(Pictured left to right: Noah Teitelbaum, Sarah Cai & Charlie Merrow)
According to CASEL, social-emotional learning (SEL) can be defined as: “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”
In this article from Medium, they discuss the five principles to SEL. They are create, integrate, communicate, instruct and empower. In recent years, researchers have discovered the powerful connections of SEL to higher academic performance.
We wanted to learn more about SEL and are fortunate to have experts in SEL working at Shift. We sat down the Noah Teitelbaum and Charlie Merrow of Empowering Education to learn more about SEL, how they got started in education, why they chose Shift Workspaces and their future plans.
Noah: Empowering Education is a nonprofit organization that arms K-8 teachers with a fun and easy-to-use Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum. Our program blends mindfulness, cognitive-behavioral theory, and neuroscience.
To give you an example of what we teach kids, in week four, after a short mindfulness practice, the lesson teaches kids about the “lizard brain” and the “wizard brain.” Those are two parts of our brain: the flight-or-flight amygdala and the thoughtful prefrontal cortex.
The older kids get deep into the neuroscience while the little ones read a story and do some role-playing. (To the right is a picture from a story we wrote to help young kids understand. That’s Lizzie the Lizard losing her cool on Toby the Turtle.) The lessons are trauma-informed and developed with diverse populations in mind.
What is your role with Empowering Education
Noah: I am the Executive Director of Empowering Education. I started my 20 years in education with 5th graders in Harlem and then went on to teach in other schools serving low-income students in the NYC area. There I saw firsthand the need for tools for teaching SEL and Mindfulness, both for my students and for myself.
I have also been an instructional coach, an author of teaching handbooks and curricula, a consultant to some of the most innovative schools in the country, and a business manager and product innovator for a national test-prep business. I earned my master’s in education and an MBA, and have done significant course work in Instructional Leadership.
Charlie: I am the Program Director at Empowering Education and I am responsible for all facets of the Empowering Minds curriculum. I have over a decade of experience working in education across the world. I’ve worked in North America, Asia and Africa as a classroom teacher, curriculum specialist, university instructor, and educational researcher. My passion lies in promoting education equity and development through mindfulness and inclusive practices.
I have an MA in Special Education, a Ph.D. student studying Education, with a concentration in education equity, a licensed special education teacher, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, and a certified yoga instructor.
Another member of our team, Sarah Cai is the Graphic Designer of Empowering Education. After graduating with a BA in Graphic Design from Central Saint Martins (London, UK), she has lived and worked on three continents. Sarah has a decade of extensive experience in end-to-end creative processes and enjoys problem-solving through her work. In 2014, Sarah co-founded Puzzah, a high-technology escape room based in Denver and which has since expanded into three locations in Colorado and New Mexico.
How did you get into education?
Noah: One summer during college I had a job as a volunteer coordinator for health workers in the Dominican Republic. I got to hike around the countryside and visit my volunteers in their villages and support them in doing their projects. It was my first taste of how satisfying it is to be a leader behind the scenes, pushing others to achieve their goals. I figured that education would allow me to get that same experience. When I was working in schools I had some of the worst and best days of my professional life. It’s an intense line of work so buy your teacher-friends drinks.
Charlie: After graduating from college, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in southern Africa as a middle school health and English teacher. I ended up extending my time for an additional year and volunteered with Special Olympics Africa. Upon returning to the States after nearly four years of teaching overseas, I taught special education in Denver for a number of years while getting my master’s in special education. I switched over to the education non-profit sector in 2018 while also pursuing my Ph.D. in education.
How did you discover Shift Workspaces?
We were stuck in a windowless office in the Highlands and needed to see the sun again. Charlie, severely deprived of the essential vitamin D that the sun provides, somehow managed to hunt around town and find Shift Workspaces.
What do you enjoy most about this coworking environment?
We appreciate having a beautiful space to spend our time in. The aesthetics of where we spend our time influence our mood and attitude, so we appreciate our office.
Does Empowering Education have any exciting developments in store for 2020?
We are hard at work on a full program update based on extensive research about what teachers need to fit SEL into their busy school days. We’re writing children’s stories (feel free to swing by and ask for copies for the kids in your life) and fun lessons. We can’t wait to get the new program into the teacher’s hands!
Since we’re big fans of mindfulness, we’ll end by suggesting that you take a deep breath and notice what’s going on around you and inside of you.