Why Adults Need Social-Emotional Learning with Rachel Kamb

Show Notes

This mini-episode of Grow Kinder (at Home) features Rachel Kamb, product manager at Committee for Children. Rachel discusses why social-emotional skills can be beneficial for adults, ways to practice gratitude during this difficult time, and easy ways for listeners to take care of their own wellness.

To access a free, digital gratitude exercise inspired by the forthcoming Committee for Children social-emotional learning (SEL) for adults program, visit SecondStepSELA.org.



[00:00:02] ANNOUNCER: The Grow Kinder podcast features conversations with thought leaders in education, business, tech, and the arts who all share one thing in common: a dedication to growing kinder in their work and lives and helping others do the same. Brought to you by Committee for Children.


[0:00:22.1] MD: Today, we’re talking to Rachel Kamb, Andrea. Rachel is one of our colleagues at Committee for Children. Well, it certainly has been unusual times the last couple of weeks in Seattle and all over the world. Today, we’re going to be talking a little bit about how adults are coping and how social-emotional learning plays a factor in adults’ coping strategies and in their relationships with their peers and their children. I think we can … I don't know. I really am curious about how both of you are doing. We’re working from home today. We’re doing our podcast from home.

[0:01:01.0] AL: Yeah. Rachel has worked with you longer, Mia, and has worked with us for a very long time in many different capacities and most recently in developing supports for adult social-emotional learning. Let’s start with you, Rachel. How are you coping? How are things going in your world right now?

[0:01:18.8] RK: Yeah. In-line with our philosophy with SEL for adults, I’m really trying to focus on the positives right now. I have the opportunity to have my two teenage children back at home with me after a brief foray into empty-nest, so I’m trying to embrace that right now.

It’s a challenge for sure. We’re all working from home remotely. We’re trying to support the educators now as best we can from our places here in the corner of Seattle—from our living rooms, our kitchens, whatever—as they’re trying to cope with supporting children across the country with schools closed.

[0:02:02.3] AL: It’s probably good to set some context. We at Committee for Children are all working from home now where we can. We are all recording this from the comfort of our own homes, although comfort might be a stretch after many weeks trapped with our loved ones, I would say is how I feel. I feel grateful and also trapped.

[0:02:24.9] MD: Yeah, it’s definitely an adjustment, isn’t it? We—as I think both of you know, in our household—my husband and I have both brought our 80-year-old mothers to live with us since they were both living in senior communities. We felt it was going to be safer for them to live with us. There’s a lot of adult SEL practice going on here, Rachel, in our household, because it’s a big adjustment to be living again with parents after not having done so for decades. Even when they're just the most lovely people. It takes some time getting into a rhythm and making sure that everyone both feels safe and comfortable, but also has enough space.

[0:03:05.1] AL: Yeah. We’re dealing with a couple different things where you’re in close confines with the same group of people for we don’t know how long. It’s pulling on some skills to interact effectively with those people that we’re with day after day after day without a break, as well as there’s many of us that are feeling really isolated. Some don’t even have the support at home, or people to even share that with. There are those two factors.

Now is really an important time, I think, for adult SEL, even though I think adult SEL is for always, but now we can really pull on some of those skills that are needed during this super stressful time.

[0:03:51.2] MD: That’s a pretty good segue. Let’s hear more about you, Rachel. Maybe you want to tell folks a little about your background and what you’re working on currently.

[0:03:58.1] RK: I’ve been in education for over 25 years as an educator, content developer, instructional design, curriculum development. The last 13 of those years have been with Committee for Children, working on content development. I’ve worked on almost every program that Committee for Children has. Most currently, for the last year, I’ve been working on SEL for adults. It’s to help adult educators—K–12 educators—build their own social-emotional learning competencies.

[0:04:32.9] AL: Given the context we’re in right now, this COVID-19, coronavirus outbreak, why is social-emotional learning for adults so important right now? You said it’s for all time, but what are some specifics that people might be experiencing that you think they could access some of their social-emotional competencies, or strengths, or work on those given their current situation?

[0:04:54.7] RK: Human beings really are inherently social creatures, right? Being in isolation causes us stress. First of all, I think we just need to acknowledge that everyone is experiencing some levels of stress, not only because of the fear of the unknown, but also because of the isolation. What happens, I think, when you’re in that isolation, you’re in your head a lot; negative thoughts about our world, our lives, ourselves can really spin in a really harmful way.

You’re not alone in finding yourself dwelling on negative thoughts, or playing those things over and over again. As humans, we’re really hardwired to pay attention to negatives, rather than positives. This is referred to as “negative bias.” It can have a really powerful effect on your behavior and your interactions and your well-being. First of all, I think all of us just need to be aware of that, that that’s a natural thing for us to do, but it can really take a toll on your mental well-being.

What we would recommend and what we’re going to recommend anyway, regardless of the situation we’re in here, is to take a few moments in your day to really focus on the positives: those things that you’re grateful for, both large and small. We’re actually working on an activity—we hope to have it out by next week—that will help educators do this. We’re going to open it up for all educators. I mean, all adults, but specifically for educators.

[0:06:29.3] MD: Rachel, can you describe that a little bit? Can you just think about the things in your head? Do you need to write them down? Do you need to verbally say them out loud? Is there a difference between those different ways of expressing them?

[0:06:41.0] RK: Yeah, that’s a great question, Mia. Yes. What you really want to do is set aside the time to intentionally do this, to intentionally think about those times, those things that you’re grateful for, and record them and write them down. We know that just the act of writing them down makes a difference in how you feel. That part is really important. It really doesn’t need to be more than few minutes every day. As I said, we’ve set up this activity to guide you through that process. Once you get it, you’ve got it. It’s a great thing to practice not only now, but ongoing.

[0:07:16.9] AL: Yeah, I do a practice with my children where we do “roses and thorns,” which is pretty common, where you talk about things throughout our day that were really good, or unexpectedly good or helpful, and then other things that maybe weren’t so good, or that we want to think about doing differently the next day. I can imagine that some people might think that kind of gets at this, but one of the things that I’ve realized is there’s a lot of things that I do with my kids that I can rely on to try to help myself, but it’s really important for me also as an adult to take time myself and be intentional about these things, because the way we frame them for kids, so many times and—maybe this is just me, but so many times I’m faking it to make it. Do you know what I mean? Where I’m like, “I know I’m supposed to be positive for my kids right now, but I’m actually not addressing my own anxieties.”

[0:08:07.4] RK: Yeah, that’s a really good point. One of the things that we are really intentional about is focusing on the adult’s own emotional well-being. The way that we set it up is first, you got to take care of yourself. Then let’s pay attention to how that's affecting the people around you, including your peers, other adults, and students or children in your life.

The focus on your own well-being is super important, because we know that how you sleep, what you eat, the amount of exercise you’re getting, all affect how reactive you can be. There’s lots and lots of studies that show this. One of the things that we actually encourage is for the adults to keep a journal. If they’re keeping one—you could try one of these one at a time, on your sleep, and notice those times when you’re reactive, how it is—or your emotional well-being, your feelings, your negative thoughts, how it relates to how much sleep you’re getting.

You might try that with what you’re eating. Do you find when you skip lunch that you are more reactive, that you react more negatively to your kids, that you can’t handle stressful situations? Exercise as well. We encourage adults to keep a journal and keep track. It’s not about monitoring what you eat, like a diet or anything. It’s more about tracking it to your emotions.

[0:09:34.0] MD: Well, that’s super interesting. Right. It’s not about following any one person’s particular exercise regime or diet. It’s really about it being very personalized to you and understanding yourself, right?

[0:09:44.5] RK: Right. Yeah, that’s right.

[0:09:45.9] MD: Understanding when you are running low on energy, so many people now are going to be doing so much more caretaking than they had before. Just given all the stress that’s going on and everything else, people are going to be feeling really exhausted. For someone like me who is an extrovert, one of the ways I used to recharge would be to be around other people, to do social things, to go out to concerts, or museums, or places where not only am I fed by crowds, but also by creative expressions, whether it’s music or art, that sort of thing. I feel very, very shut off from all those things now. I have a lot of introvert friends who are like, “This is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life.”

[0:10:39.3] AL: That’s interesting about the introvert thing. When you’re done, Mia, let’s come back to the question of how social are we as humans and this difference between people who feel they were made for this.

[0:10:50.1] MD: Right, exactly. I guess, my question, Rachel, is what are ways that you are recommending or that you’ve seen people being able to still be social, even though we are distancing?

[0:11:02.4] RK: Yeah. Actually, people have gotten really creative about this. I’m just amazed at how those super extroverts who need social contact—and even those introverts who need the social contact, as well—have gotten creative about forming community and support with each other online. One thing that’s really nice is the way that our society is moving toward more social interaction online. In some ways, we were primed for this, where now we can do video conferencing, Zoom, where we can actually see the person we’re talking to. It wasn’t that long ago when we didn’t have this in place.

I am encouraging people to do daily check-ins. If they work with a team, check-in daily with your team. It’s really nice if you have video contact and not just voice. It feels more human. You can do fun things together, like watch movies. Right now, my husband and I are separated. We’re not separated as in divorce. We’re physically separated, because my kids and I are doing some self-quarantining, because my son just got back from Europe two days ago.

I’m taking the kids to one place, while he and the kids’ grandma are in another place, because they both are in a higher-risk category. We are trying to get creative about how we can stay connected during this time. We’re arranging some virtual dinners tonight and we’ve got our Google chat going most of the day. There’s all kinds of strategies like that that people can do to still stay in touch and be supportive to one another.

[0:12:37.6] AL: It seems like even if … I mean, some lower-tech options for those that might not have access to that. I think about some of my family members that I’ve spoken with, they may not be able to do the sorts of things that you’re talking about, but they can text message, so we have ongoing text message threads, or even a phone call. I thought a really great activity that a teacher sent home by email was just writing letters. My kids and I are handwriting letters, because right now we can still mail those.

I think for a long time people were less connected than they are now and they still found ways to access what they needed socially. Getting creative seems like the right tactic in whatever your situation might be to make sure you’re fed in that way.

Speaking of the connection that we’re all trying to create with each other, I feel very connected to my colleagues right now, because we are working online all the time. I’ve noticed that there are some positives about that and some other things that are not working as well. For instance, I had a 30-minute meeting this morning where my kids came in every five minutes, probably. There was not a way that was going to work for me. We’re really lucky, because we work for a place that understands that and cares about children. Probably not the case for everybody.

The other things that I’ve been thinking about is people, their day doesn’t seem to end, right? Before, I would get up and I walk over to somebody, and now I’m just here at my computer. I talked to somebody the other day that said they worked till 8:00 p.m., because they lost track of time, because they’re in this small place with a computer. It’s just them and their machine and there’s always more work to do, even now. For those who are working from home who are privileged enough to be able to do that, how can social-emotional skills help them?

[0:14:24.9] RK: Yeah. We’ve been thinking about this a lot. First of all, Andrea, you mentioned boundaries. The blur of boundaries between work and home is really fuzzy right now. I’ve had to do this myself, where you need to set up really clear boundaries about when is work and when do I need to step away from this?

Also the idea of routines. Routines are good for so many reasons, but set up a regular routine. We are all out of our routine and it makes us feel really out of whack and discombobulated. If you can set up a routine, whether it’s start with exercise, your coffee, sit down for half an hour, go through your emails, have your regular scheduled meetings, take a break at lunch, go outside, get some fresh air. Doing some practices like that.

The other thing I think is an important thing—and I’ve been trying to do this more—is really trying to just focus in the moment. Once you set up your routine and your boundaries, try to just really be mindful about where you are and your work and not always trying to expand and worry about the next thing. That’s hard. The other thing that’s been hard for me is the lack of movement. I realized how little I move when I’m working at home. I’ve got this Fitbit and I’m seeing my steps every day and wow, they have been about cut in half.

I’m having to make a deliberate effort to get up and move every hour. Just get up, walk around, come back, stand up while I’m working, do things like that. Because again, that taking care of your own wellness is super important right now.

[0:16:18.0] MD: I would even say, what I have found—to your point, Andrea, earlier—is that it’s so easy to just get up if you don’t have kids in the house, which I don’t. It’s a lot easier to end up doing this, because you don’t have to attend to small children. I could easily just get up at 6:00 or 7:00, start working, and keep working until I go to bed at 10:00 or 11:00, because not only is it the case that we’re in our houses, but there’s literally nothing else to do. The other thing is I could watch a movie and not feel bad.

[0:16:48.4] AL: You could binge Netflix if you have it.

[0:16:51.6] MD: I know. But it’s like, well, if I’m just going to sit and watch a movie, I guess I could just sit and do work, because I can’t go out or whatever. I think that we do have to be pretty intentional about putting on our calendars like, “Okay, in this hour, I’m going to …” For any of us who can go out and walk around the block or walk around the neighborhood or something like that to really try, because you’re right, Rachel. I have the same problem with my steps have been cut at least a half, maybe three quarters.

[0:17:21.5] AL: One thing that I’ve seen a lot of is the motivational, “take this time for self-improvement” pieces, which I just resent every time I see them, unfortunately.

[0:17:31.6] RK: Me too.

[0:17:32.1] AL: I just am like, really with everything else, you want me to tap into my creativity, or start a new routine on yoga or something? I’m just like, “Please, I need a minute to adjust.” I think what you were saying earlier, Rachel, about routines is something I’ve really honed in on. I had to do a writing piece for Committee for Children recently and everybody sent me all these schedules, right? Like, “Oh, the schedule is the thing,” and it blew up in my face right away. Every day is going to be a little bit different. We haven’t worked out what that’s going to look like and I reverted to habits and routines, because I was like, I can apply the schedule after I’ve reset some of these things before my kids were in school, I had to do this.

We get up. We have breakfast. There’s an order we do things in. We don’t care about what time it is necessarily. When we get up, we do these things. I’ve kind of reset to do that and I feel it’s taken all my energy just to do that.

[0:18:26.5] RK: Yeah. Andrea, something you said there, I want to acknowledge that I’m looking and people are doing all of these creative things and they’re being so productive: “Oh, I built a shed. I cleaned out my garage. I’m doing ceramic flowers.” I’m in the same boat with you going, “Wow, I just have to handle my own mental anxiety right now. I have to just get centered and try to accomplish the things I need to accomplish.”

I’d say, it’s especially trying for those adults that have school-aged kids at home. Your work automatically just doubled. You’re not only trying to help, you’re trying to take care of yourself, but you’re also trying to provide some normalcy for your family and for your children. It’s a lot of stress for those people working at home.

[0:19:19.1] AL: I think about that and then I think about teachers trying to teach remotely while they have their own kids at home. That sounds like such a stressful situation, these educators that are trying … Even if they’re not actively teaching through some platform. My son’s teacher just sent out an email today with here’s what we’re going to focus on, here are the activities I put together. The thought that it’s taking for her to put those things together, because Seattle is doing more email and activity push-outs, because they from an equity lens want to make sure that things are as accessible as possible to as many kids as possible.

I just think all of the time that they’re having to spend to adjust their teaching practices, while they might have young kids at home, while going through maybe caring for parents, and then their own individual stress. I just imagine that’s a lot for them.

[0:20:12.8] RK: Yeah. What I would like to say to that, since this is a Grow Kinder podcast, is: be kind to yourself. It’s really important. Be mindful educators, people with young kids, they’re trying to take care of everyone. Be mindful of compassion fatigue. This is when you’re taking on everybody’s hurts and anxiety and stress and it can be really traumatizing for yourself. It’s really, really important that you’re eating well, take a moment, just go to a room, have a little moment to yourself. Read a book. It’s more important now than ever.

[0:20:52.4] MD: Yeah. I would think that applies also in relationships. Try and cut your partner, or other people in your household, some slack because everybody is feeling so tense. It seems like it could be a very, very challenging time in households where there was already a lot of tension, where maybe there were already strained relationships. I think this is going to be a really hard time for a lot of people.

[0:21:18.9] AL: Somebody sent me something the other day. I said, “How are you doing?” They said, “Well, I’m still married.” Being in close quarters with their spouse for that period of time. It’s daunting.

[0:21:33.6] MD: I agree. It’s going to be challenging for all of us. I had to sit down and have a conversation with my kids about this too. How we’re going to survive this next two weeks. We’re just on day one and we’re already arguing on who gets to play their music. This is going to be a long two weeks. One of the things—a technique that we use is called cognitive reframing. We’re really taking a look at the other person’s intentions. We are making assumptions based on maybe habits or being reactive. But if you take a pause minute and say, “Okay, what might that other person be going through?” It’s just a moment to reflect: their intentions might not be what you assume them to be. I think in this time more than ever, we want to assume good intentions. Everybody’s just doing the best they can right now.

[0:22:29.1] RK: Yeah. It sounds like—and you were speaking about this earlier—the self-awareness is really key, understanding what’s happening with you and where you might be more reactive than typical, paying a lot of attention to that. Then also trying to look at that and those around you and making sure that you’re not assigning intention where there wasn’t any. Those seemed like two very important foundational pieces during this time.

[0:22:56.4] RK: Yeah, I agree. I mean, it’s a good time to practice awareness. To really think, “Okay, I’m feeling angry. Why am I feeling angry?” We actually have a little bit of time to do that. We’re in one environment. We’re not quickly moving to another. Where just even naming how you’re feeling deescalates your emotion. That’s a super easy place where a lot of us can just start when we’re feeling stressed, angry, whatever with another person, with the situation.

[0:23:31.2] MD: For those who are just super focused on, so let’s say they have kids in their home they’re taking care of and they really want their kids to be okay right now, why is it important for them to think about their own social-emotional skills and be aware of their own social-emotional health during this time?

[0:23:46.9] RK: Well, I mean, there’s a couple reasons. Again, there’s the whole philosophy, you’ve got to take care of yourself, put on your oxygen mask before you help or assist your children. That’s really primary. The other thing is this idea of emotions are contagious. There’s positive and negative emotions. It’s a human phenomenon that happens.

If you think about how you are reacting, know that that’s affecting those around you. So reset that. As you said earlier, Andrea, fake it even if you don’t feel it, because kids smile even if you’re not feeling it right now, because smiling is contagious. If your kids are really bouncing off the walls, it could be the way you’re feeling that they’re reacting to. Just be really aware of that.

[0:24:40.4] AL: The other day, my kid said, or we said something like, “No more whining. There’s too much whining going on right here.” My son said, “Well, you’re whining.” For him, the constant complaining and frustration in our voices was the same. I was like, “Oh, yeah. You’re right. I’m on you right now. I also need to manage that. I can’t expect this from you if I’m not able to do it myself.” We’ve been watching a lot of … we watched Inside Out a couple of times together. They’re very into Frozen 2.

I’ve been trying to lean on some of the movies and things that they like to have these conversations and reminders about naming your feelings. It’s like any trick I can get in the moment that’s a reminder for the whole family is what I’m looking for.

[0:25:32.3] MD: Yeah. Just you remember to do it too, Andrea.

[0:25:35.5] AL: Yeah.

[0:25:36.5] MD: There’s probably another side to that coin, Rachel, about either faking it till you make it, or putting on your best face for your kids. As we were talking to Sherri Widen, who is our director of research here and we interviewed her on our podcast for kids, [we talked about] it’s okay to have certain emotions, like negative emotions. It’s okay to be afraid. Adults are afraid. Kids are afraid. It’s okay to be worried or sad sometimes. I’m curious as to the research that you’ve been looking at for your program about trying to create more positive than negative emotions, but also acknowledging that sometimes you feel those things and how to deal with that when you’re feeling them.

[0:26:22.7] RK: Absolutely. Emotions. We have even been trying to get away from the idea that emotions are negative or positive. Your thoughts can be negative or positive. What I’m talking about is not necessarily your emotions, but it’s your thoughts that you’re having about those emotions. Yes, so you know you’re having those thoughts, acknowledge it and then try to flip it around, because it’s really not productive and it can spin you in this cycle. But, hey, we’re all a little afraid right now. That’s a completely normal human reaction. We might be a little angry too. That’s okay too. It’s how we react to that feeling that can set us on a trajectory that’s positive or negative.

[0:27:14.1] MD: Right. I think that’s right. I think that was the point of Sherri’s interview with Scotty on our podcast, The Imagine Neighborhood, was that you might feel afraid of something, but sometimes a feeling like “afraid” can actually help keep you safe. Her example was: if you were afraid of learning to roller skate, well, you would put pads and a helmet and everything on to help keep you safe. When you’re afraid of a virus, well, you wash your hands a lot to keep yourself safe. To your point, if you are using certain feelings to do actions that are keeping you safe or …

[0:27:50.7] RK: Right. That are keeping you safe, that are positive, you feel good about it, you feel you can do something about it. I mean, in the end, that is what you can control—your reaction. Emotions are going to happen.

[0:28:03.8] AL: I’m curious. We often ask people on the podcast if there were adults or teachers who they really trusted, or had a positive impact on them when they were growing up, or demonstrated kindness. I wonder if you have any folks that you think modeled some of the things you’re talking about well during a time of crisis for you, or if you have references from your own life? Is there something that happened in the world or whatever and you saw people do this, that might be a good flip of that question in our current situation?

[0:28:31.7] RK: Yeah. Well, okay, so there are a couple of questions in there about someone who’s personally had an influence on my own life during a time of stress for me. When I was young, my mom died right when I was going into my teenage years, which is a really tumultuous time for a young girl.

I had an aunt who was particularly supportive of me. Really, she helped me through those years, I’d say. Pulling it back to this situation is supporting. Finding somebody who can give you that support, as well as being that support for someone else. I think that for me having had that, I know how it felt as a young teenage, preteen girl and how I can help others who need that support as well.

The support piece is really big right now. There are a couple things as far as resilience that can help people bounce back from things like this and from all roadblocks in life. I mean, there’s one, just taking care of yourself, the idea that you build up your … that you stay healthy. It’s like you have a strong immune system if you take care of your body. It can help you fight off viruses. Well, it’s the same thing with your emotional well-being. You keep yourself healthy, both physically and emotionally, and you can handle setbacks like this.

Then the support, knowing you have support that really helps you bounce back from things like this. If you feel you don’t have support, there are all different places you can find that. I think especially now, there’s a lot of different resources out there. If you’re in a place where you can give support, then I strongly recommend you reach out as well.

[0:30:18.6] AL: Thank you for that.

[0:30:19.7] MD: Great, Rachel. Maybe people are going to be wondering where they could find out more about adult SEL. I know Committee for Children is working on new resources for adult SEL. Tell us a little bit more about what’s coming up, or where people could find more information.

[0:30:35.8] RK: Yeah. Committee for Children has been working hard on providing supports to educators right now, both adults for themselves, and also for adult educators to support their kids when they’re maybe not in a schoolroom. We have set up a website. You can go to our SecondStep.org site and then it’s COVID-19 support: www.secondstep.org/covid19support. In there, you’ll also find—or you will very shortly find—what we’re doing for SEL for adults as well.

[0:31:12.8] AL: Thank you for that.

[0:31:13.9] MD: Rachel Kamb, thank you so much for taking a little bit of time and joining us today to talk about SEL for adults.

[0:31:19.8] RK: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you, guys.

[0:31:22.0] AL: Thank you. Take care of yourself.


[0:31:24.4] ANNOUNCER: Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoyed our conversation. You can find more episodes at growkinderpodcast.org and make sure to rate and subscribe on Apple Podcast or Stitcher.