adults developing these skills? We underestimated how much people wanted to talk about that. I think we thought there’d be a few buildings who were kind of down that path in our district, but I’d say overwhelmingly people really enjoyed that letting themselves keep that conversation around the adults and adult learning and adult behaviors in the room.

We worked hard and we’re working hard to continue to get away from this idea of teaching these skills. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with curriculums that are out there, but I think we got to think about that differently. I think we learned that number one, the adults have to model it. We have to model it. That’s the first step. Whenever anyone asks me “Well, how do we teach these things?” I say, “Well, first of all, we do it and then we talk about it with kids and why we think it’s important and how we struggle.” And then the second one, we always think about it in terms of how do we create the conditions for them to exercise management, to exercise regulation? They have to have choice. They have to have space. Room to fail. That’s second.

And then I think the third part is the way we reinforce those behaviors is through celebrating them. Then if John exercises self-management after failing a few times and does something, we call that out, we name it, we put it on the wall. We congratulate it. And I think to me, that’s a more manageable way forward with this. And I wouldn’t have said that at the beginning of sort of that journey, but now I feel really confident that that is my answer. And that’s sort of the entry point for people who are interested in sort of changing the way their classroom looks, feels.

Jonathan: Chelsea Dittman teaches elementary art and has made it part of her personal drive to focus on self-management in her classroom, but also on the hiking path. Chelsea, if you could choose one descriptive word right now to express how you’re feeling, what would it be?

Chelsea: Right now, honestly, after the second day back to school five days a week, I’m a little bit tired. I was thinking about how I was feeling a little bit yesterday and I was feeling more grateful. And I think I was thinking about it just now and I think it just depends on the day and you have to kind of give yourself that grace to not be stressed out when you’re feeling a little tired or you’re feeling a little like, oh, I need a break. I need some rest. But I think, tomorrow’s another day. It’s one of those jobs where there’s a little bit of ups and downs sometimes.

Jonathan: Grateful then tired and then maybe tomorrow is grateful and tired.

Chelsea: Yes, both. You can be both simultaneously.

Jonathan: Yeah. I feel like that’s actually an existence that I live in quite often and haven’t actually acknowledged it.

Chelsea: Right. I’m just trying to be super real. I think we do such a large amount of work throughout the day and especially going back five days a week, I forgot how much work I do with a full classroom. But I’m also so grateful that we’re finally at this place, we’re finally back in the classroom with our kids. We’re finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel and I’m like I said, I’m just so grateful that we’re finally at this point after almost a full year of a pandemic.

Jonathan: And tired and that’s cool. As we talk about self-management in the classroom, how can art teachers support their students’ development of these self-management skills? We know they’re important, but how can we as art teachers be a part of this development?

Chelsea: I think as an art teacher, one of our roles that is so important is teaching our kids that it’s okay to fail. And also using that failure as a catalyst for learning. In my classroom, I really try to focus on guiding students through their emotions, especially when they’re overcoming obstacles. I have a choice-based classroom so not only are they making choices, but sometimes those choices don’t work. Sometimes they need problem-solving and I just want to make sure that at the end of elementary school in my art room, they’re comfortable with that ambiguity and failure. And I kind of have to walk them through that. It’s a learned skill. And I think art is one of those amazing places where you have that safety net. You’re able to walk through how to self-manage. When I’m talking to students, I try to use guiding questions, give them helpful ideas to start thinking positively.

There’s always times when a kid just wants to throw it away or they want to start over, but I’m a big believer that learning to think like an artist means learning to see the possibility in something, learning to see those happy accidents, beautiful oops moments and just see those as opportunities for learning, but also growth. But I think it’s hard. You just have to always maintain your calm too. And keep a neutral tone, redirect some negative thoughts and emotions, sometimes actions. But I think we have students for six years and we get to see them through this process of learning how to become comfortable with failures and become comfortable with making choices and learning from them.

Jonathan: Yeah. And I appreciate so much that you kept mentioning, it’s learning, it’s a learning process. They’re learning because it’s not like you wake up one day and you know how to self-manage. I’m still learning. You’re still learning. Our students are making their way through this and it is this learning process. And I think about when a student gets frustrated with their work. Because even as artists, what they see in their head isn’t exactly what comes out on the paper. And this happens all the time, but it’s a huge opportunity for us to talk about self-management. And I’m sure this happens in your classroom as it does to mine. And how do you support students through this frustration of not bringing to life what they think is going to happen in their head?

Chelsea: Right. Well, I think there’s a lot of anxiety that comes with not knowing the right or wrong answer sometimes with our students. I think they live in this world where they have to have the right answer. And I think in our room, we have to help them unlearn that and make sure that they understand that this is a safe place and they can fail and it’s okay. But also like you said, I’ve had frustrated students and you just have to come at it from a point of, hey, I’ve been there too. When we start to think like artists, we need to understand that, like this happens all the time and we have to think positive. A lot of times I try to kind of redirect.

If they’re kind of in a negative spiral or they’re thinking, I want to give up on this or I don’t like where this is going. I just try to say, “Okay, what are some things that went well on this?” Because most of the time, most of the project is amazing or there’s a lot of things that they really tried on or they took chances on. But I also think when you have this big obstacle, you don’t see those things anymore. I try to kind of redefine it in that way. And then I also talked to them, “What are the possibilities moving forward? We’re at a crossroads, what are the possibilities for this artwork?” And I think that’s the fun part. And you have to see the excitement and help them learn how to do that.

Sometimes I present, “Okay, well let’s try this. Have you thought about this? What if we did this?” And sometimes they end up liking the artwork even more when they kind of change directions. I don’t know. It reminds me of the book, Beautiful Oops! I always love teaching my lesson on Beautiful Oops! Because that book is an amazing example of how mistakes can turn into beautiful things in your artwork and how they help us not only learn, but see something through a more creative lens than we had even seen initially.

Yeah, I think there’s a lot of opportunities for learning, but also looking at something in a more creative way and you wouldn’t necessarily have that if you don’t have students who are frustrated sometimes. I look at it from the standpoint of my job is not only to make sure that my students are enjoying art and make something that they’re proud of but also they learned throughout the course of their art making how to overcome challenges that they will have along the way and they’ll have along the way for the rest of their life when they’re making art or outside of the art room.

Jonathan: I love something you said about your room being a safe space, because I think it’s something that as art teachers, we all want. We all want our room, especially for those of us that are elementary art teachers that may see our kids for six years. But what that proves is that social, emotional learning isn’t necessarily a curriculum. It’s also about the environments we create. It’s about the way that we interact with kids on a personal level, because for them to actually do all of the amazing things you just mentioned, they have to feel that it’s a safe space where they can make mistakes and then manage and process their way through them. It’s really powerful. What do you think about all the things that are happening?

Chelsea: I know and I think that’s another reason art teachers are so tired sometimes is we wear 90 hats. It’s being that supportive influence in kids’ lives, but also helping them learn to clean things up and manage a space.

Jonathan: And manage their own emotions.

Chelsea: Manage their own emotions.

Jonathan: Responses. Wow. But if we’re honest, because we’ve alluded to this already that art teachers need to have self-management strategies as well. Because we do.

Chelsea: Oh yes we do.

Jonathan: Yeah, yeah. If you don’t mind sharing, how have you learned to identify and then manage your own emotions and thoughts? Do you have a particular strategy that you feel has worked really well for you personally?

Chelsea: Yeah, I’m sure I’m not the only art teacher in the building when I say this, but it’s we’re overachievers. We also need, we need to help people. And I think at the beginning of this pandemic, I think probably a lot of us, including myself, had a lot of anxiety around, what is my new role? How do I help people? How do I help my students when I’m far away from them or teaching through a computer? And I think for me at that point, I knew, okay, I need to do something and kind of redefine what my self care looks like.

And I know we’ve heard that word a million times. It’s almost a buzzword during this pandemic, but it’s for me, I had to really start thinking about what brings me the most joy. And I was spreading myself so thin. I was trying to be so many places at once. I was also just trying to be busy so that I didn’t have to sit down and think about the state of the world and how crazy things were and the change. Sit with that change. And for me, really practicing gratitude. I got a gratitude journal and I started doing that. And honestly like, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it because it definitely works.

Jonathan: That’s awesome.

Chelsea: But I think just making some time to start your day, end your day, take a five minute break and really think about what are all the good things happening in my life right now? What are some things that even though it’s a pandemic or even though I’m struggling at home or I don’t know how to be a parent and a teacher with kids at home. I know so many people had that. What are some little moments of joy that I can be happy with today?

And then also I think that pairs beautifully with learning how to practice mindfulness. I think part of our jobs as art teachers is we not only teach our students how to see the world, but because we’re able to see through the eyes of children we’re able to be mindful and we’re not even realizing it. We’re learning to see the beauty in color. We’re learning to see the beauty in shapes. We’re learning to see the beauty in just teaching another human being how to exist in this world and make sense of it. And I think that’s the beauty of being an art teacher. But I think we need to really think about that for ourselves.

Are we making time to really just focus on what’s in front of us, experiencing it and being mindful and kind of seeing through the eyes of a child really. And I think for me, I’ve been taking a lot of hikes. I’ve been doing a lot of biking and for me, I’m not very good at just sitting down and meditating, but I don’t know if anybody really is. Even really practiced people are oh my gosh, looking at their watch. But for me, it’s just taking that time to appreciate the trees and the sunshine and just using your senses. And I would just tell anyone that whether it’s getting outside or whether it’s taking an hour for yourself and just to be alone, practicing mindfulness and maybe doing a little more research into how you can be more mindful is super impactful and I think amazing for self management.

Jonathan: Yeah. And I can remember, almost a year ago people said to me, “Oh, you must be making so much more artwork now that you’re at home,” and all of these things. And I was like, “Dude, no. I’m trying to take care of myself as a human and this is hard. And I’m also taking care of other humans and trying to teach.” And art making to me, wasn’t what I think other people wanted it to be for me too. It wasn’t this way to manage what I was going through at that moment. Now has it in the past? Sure. Really in the future, I’m positive it will. But it’s not like we can always go back to the same strategy every time because it’s a new experience. Does that make sense?

Chelsea: Yeah. And I actually, I kind of dove into art, but it was almost, for me it was almost like a bandaid. I was like, well, if I’m making something, I’m not thinking too much or I’m not being overly negative about the way the world is right now or I’m not overthinking all the changes that are happening in my life. And for the most part, it was really therapeutic, but then I look back on it and I said, “I was still looking for something to kind of cover up the things that I was feeling.” And you kind of have to sit with those feelings to really move through them. And I think that’s one thing we’re constantly learning as adults. I’m 30 years old and I’m still learning this. And I feel like, we have to constantly teach ourselves how to do it and then we can teach our students.

Jonathan: We’ve touched on this, but specifically, why is it so important that art teachers focus on their own self-management?

Chelsea: I know that probably everyone’s heard this quote, you can’t pour from an empty cup, but I think this year especially, we’ve had to really think about how we can fill up our own cup and what are those ways that we can be ready and excited to be a part of a classroom with amazing students? And sometimes like I said at the beginning, I’m a little tired today and I accept that, but I also know that I’m going to go on a hike later and I’m going to see a friend and I have put these things in place so that I can hopefully fill my cup up. And I think that we just need to practice self care, but we also need to be mindful planning our own happiness. A lot of us think, oh yeah, I just need to have some time alone or whatever. But I think for me being really dedicated to thinking, okay, what brings me joy? And I’m going to do that. I’m going to do those things and not feeling like you need to apologize for taking time for yourself.

I don’t know. I think we need to just be more intentional about creating places in our lives where we can feel true joy. And then when we come back to our students and we come back to our practice as an art teacher we’re able to give back so much more and we’re able to see through just a sunnier lens and everything seems a little bit brighter.

Jonathan: I love that intentionality because through all the discussions we’re having through this series, it’s this realization that yeah, we do social, emotional learning. We as art teachers are doing this work, but it’s about doing it intentionally. And making sure that as we’re working with kids, as where they’re walking them through these processes that we’re also walking ourself through it as well. Or hike through it.

Chelsea: Yeah. I’ll be hiking through it. Yeah.

Jonathan: What now? What do you do with this information? Well, here are three things to consider. One, one person’s reactions can influence another person’s actions and responses. What is one way that you can support a student through their frustration instead of getting frustrated yourself? Two, self-management practices, aren’t often a standalone topic of instruction in the art room. Or are they? Consider how your instructional methods already highlight and encourage positive self-management skills or how these skills could be more intentionally explored in the studio. Three, it’s important to consider your own self-management practices. Do you hike? Make art? Take a quiet moment in the car before going into the house? Whatever your strategy is, commit to it.

And how am I feeling right now? A little embarrassed. A little embarrassed that I shared a super vulnerable and seemingly odd story at the beginning of this podcast episode. And now I have to go call my mom and talk to her before the podcast comes out and will probably have to remind her that it even happened. But this experience has impacted who I want to be for my students as they process their self-management. We spent some time exploring self, now let’s turn to focus on others. I hope you’ll join me next time as we explore social awareness.

This has been The Art of SEL. Part of the Art of Education University Podcast Network. Tim Bogatz is our producer and Amanda Heyn is our executive producer and all of our episodes are engineered by the ever-reliable Amy Juravich. Thank you so much for listening. If you like what you hear, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you want more information on art and social and emotional learning, or anything else art education-related, please check out

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.