Curriculum Approaches

The Art of SEL, Episode 8: It’s About More Than Kindness

In the eighth and final episode of The Art of SEL, Jonathan and his guests discuss how we take the learning from this podcast into the future. Jonathan talks to author and illustrator Jason Tharp and art educator Katie Pourcho about how they focus on kindness in their work. Jonathan wraps up the show with a reminder that SEL is an ongoing process for ourselves and our students, a look at how we can bring this learning into our classrooms, and thoughts on why we should be hopeful for ourselves and for others.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Jonathan: School fundraisers, no matter who we are, we have played a role in a school fundraiser. Maybe we’ve actually participated in organizing raffle baskets, or we have reluctantly purchased wrapping paper from the neighbor kid who shows up at the front door, or maybe we recall what it was like to be a kid, writing letters to our family members asking for money for the school wondering why we weren’t allowed to write letters asking for money for ourselves.

Several years ago, our school did a Walk-a-Thon fundraiser, where students and their teachers walked around a marked oval course. Students received sponsorship from family members based on how many laps they could complete. I’m sure you’re familiar with the model. During one session, I was walking with a group of three kids. We were walking pretty fast, but what was going even faster were their mouths. They shared just about anything that popped into their heads. What was most interesting is that with each passing lap, our group of fast walkers grew and grew.

When we reached about 15 kids and yours truly, they decided they needed to name our walking group. One kid yells out, “Mr. J’s Walking Club.” “No, thanks,” I said, “This is our club, not mine.” Then another kid, “The Weird Walking Club.” In my head, I considered how did we get from Mr. J to Weird? Now probably not the biggest stretch in the world, but still. Then another kid, “Celebrating our Uniqueness Club.” And there it was. At first, I had laughed out loud and then quickly regained control, smiled, and nodded in agreement.

Each of those kids, who in their own right were so very, very unique, decided while power walking that this was the name of our walking club for the next 20 minutes. I kid you not, they held their heads higher. They walked with a skip in their step. They welcomed anyone and everyone else that wanted to join us. These kids, who are now in high school, I can assure you they don’t remember that day. But I do. I do, because they got it.

They understood that as they celebrated their own uniqueness, they must value and celebrate others as well.

Hi, I’m Jonathan Juravich, and today we’ll be discussing what’s next for this, our last episode, of The Art of SEL. What is most intriguing about kids is that they are already hardwired to explore relationships and talk about the things that they notice, if we give them the space to do so. In each and every episode of this podcast, someone has brought up the notion of a safe space. Often, this has been the mention of the art room, or the people that make a space seem safe, as in a trusted adult.

In our Celebrating Our Uniqueness club, it was the safe space of the other students, and well, me. They felt like they could truly be themselves around me. That is a really empowering thing to consider, that other people feel safe enough around you to be authentically themselves. I know that after seven episodes there is this desire to say “Okay, what do we do next? How do I make any of this relevant for my own teaching context or for my life?” And maybe we just start small, by being courageous with ourselves and establishing a foundation of hope.

Today, we’ll talk with Jason Tharp, an author and illustrator, about the importance of self-kindness in small moments of courage, and elementary art educator, Katie Pourcho, who shares how SEL-infused art education encourages hope. Jason Tharp is the author and illustrator of It’s Okay to be a Unicorn, and It’s Okay to Smell Good, as well as several other books that focus on self-awareness, self-kindness, and the importance of those small moments of courage. Jason also has a YouTube channel of delightfully fun and quirky drawing videos called Wonder Friends. In this discussion, he reminds us that even for us as adults, our self-discovery is a process.

So, if you could choose one descriptive word to kind of express how you’re feeling right now, what would that be?

Jason: Oh, that’s a tough one. Enthusiastic in the future. Yes. Yes.

Jonathan: Yeah?

Jason: Yeah, very enthusiastic, yeah. There’s a lot of really cool things in the works, a lot of plans going on right now in discovering new avenues, kind of opening their eyes to a whole new world.

Jonathan: Well, our family is proud owners of many of your books, as well as T-shirts. My daughter has one that says “Kindness is Magical” with the unicorn on it that you’ve made. Yet, a full honesty, I often bristle at the word “kindness” because I feel like it’s often used as an excuse or it feels shallow the way that some people use it. I’ve had to come to terms with the description or a definition of kindness that it means stepping up and showing up for others and ourselves, for that self-kindness.

You’ve really recently been focusing on self-kindness. Why is it important to take time and consider self-kindness in our lives? Not just kindness for other people, but ourselves.

Jason: Yeah, absolutely. I think the big thing is that the way I look at the T-shirt is its kind of a bridge to the person that’s reading it and also as a reflective reminder if you see yourself in a mirror of it. For me, what self kindness has allowed me to do was to forgive myself, to understand myself, and to allow myself to fail and be okay with it. Those were huge hurdles for me as a kid. I really felt that I had to be perfect at all times, and if I wasn’t perfect there was something wrong with me, which led to as an adult growing into somebody that hated himself. It was destructive and it was doing things that were just self sabotage over and over, just never really being happy but putting the façade that you’re happy up.

It wasn’t until I really kind of broke through this idea of okay, great, kindness is cool to be nice to everybody else. If you don’t know that by now, then I mean come on. I think most of its people making money off putting a “kind” on a shirt and they’re like, “Oh yeah, wear a shirt. I’m kind.” But really for me it was about I needed to learn how to be kind to myself.

Jonathan: Yeah, and I’m thinking now about myself, because that’s what I do, and about that notion of self kindness. It ties in that self awareness of who I am, who I want to be, who I’ve been trying to be, and then managing all of those emotions and expectations. It’s heavy.

Jason: Yeah, and I think what it does it brings your awareness up. That’s the key I think to the whole thing, is that with your awareness of your emotions kind of guide you to where you’re going versus if you just go “I am going to be this way, and this is my only goal,” and you don’t bother to look at your emotions, you’re going to be down a road that just is going to lead to who knows what. “Why am I feeling bad about myself today?” Well, what am I telling myself? Am I looking in the mirror and looking at all of my flaws? Have I made a mistake by telling yourself “Man, you’re stupid. Why are you always doing this? You can’t do anything right.”

If you can catch yourself… It doesn’t mean all those things go away. I feel like if I can manage myself then I have a heck of a lot better chance at the world.

Jonathan: You already mentioned this, but I think that there’s often this notion that kindness is downplayed as something that’s docile or meek. I think about a video that I saw kids here at school watching, where it was like the kindness character was represented by a big smiley pink heart. And yet, I believe that kindness for self and for others can be this brave courageous act. I see that in the characters in some of your books. Can you share how kindness in that authentic brave way shows up in some of your story lines?

Jason: Yeah. The one book, It’s Okay to be a Unicorn, the main character grew up in a town called Hoofington where you weren’t allowed to be a unicorn. The townspeople have said all these bad things about unicorns, and little bit behind this curtain about the Cornelius character is really what I wrote about me as a kid. There is a lot of people that look at the book and they think it’s an LGBT story, which I could see that bridge too, but in reality it’s a story about anybody that’s ever felt different in some sort of situation.

I think especially when you feel different, like Cornelius goes to this big thing where he’s going to tell the world because he’s had his horn hidden underneath these hats, and he became a hat maker. That’s what he’s known for, because he was covering up his secret. This is what we do, we get really good at lying to ourselves, and we make up all these… To cover it up. We really good at it. I think that when he comes to that moment though where he’s going to step out on stage and tell everybody who he is, he has the last wave of self doubt to come through.

I think that when you get to know who you really are, there is all that wave of you can’t do this. It’s nothing more than your brain telling you that you have to stay this way because this is our home base. This is what we know about ourselves. Because outside of that, it’s scary. If you learn how to step into it, you’ll find out there’s other people around you, just like he sees his three friends, that have seen it all along. They were just waiting for you to discover yourself.

That step into that bravery is a huge deal. With It’s Okay to Smell Good, Panda Cat told him that he lives in a stinky world. He’s trying to impress his idol, Albert Einstink. He wants to break the Theory of Smellitivity and have a smellorific breakthrough. But the thing is, is that he creates something that smells good and he likes it, but none of his friends do. They all run away and they want to puke from it, and all this stuff like this, because it smells like… I think in the book it’s strawberries and cotton candy, all these smell good stuff things to us.

What he finds out is that at the end, it only takes one person for you to feel normal, but it’s putting yourself out there. He stepped out into the crowd and does his experiment hoping that when he does it for his idol that it’s going to work. But it’s taking that risk and putting himself out there, and it doesn’t. He finds that his one buddy, Benny the Binturong tells him, “Dude, this smells awesome. I love this,” and he feels normal from one thing. It’s not this big massive revelation you’re going to have where all of a sudden the skies are going to part and everything is going… It’s little tiny moments that make up the big story of your life, but it comes down to that thing of just doing the little things of putting yourself out there.

To me, that seems like the ultimate in self kindness, because you’re saying “Look, I’m willing to be vulnerable enough in hopes that you’ll like me, because I am trying to like myself.” I think that there’s a lot of bravery in that, that I think gets overlooked, and that need for acceptance that everybody is striving for with social media right now. You don’t need that. You got to look in the mirror first. I think that’s what a lot of the characters that I write, I tend to try to put them through that filter. Even the new stuff that I have coming.

I have a new series with Simon & Schuster, Nugget and Dog, and it’s a hot dog and a chicken nugget who are best friends. They’re trying to save the world through ketchup.

Jonathan: Of course they are.

Jason: Right. The evil guys is a packet of Dijon mustard, because what kid loves Dijon mustard? Even with them, they have to put themselves out there to save the day.

Jonathan: In everything you just said, it’s silly. It’s silly. It’s funny. I mean, a hot dog and a chicken nugget. Or a skunk, Panda Cat, pardon me, who wants to make things that smell good. It’s all silly and goofy, and yet the meaning behind these stories is for all of us, really. Also, because it is for all of us, who do you hope to reach with your books? Everyone is of course the goal, but who is it specifically that you want to reach?

Jason: That’s definitely a very personable thing for me, and it’s always one kid. It really is, in my brain, every time that I’ve finished a story it’s a huge emotional release for me, number one. It’s definitely when I know I’ve tapped into it. For me, it’s the six year old me that read Sid Hoff’s Stanley for the first time. It totally gives me goosebumps talking about it. It’s this story about this caveman that wants to paint. It’s the dumbest thing. It was like all these other cavemen are going out clubbing things and all that stuff, and Stanley is painting on the walls.

For whatever reason, six-year-old me, that book made me feel normal. That’s it. Simple. Just the one kid. It’s just that one kid. The thing is, here’s the beauty of it, it doesn’t matter if the kid is a sports kid, or a nerdy kid, or a chubby kid, or a bully kid, or whatever. Every single kid feels weird. If you can bridge that gap with a kid, and I think this is where for me that I really help that I do well and I’m always striving to do better at, is never forgetting what it felt like to be that kid.

Jonathan: Katie Pourcho teaches art to preschoolers through second graders at North Elementary School in Danville, Indiana. She intentionally plans for SEL-integrated art instruction by referencing visual arts standards, SEL competencies, studio habits of mind, and her students’ lived experiences. Seemingly small tasks like making pinch pots become an exploration of our emotional responses.

Katie, if you could choose one descriptive word to express how you are feeling right now, what would it be?

Katie: Itchy. I feel so itchy. Traditionally, in mid-spring I get this “Oh, I can’t for the next year to be… I want to clear everything out. I want to write the lesson plans. I am so ready.” But this year, because of all the necessary but very restrictive pandemic policies, and my school is under construction for renovation, it’s just created this additional in between limbo in this already but not yet kind of state is a little bit maddening. It feels like all my insides are wearing this very restrictive super itchy woolen sweater.

Jonathan: That is beautifully descriptive. Seriously, that is… I can feel it with you.

Katie: Yeah. Yeah. It looks good, sort of. It’s got a beautiful intricate pattern because it’s telling the story and the narrative of this year, and I enjoy looking at it when I’m in the mirror but not wearing it. It’s hard.

Jonathan: Oh my gosh, but I think so many of us can relate to you because there’re things that we’re used to that have been thrown up in the air that we don’t understand when they’ll fall. Even the kids just today were talking about our school art show and how it will be the second year we don’t have it. I was like, “Yeah, and it’s going to be amazing when we can.”

Katie: Totally.

Jonathan: Right now, I feel uncomfortable because that’s what I should be doing right now.

Katie: Right. Right, but I have to look for the picture I was just about to take because I’m in front of a lot of people doing my best.

Jonathan: Yes. Oh my gosh. Well, thank you for that.

Katie: Oh, you’re welcome.

Jonathan: In the art room, with so many skills and techniques, and all this content to cover with our students, who we already see for a limited amount of time, why do you find it so critical to address social emotional learning with your students?

Katie: I recently read this really beautiful book by this author and artist, art teacher named MaryAnn F. Kohl. She says that “Art is a place for children to learn, to trust their ideas themselves, and to explore what is possible.” When I read that, I thought you know, I bet you could easily slide in social emotional learning into that quote. You could swap out art and just say, “Social emotional learning enables students to trust their ideas themselves, and explore what is possible.”

Jonathan: Whoa.

Katie: Yeah, so as I was thinking about our Project Promise that we have in our art classrooms that it’s just so cool to see how our practices in the art room, and those SEL competencies seem just to be cut from the same cloth. The five competencies for the SEL you can just easily weave into those studio habits of mind, and our national core art standards. It’s a pretty fun puzzle to integrate. If I’m designing a kindergarten unit that’s practicing collaboration, I’ll pull in Anchor Standard 1.1 that addresses engaging collaboratively in response to some kind of problem.

Then I tie in studio habit of mind that’s asking us to understand our communities by interacting with other artists. Then I’ll dovetail in there, real fly, one of our social emotional learning competencies about relationship skills.

Jonathan: Oh my gosh.

Katie: Then for kicks and giggles and pizazz on top, we incorporate some of our elements and principles. Then I challenge my students to use a color family in relationships of values and analogous colors. It all kind of comes together in this dynamic, beautiful synthesis. It enables us art teachers to teach powerful lessons that equip our students with powerful tools. It’s all super nerdy and super fun.

Jonathan: Oh, it’s beautiful.

Katie: Yeah.

Jonathan: It’s so beautiful. Basically what you did right there with your words is make a mixed media art piece.

Katie: Oh, yes. Yes.

Jonathan: Yes, and you’ve also throughout our conversation already, you started to use all of this sewing and weaving, and fibers, right? That’s what it is, it’s bringing together all of these pieces that just make sense together.

Katie: Oh yeah. Yeah.

Jonathan: Can you give us then an example of an art-making experience that you’ve engaged your students with that directly addresses social emotional learning?

Katie: Last year my then first graders, who were on the brink of this super fun project, where we had just studied effigy bowls from the world and we were going to transform our own pinch pots into animals. It wasn’t going to have a sacred significance, but we were learning about these things and incorporating different clay techniques and everything. We were practicing with polymer clays to kind of get our hands ready for it.

Then as the story goes, the day that we’re about to begin a super exciting project, we all dive into this new world of e-learning for the rest of the school year. That summer, whenever I was brainstorming what’s our first day going to look like, when we get to do that, and not knowing how long we’re going to get to be together, I wanted to make sure that… Our school was going to go back face-to-face, but we didn’t know for how long.

So, I wanted to bring in those most fun, powerful crazy awesome lessons in there. As I was brainstorming, I was thinking on one hand I wanted to pick up right where we left off, but on the other hand, a lot of things happened that summer. That summer, my goodness. Textbooks will be filled with pages just about that summer.

Jonathan: Yes.

Katie: Yeah, yeah. So, it ended up on the first day of school we broke out this big box of Model Magic, which I hadn’t used before, but they’re all nicely packaged and sanitized.

Jonathan: Yes. Yes, they are.

Katie: And it works wonders.

Jonathan: Individually packaged.

Katie: Yeah, it was great. I found actually for kids doing pinch pots for maybe the first time, it’s very forgiving. That was pretty great. My second graders, who were the then first graders, now second graders, they created these pinch pots and then instead of turning them into these fabulous little animals like we had planned to in March, we learned about colors and the psychology behind colors, and how they affect our moods. I introduced them to color expressionists like Mark Rothko, who uses color psychology in his art. My students considered how to use color as a tool to regulate their own emotions.

We were identifying, “What are feeling like? If I’m feeling sad or low right now, I could actually use a warm color. I could use yellow, which makes my brain think of the sun to brighten up my day.” Or if I’m feeling anxious with all these new pandemic policies and just kind of overwhelmed with it all, I could use some cool colors. Get some blues and some greens in there to help me calm me down. It was such a fun powerful way to kick off this crazy, crazy school year.

Jonathan: In a pinch pot.

Katie: In a pinch pot. A little pinch pot.

Jonathan: A little pinch pot made out of Model Magic.

Katie: I know.

Jonathan: Does and approaches all of this.

Katie: All of it, yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s Model Magic.

Jonathan: Yes. I think that that’s a challenge, is so many times you think it’s got to be this big extensive, massive undertaking when really, it’s making these little pinch pots that these students are going to remember and hold on to.

Katie: Right.

Jonathan: I did see this work that you were doing with students where you created this installation with rain drops, and a seed, and these possibilities. I am so over the moon excited and interested. I want to know more.

Katie: I think I mentioned earlier that in addition to the whole pandemic thing, my school’s also enduring through this school-wide renovation. More than that, we haven’t had a playground for months. Our playground was on the fritz, and it was taking out for safety reasons.

Jonathan: Oh, no.

Katie: For many, many months, our sweet, sweet students did not have a playground and so it’s been a little nuts-o around here to say the least.

Jonathan: Again, they’re pre-K through second grade.

Katie: Oh my goodness, yeah. Right.

Jonathan: I just felt like we had to address that again. Okay.

Katie: Those sweet little ones. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

During a PLC time with my art teacher buddy up in January, she teaches at the upper elementary in our district. We came up with this plan to help our students from both of our schools just reflect on what’s been going on, and then to help each other persist through it. In March, a year later from all of the crazy, my students created this installation to help us through the sadness and hope to this new year.

We looked at the work of artists like Beatrice Roehrig, who is an installation artist from Australia, and Yoko Ono. These are all artists who create installations using collections of objects to help people connect in relationships and then to also see new perspectives. What we did was we collected both rain drops and flower seeds, and then put them into an installation. On the rain drops, our students… We drew things that had just made this year sad onto… You know on the laminating machine you get that extra little tail so it doesn’t slide back in?

Jonathan: Yeah. Yes, yes.

Katie: Yeah, so I love collecting that stuff because we can use it for so many great things: stained glass windows, all kinds of fun transparent kinds of projects. We had those cut into rain drops, and the kids are drawing their things that are making them just feel bummed out. So, drawing or writing down even, just talking about their friends in quarantine, the itchy masks, the hand sanitizer, the no playground at the moment, the school renovation that’s made this temporary wall right in between a highly trafficked area.

After we drew those things on, we took paint sticks, which if you and the listeners are not familiar with, you have to get some. They’re like glue sticks with paint. I think Kwik makes them.

Jonathan: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Katie: I don’t know who makes them. But oh my goodness they’ve been so amazing. Anyway, so we took those paint sticks and we “washed” those things away together and not pushing them aside, but recognizing that they’re there and just cleansing it out. Then we collected those rain drops. They’re hung from the ceiling in this corner of the school, and also collected as puddles on the ground in that area.

Then the following week, students wrote the things that they’re looking forward to. So, they drew little pictures or wrote down things that we’re hoping for, that we’re waiting for together. Some of it was helping those kids to process, okay so what is hope? I think that’s a really hard thing because we can wish for, “Oh, I would love to have a unicorn,” which kids have been saying that, or “Oh, I’m wishing for my skateboard. I’m hoping I get a skateboard,” those kinds of things, they’re very real.

Jonathan: Because they’re kids. Because they’re kids.

Katie: They’re kids, right.

Jonathan: Yes.

Katie: Right. I try to help them see… It’s like a flower seed. Hope is like a flower seed. If I just put the flower seed on the ground, is anything going to happen? No. No. Hey, what does it need? It needs water. It needs soil. It needs sun. So, okay I can give it all those things, but is it going to grow right away? No, it’s not going to grow right away. What do you mean? You have to wait. So, we talked about in our playground we’ve seen just a blank dirt area where our playground was, and nothing was happening. But then workers came, and trucks came with parts. We’ve been seeing this thing grow and build, just like a plant coming out of the ground and putting out little leaves.

We also talked about how with hope there’re things you can control and things you can’t control. We might choose where we plant, we might choose how much water we give it, but we don’t have control over the sun. We don’t have control over a rain cloud. So, we’re doing this together. We can do as much as we can, and then we wait together. Then we talked about when the flower gets that bud, it’s a little bit like we saw the playground but the mulch wasn’t there yet, or we didn’t have permission from the principal yet. So, you see this thing and then when it blooms its like, “When you guys go running out on the playground and you’re going down that new slide, that’s that flower bloom.”

We took all these little paper seeds and we marched over to our installation, and one at a time kids placed their little paper seed inside this big paper mache what we called Seed of Hope, that the preschoolers helped me to paper mache together. As one kid at a time was putting the seed in… Well, I should most of the class. I was going to say all of the class was doing some really awesome raindrop noises, but most of the class-

Jonathan: Most of them, yeah.

Katie: We started and we were making this little raindrop noise. It sounded like… And then whenever the class started getting kind of rowdy I started doing some… Drip. Drop. Drippity-Drop. We have this little chant together. We have this beautiful ceremony, if you will, of just we’re placing this hope in together and at the very end we’re all rubbing our hands together to create a mist. Then we point the mist at the seed and we blow. I say, “Now the ceremony of the Seed of Hope concludes.”

Afterwards I’m like, “Hey, did putting that seed in there… Does that mean it’s going to happen?” No. Did blowing the mist over there mean it going to happen? No. We did those things to help us remember to be symbols for us hoping together, that we’re together in this, that we have something that we want and we’re hoping for, and wishing for, but we wait together. So, our whole installation was put together that through the difficult times we persist together, and through the times that we are hoping for we are waiting together.

Now our little seed has just begun to sprout.

Jonathan: Yes?

Katie: Yeah. Yeah, it’s begun to sprout. I won’t say how it happens, but I will say that once a week it does grow a little bit. I’ve got a hunch that some leaves are going to come out maybe tomorrow. There’s just a hunch that I have that it’s going to happen.

Jonathan: Oh my gosh, I can actually feel in body how excited those kids must be to watch this slowly growing flower, this being. I can’t even imagine in real life what it’s like.

Katie: They are so excited. I’m excited.

Jonathan: What a beautiful illustration for so many things, because I think we live in this world of immediacy. Things happen. We do this. This happens now. The Internet takes a couple seconds longer to load and we’re frustrated. But we have to remember that when we plant something, it takes time, it takes hope, and then hopefully it turns into something beautiful that we can enjoy, but not always. That disappointment is also a part of life too.

Katie: Yeah.

Jonathan: Wow, Katie. Wow. It’s beautiful.

Katie: Thanks.

Jonathan: It’s beautiful. I can imagine yes, this year that’s important. It’s important for us all to go through that.

Katie: Totally.

Jonathan: But as you’ve shared, there are so many parts in our lives like the renovation of a school, waiting for a new playground. Maybe a school goes through a tragedy. The applications to something like the Seed of Hope is endless. It’s endless possibilities.

Katie: Yeah, and if anybody is wondering what does the flower consist of-

Jonathan: Yeah. Tell me everything.

Katie: My amazing partner teacher at the upper elementary, she was like, “Pool noodles.” It’s a green pool noodle and then I haven’t decided yet, but maybe it could be as simple as construction paper for leaves, and I’ll probably do tissue paper or something for the bloom. The sky’s the limit. It’s a fun, awesome, awesome project.

Jonathan: And proof that you’re making this part up as you go now, right?

Katie: Yeah. Yeah.

Jonathan: It’s like, “Yeah, so maybe construction paper for the leaves. I don’t know.” Right?

Katie: I don’t know. Yeah. Yeah.

Jonathan: It doesn’t all have to be ironed out because even if that seed did nothing, the conversation those students had is going to stick with them.

Katie: That was neat, yeah.

Jonathan: Yeah. Well, if we’re honest with ourselves, SEL and art education doesn’t just happen. It’s not something we just do, because it takes a lot of thought, clearly, planning, time, which is something we always talk about, and we hit challenges along the way of doing all those things. Can you speak to the challenges of the work that we might face or need to overcome?

Katie: Yeah, I know the one I need to overcome is communication, putting those SEL components, infusing them into such a crazy large project, it’s complicated and it’s weighty, and I’m asking things of my students that could be very challenging. Then making sure that the lesson goals are also appropriately communicated with my colleagues and families. Within the classroom, it’s super important to set boundaries to the discussions that we have with our students.

Whenever I was asking my students to draw those things that are causing them to feel frustrated or upset, bummed out, I knew that if I just left that open-ended, especially with the younguns, it’s going to open up a can of worms that if I just had them one on one that’s different. But with that meager 40 minutes once a week, and then a whole classroom of kids, we just don’t have that protected time and it’s just not a safe place to be diving into things that are outside of school.

It was vital that my students knew that we were contemplating the things within school. So, whenever I was beginning to question, I was really, really directing it, really making sure that we were within the bounds of school. With all of our students, it’s still going to come up. Kids are still going to connect home. Kids are still going to connect what happened on the bus, or what happens after school. As we’re doing this conversation, I am really trying to keep a careful observant eye on my tender-hearted students, those kids who are just easily empathetic on things, and then also keeping an eye out and ears with my school counselor to those kids who are more hidden, they actually have experienced traumas at home or somewhere else.

If I don’t give the proper boundaries, it goes too deep too quick. I think that’s a huge challenge. When we’re infusing that SEL into our art curriculum, we really initiate this beautiful reaction that has power to transform our students, our school culture, and our school community.

Jonathan: I know that many states have SEL standards that are based off of CASEL’s work. Here in Ohio we do. I remember when they were first rolled out I was like, “Wait, this is amazing.” They’re grade-banded, they’re too the point, they’re simple. I’ve said to so many teachers, including many art teachers, “Just read them, because once you read them all of a sudden your mind is like ‘Oh my gosh, if I just tweak this one art experience,’ or ‘If I add in this important conversation’ or ‘Wait, this is a great idea for a new opportunity,'” I feel like they help spark our creativity.

Katie: Or I’ve already been doing it. You know that time that you taught the lesson about Vincent Van Gogh and his brother. You talk about their letters to each other, and you talk about Vincent really was supported by the relationship with his brother and how Vincent was pretty self-aware of some hardship that was going on. He went to go take care of his brain, and… We already did that. We are working on that already.

So yeah, it’s cool to see what those things inspire us to do, and inspire students to do, but also you know what, we might already be doing it.

Jonathan: And just like that, we started the very first episode of this podcast with my reference to a Vincent Van Gogh puppet. Here, we end with Katie’s mention of that artist as well. Full circle. So now what? What do you do with this information?

Well, here are three things to consider: 1. What does it mean to practice self-kindness in your life? Consider your self-awareness and your self-management. What practical decisions can you make today to practice self-kindness? 2. How does your art program align with the competencies of SEL? Take some time to consider your current curriculum, and don’t throw it out the window, but what small modifications can be made to encourage social emotional competence for students, and yourself. 3. Hope, it’s a tricky word. It’s a word that has been used a lot in this podcast, but Katie offered up some thoughts to consider. Hope means that you long for something to happen, that actually might not ever take place. There may be things that you’re hoping for right now, that you’re longing for. What are you learning about yourself and others in your hopefulness?

Okay, and one more. I lied. Here’s a fourth thing to consider, SEL is not something to be checked off a list. It’s not something that someone else will cover in their classes. SEL is for all of us, and it’s an ongoing process, one that we as adults are continuing to experience. Recognize that you, as the adult, are also learning along with your students. How am I feeling right now? Honored. I’m so honored by the thought that you’ve joined me for this podcast on such a fun, vibrant challenging and essential topic.

I am honored that the incredible humans that enthusiastically joined me in conversation shared so selflessly of their thoughts and strategies. Though this is the end of this particular conversation, it’s actually the beginning of something else. Hopefully, it’s the beginning of something new in your instructional practice. Or, a refocusing. Or, even just a modification in the way you talk to yourself internally. May you be filled with courage to acknowledge and celebrate your own uniqueness and that of those around you.

This has been The Art of SEL, part of The Art of Education University Podcast Network. Tim Bogatz is our producer, and Amanda Hine is our executive producer. All of our episodes are engineered by the devoted Amy Juravich. Thank you so much for joining me for the last eight episodes. I can’t tell you to subscribe because well, this is it. This is the end. It would mean the world to me if you could rate and review the podcast with a five-star rating. That will help more people find this series. Or better yet, share this podcast with someone you think would love it, whether it’s an art teacher, a classroom teacher, or anyone else.

I think what we’ve talked about over the last eight episodes can be valuable for anyone in education. I would love it if you’d introduce them to the show. Of course, please continue to visit for all of your art teaching needs. Thank you.

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.