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design for self


Some psychologists use the word “self” as a verb. Throughout our lives, we choose to bring all kinds of qualities to our actions and notice how those actions make us feel. When acting in a certain way (say, creatively or compassionately) makes us feel alive and fulfilled, we might notice that feeling and choose to bring that same quality to more of our actions. Over time, we build patterns of bringing certain qualities to our actions, to the point that those qualities become our values. That‘s selfing: the ​ongoing ​process of ​discovering values we want to bring to our actions and building patterns of values-based action that make us who we are.

Every day in every class, students make decisions as to how they approach lessons, discussions, assignments, and interactions. As they make these decisions, students aren‘t only choosing how they participate in class. They‘re also building patterns of how they live their lives. Imagine that during a class discussion, a student invites someone else to speak and recognizes what that person said. That student is not just participating in a class discussion; he‘s building a pattern of participating inclusively. He can participate inclusively in any discussion, project, game, lunch table, or text thread, and if he fails to participate inclusively today, he can recommit to participating inclusively tomorrow. He becomes increasingly aware of how important inclusivity is to him and how alive he feels when he‘s inclusive. Inclusivity becomes one of his values, an important part of who he is. 

Regardless of what teachers do, students are selfing in class every day. These workshops are about how to design instruction so students are more aware of what qualities they‘re choosing to bring to their actions, how they feel as a result of bringing those qualities to their actions, and what they can do to build patterns that feel fulfilling and change patterns that don‘t. 

All sessions are two hours long. Any session can stand alone, and any two or more sessions can be combined into a longer workshop or multi-day series. When logistics require it, any session can be cut down to 90 minutes, split into hour-long parts, or presented virtually.​

Session 1: Activating Values at the Beginning of a Unit. Values activation is the process of noticing how our current situation offers opportunities for us to do things we find important, affirming, and fulfilling. In this session, we‘ll learn to use a values activation protocol to help students notice how an upcoming unit offers opportunities for them to do important, affirming, and fulfilling work.

Session 2: Discovering Values While Reviewing Material. At the end of a unit, teachers often plan time for review so students can consolidate, strengthen, and extend their understanding—whether in anticipation of an assessment task of for its own sake. The protocols structure the review process so students not only understand the content more fully but also discover how the content reveals their values and how those values might guide the way they approach future work.

Session 3: Enacting Values While Working on a Project. Any time students to create a piece of work, they benefit from analyzing exemplars—excellent work of the type they’re being asked to create—so they can see for themselves what’s required and what’s possible. This session offers ways students can use exemplars to understand not only the assignment but also how work expresses its creator’s values and how their own work might express their values.

Session 4: Making a Values-Based Work Portfolio. A portfolio typically contains students‘ best work, but what we consider to be the “best” depends on our values. In this session, we‘ll learn to guide students through a process of creating work portfolios based on their own values. We‘ll also discuss ways students can use their portfolios to start conversations with their teachers, parents, and peers about how they can bring their values to their work in and beyond school.

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