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Using Social and Emotional Learning to Amplify Student Voice: A Conversation With Serena Robinett
Episode 1124th February 2022 • Marketing and Education • Elana Leoni | Leoni Consulting Group
00:00:00 00:49:13

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This episode of All Things Marketing and Education introduces Serena Robinett, an Education Specialist at Soundtrap, a collaborative, cloud-based recording studio that enables students to create music and podcasts. Elana Leoni, CEO at Leoni Consulting Group (LCG), chats with Serena about all of the things about social-emotional learning (SEL) including how it should serve students of all cultural backgrounds. She also talks about the role of audio recording in developing students' sense of self, and what veteran educators like Serena can bring to the world of EdTech. We'd love for you to listen to the entire podcast episode but we’ve also highlighted things we absolutely just loved. And don’t forget to scroll to the bottom to access the many resources Serena talked about (including SEL lesson plans and activities!).

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Access this episode's show notes, including links to the audio, a summary, and helpful resources.

Elana:

Hello, and welcome to All Things Marketing and Education. My name is Elana Leoni, and I've devoted my career to helping education brands build their brand awareness and engagement. Each week, I sit down with educators, EdTech entrepreneurs, and experts in educational marketing and community building. All of them will share their successes and failures using social media, inbound marketing, or content marketing and community building. I'm excited to guide you on your journey to transform your marketing efforts into something that provides consistent value and ultimately improves the lives of your audience.

Hi, everyone. Welcome to this week's episode of All Things Marketing and Education. Today, I have the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Serena Robinett, an educational specialist at Soundtrap. I'm glad I got that last name right. We were talking about that earlier. So she has an educational specialist at Soundtrap. She works with districts, schools, teachers across the country, which I think is probably the best job ever, and supports them about using Soundtrap in their classrooms. But also, as a previous educator, she knows lots of things and is passionate about lots of things, including social and emotional learning. That's what we're going to talk about mostly in this episode today.

But before we get to that, I want to tell you a little bit about Serena herself. I don't know Serena very well. Every time I get to talk and collaborate with her, though, I leave smiling. You are a burst of joy. You are a happy person. You are so knowledgeable. You know those people you just meet, and you know they’re so passionate about making a difference in education, and you are one of those people. So I am just glad I have this time to connect with you. I asked Meredith, who's the head of engagement over at Soundtrap, I said, "You know, does Serena, does she ever get mad?" You’re such a happy person. And I think she said something like, "Oh, no, if you say if maybe equity or access or something."

Serena:

Growth mindset. Occasionally, if that gets thrown around without, like, thinking critically about it, then I'll, like – the claws will come out.

Elana:

She's like, "Oh, no, there are moments." But beyond that, a little bit of background about Serena. I'll have her go into her background as an educator and what brought her to this path. Because I think it's super interesting for you educators that are thinking about potentially moving into the EdTech world, but also from the EdTech perspective of just what are the types of people you might hire and collaborate with in your career in the EdTech world. I think that's it, Serena.

What I'd like to do is just welcome you. I'm so happy to spend this time with you talking about one of my favorite concepts, is social-emotional learning. I'll tell you guys all why in the episode. But welcome, Serena. And I'd love it if you could just introduce yourself and a little bit about Soundtrap, as well.

Serena:

Absolutely. Thank you for having me. So I was a former music teacher. I taught middle school instrumental music. So that's everything from band, orchestra, to digital music. And then I moved over to technology, and I taught my students digital literacy and how to code, things like that. Then about a year ago, I moved into Soundtrap and I am – and it's great because I used Soundtrap when I taught music. I used it when I taught tech. And so when the job posting came up, I was like, "Oh, this is perfect." For those who don't know, Soundtrap is a digital audio workstation. So it's an online recording studio where students can make music, they can make podcasts, they can do oral storytelling. So pretty much anything that students want to create, they can create using Soundtrap.

Elana:

Yeah, and I love technology like that because it really speaks to all the things we think about for 21st-century education. Even though I think that term is slightly a bit archaic, but we talk about, like, how do we integrate technology effectively? How do we integrate subjects effectively? Like, what can you do when you actually have to create a podcast about maybe a historical moment? And you know all of the different reasons of how to integrate. And then also we're going to be talking about something that people might not connect to technology, is social-emotional learning.

Serena:

Exactly, yeah. And I usually used to tell my students, right, like they're so used to consuming, right? Watching YouTube videos, watching TikToks, that we want to move them into creation where they're actually being the creators.

Elana:

Yeah. And I think that is still a myth that we all have is, especially in social media and all in tech are like, oh, they know how to do this. Oh, they know how to do that. From the social media side, I bring in interns and everyone's like, "Oh, they already know how, they should be teaching you." They know how to consume, and they might know how to personally do some stuff, you know, but they really don't know how to do it in a way that integrates critical thinking, potentially a higher level of creatorship.

Serena:

Exactly. I know people – I taught tech and so everyone's like, yeah, they're so good, right? I'm literally teaching them how to type sometimes. Because they didn't learn that. They're used to their phones and, like, typing with their thumbs. So yeah, it is very much like a beginner starting.

Elana:

They didn't take typing class.

Serena:

Yes. It kind of went away once we started having, you know, phones.

Elana:

For sure. Before we get into that, I just would like to take our audience on the journey of you a little bit. Because I think it's super fascinating. All the educators that are being – are passionate, but slash bold enough to take that leap over into the world of EdTech, because it's very different from the school system. So maybe can you start with just like what drew you to education to begin with, and then maybe your journey of trickling out and getting your toe in the water in the world of EdTech.

Serena:

Yeah. So in high school I had a band teacher that was good, but had some faults. And I remember being like, "I can do better." Which, you know, is a way to do it. And so I was like, "Yeah, I'm going to be a music teacher. I'm going to be that music teacher that actually inspires, that actually helps, in the way that that teacher did it, but even better." Again, incorporating maybe technology and things like that, and like that modern, less Western classical, more modern side of it.

And so I went to school for music and then music education, specifically, and then taught for a while. And then started realizing, right, like kids need that technology skills, and so I kind of hopped over. And then I was going through the pandemic and it was challenging, for sure. I actually enjoyed a lot of it because it was the one chance I got to, like, really connect with my students. It's just us and those little boxes. And so I actually got really close with them and got to know them better on, like, a deeper level than we would when, you know, class and bells, schedules and things like that. But then this role came up. I literally got an email, and it was like, “Hey, I saw you on LinkedIn and there's a job opening for Soundtrap.”

And I was like, "Oh, I know Soundtrap. Oh, OK. Maybe we'll see." You know, worst case scenario, I just do the interview and that's it. Or worst case, it's spam, who cares? So then I did the interview and they were like, “Would you like the job?” And I really had to think hard about it. Because. It was in the middle of the school year, during the pandemic. And that's like, you know, cardinal sin: Don't leave your kids in the middle of the year. But I just felt like I had to do this. I had to see what it was like, see if it could help. And I feel like – I'm glad I did it. I taught about 150 students to about 200. Now, I help and support teachers who teach hundreds of thousands of students. So I do think I have a bigger impact in a different way. It still gives me the same kind of connection, but to teachers and seeing how they're using it, right? I did it my way, but now other people can do it their way.

Elana:

Yeah. And that is the theme. When I have guests on this show, we talk about just your footprint and your "why." But the depth of impact and how you play a unique role in impact, especially with education, we have that why very strong with us. And some people say, you know, "I want to go back into the classroom, and I want to have that deep but small impact." And I'm sometimes on the other side of you of, "Gosh, you know, if we do this right, I can impact hundreds of thousands, if not millions of children across the world." And so that's huge, too. But it's a little bit slightly more indirect. So you miss the "aha" moments with the kids.

Serena:

Yeah. I have the aha moments with the teachers, too. It's fun. The other day we did – it was an introduction to Soundtrap music making. And I asked teachers, I found this on Twitter, "You bite into a cookie and there's raisins in it. How do you feel?" And I was like, "Make a song about that." And again, something I would totally do with my students, but I did it with grown adults, and it was hilarious. And to see some of their, like, songs and how different they were. Some people were pro-raisins, some were anti-raisins, but it is cool. You know, I do miss those moments with kids, right? I would have loved to have seen what a 12-year-old does with that prompt.

Elana:

That is an amazing prompt. Are you pro-raisin or anti-raisin?

Serena:

Anti-raisin. It's all about the chocolate chip cookie.

Elana:

I am all about the raisins.

Serena:

Then we would have had different songs about that. I was already thinking of my phone of, like, “Bohemian Rhapsody” type of Queen.

Serena:

Yes. Love that. You got to make it now.

Elana:

Yeah. I don't have enough time to play with Soundtrap. I'm jealous. I have my team do it. I have a little bit of disclosure for anyone listening. Soundtrap is a client of ours. We do social media. We're really blessed to work alongside people like Serena, but they have a whole team of educational specialists, which is really cool to be able to collaborate with lots of educators and previous educators. So I enjoy my time with you all, and this is really great to dive in deeper.

So we got into the little bit of the why, But I'm curious when you jumped in, because it was fairly recent. I actually assumed it was longer ago, honestly, because you gel with that team so well. And they just throw you out to conferences, and you're there. But being an educator, what were the differences when you jumped into the world of EdTech? Do you feel like there were certain things that you were unprepared for and things, conversely, that you're like, "I can really bring something to the table"? Because our audience are either educators trying – potentially exploring making that leap, but then also higher-level marketers and executive level EdTech folk that want to hire more educators and collaborate with them, as well. So I'm sure they would both be interested to hear about your –

Serena:

-:

If I want to have a 30-minute break to walk the dog, I can say, "OK, like, I'm not going to schedule time in this, and I can schedule time the next hour." And so that was kind of weird for me because I'm like, I got to go, go, go. I got to work constantly. And it still kind of feels like that. I'm like, I don't want to take time off because I have to be working. So that one was a big change and a big adjustment. But I think a lot of the things that I did as a teacher, like having data on all of my students, now I have data on all my districts. OK, how is this district doing? How is the student doing? Right? It's very similar in that regard. But yeah, I think a lot of it is giving myself space to think, to learn. I mean, I don't think I have read so many articles in the last year than I have in my entire eight years of teaching. You know, like the amount of learning is just so deep.

Elana:

Yeah. And I do see your teacher self come to life because I've listened to your presentations when you're going to conferences, too. And so the way you light up on stage and talk about – you are still that teacher teaching.

Serena:

Yeah. Put me onstage and I'm ready to go. I can teach to, you know, 40 kids, 300 people, it's the same kind of process.

Elana:

So it sounds like it was somewhat of a seamless, I mean, I do think that, you know, your bladder and other things are probably better.

Serena:

Definitely thanking me.

Elana:

Are there any things that would have helped you more? As an EdTech company, a lot of the times they're, they're trying to collaborate and hire educators as much as possible, but they make missteps because, you know, they just don't know. So are there some tips you'd give them? I mean, at Soundtrap, you have a team of educators, as well, so it's not like you're the only one.

Serena:

So yeah. We rely on each other a lot. And like, you know, each of the ed specialists have different skills, right? So like, my colleague, Jess, she thinks very deeply about certain things. So when we have these prep meetings, she's like, "OK, let's think about this, this, and this." Where I'm like, "Let's go. Let's just make it and we'll figure it out later." So I think it's helpful to have that team to rely on. I think the hardest part is like that imposter syndrome, you know? Because I'm like, "Oh, I'm just a teacher." And I said that for years. Like, I would call my parents and be like, “I have no other marketable skills than music education,” but that's not necessarily true. I have obviously all of these skills that I didn't think translates to, like, a corporate job. So I think being very explicit, whether you're like the employer that, like, your teacher is valuable because they are a teacher, because they have that knowledge base. They are the expert more so than, like, anyone else who hasn't been in the classroom.

Elana:

Yes. And I hate that phrase, but it's in so many educators’ minds, is, “I'm just a teacher.” And I heard that so many times when I was at Edutopia, when I asked educators to blog, and it was the first time they've ever even been asked to do anything. Because they didn't think what they were doing was novel or innovative because their doors are closed. But I had the privilege of seeing educators across the U.S. and go, “Nope, you are awesome. Can you please own your awesomeness? And I want to hear from you.” So teachers out there, you are never "just" anything. You are so valuable. And in the world of EdTech, you are the most valuable – I don't want to call you a commodity.

Serena:

That goes the other way.

Elana:

But you are the most valuable person, thing in their company. And really, as EdTech professionals, we should figure out ways to integrate educators in more and more. And I think Soundtrap is one of the models I've seen in companies of really using educators to teach and show their passion in different ways. Because when I meet people like Taylor, who also is very much into bands and trying to really inspire music educators, and he's in a band, and he's super cool. And you just want to, like, go wherever he's going and lead with him in terms of Taylor. But then Audrey, she's very much into, like, "Hey, let's talk to every teacher, and let's get them excited about integrating tech or music in their curriculum." Very different approaches. Both super awesome. You probably all learn from each other.

Serena:

Exactly. Again, we all have those different approaches to teaching, which is really great.

Elana:

Great. Well, let's get into the meat of what we really wanted to talk about, is social and emotional learning. And people really don't define it. Well, there's ten million definitions out there. And in fact, the acronym is the same SEL, but it could be called social-emotional learning. It might be called social and emotional learning. And now I'm seeing social, emotional learning and wellbeing. There's other terms that you're seeing floating around. Whatever it may be, do you want to go ahead and try to define it so this audience understands it in a way that we're like, "Oh yeah, I get what that is. And I get what that is in school."

Serena:

Yeah. I'll try. I’m definitely not Webster's. But I think, again, I think it expands to larger than just students. I think students, people, teachers, everyone. I think SEL is a way for people to connect with others in a healthy, empathetic, and culturally responsive way. And I think it encompasses all of the skills that CASEL mentions, right? Like, the empathy and the responsible decision-making and, like, managing and regulating your emotions. But I did want to add the culturally responsive part, because I know sometimes SEL is, like, used to box in students into certain, like, norms that end up, like, harming Black and Brown students. So I did want to add that culturally responsive part of it. Sometimes it's not added or included in those definitions.

Elana:

That's such a great point, because I've never had it added. And I've been really closely aligned with SEL. So social, emotional learning is one of the George Lucas Educational’s, Edutopia’s core concepts that they follow. And so they literally go around the country and document SEL in action across schools. And this is the first time I've actually heard “culturally responsive teaching and learning” and just interaction with SEL. So that's awesome.

Serena:

Yeah. The founder of LiberatED, Liberate E-D, Dena Simmons, actually talks about that a lot. Like, you know, sometimes it's missing in those discussions, and it ends up harming certain students because we're thinking of it as the social norm, socially accepted behavior, when sometimes that's used to discredit and hurt other students.

Elana:

For those listening right now, all of these links that we're talking about, CASEL, we're talking about LiberatED, which you just talked about, we'll even give some links to Soundtrap and SE, as well, all in our show notes. So at Leoniconsultinggroup.com/13. So don't get your pen out, if you're driving. Just take note, suck in the goodness, and then we'll get you that link and you can go ahead and dive into the resources. CASEL, in particular, the Collaborative For Academic, Social and Emotional Learning – ooh, that's a lot – defines it just the way you do. I think the key aspects of it are, how do you regulate your own emotions when you're young? And I think that that's really powerful. But how do you resolve conflict? I've seen kindergarteners, when their parents get in arguments, resolve conflicts, and they're just, like, these Yoda-like beings, that are like, “Mom, what are you feeling?” It's amazing to them to be not only aware of themselves, but aware of others and be able to resolve conflict in almost an adult-like manner.

Serena:

Yeah, it's incredible. I saw something on Twitter the other day, where it was like, I was nervous for a meeting and my student, like, coached me through it, or my child coached me through it. And it's like, wow, OK. And I do agree that, like, we weren't taught these things. I know I struggle with managing my emotions sometimes. You know? So I think it's great that we are teaching students this, the next generation, so that they're going to be able to have these healthier relationships and able to navigate life easier than we are.

Elana:

Yeah, I think that hopefully, not all, but at some point most kids will have some type of access to technology, and they might have some growth in that skillset, whether or not we emphasize it or not. But SEL is one of those things that if you don't bring it up and you don't constantly use it in the classroom, it's such a missed opportunity. I don't think you're going to get it from other places at this time. And it's so powerful as an adult and human beings.

Serena:

Yes. And more so now as we are going through all these traumas and things like that. It's so important to be trauma-informed and be able to handle and go through those without self-destructing, essentially.

Elana:

Agreed. Let's get into a little bit of the nitty-gritty. So if someone is an educator and they say, "OK, I want to start implementing SEL into my classroom, where do I even start?" Do you have any examples of, like, baby steps? Or does it always have to be district-led or school-led? Like, how do we start if we don't have support or we're just interested? I know that’s a big question.

Serena:

Yeah. I'll say baby, baby steps. Maybe don't quote me, but I would say, just start getting to know your students. I know everyone started doing it in the pandemic, doing those, like, check-ins. Those virtual check-ins. I think doing that in-person or virtually is so important just to get to know them, get to know your students, get to know who they are so that you can then address what they need when those things come up, when they need to have those, be able to teach them how to manage their emotions. Like, you need to know what those emotions look like.

So I think definitely checking in, building those relationships at the start, Day 1. And I know sometimes schools are, like, "OK, you have to, Day 1, you'll do building relationships, and then Day 2, you have to do your lessons." I say, like, close your door, do your stuff, build those relationships for like a week, maybe two weeks. And then start giving students the ability to go into those five components. There are tons of resources online that break down each component: self-regulation, self-management, responsible decision-making, things like that, the empathy portion. So I think closing your door and trying to do that as best you can is a good start.

Elana:

And it is a game changer. When I was in classrooms and talking to educators, at times, I would have been that educator that, if a kid was acting out, I would have said, "Oh, that, that's my fault. It's because I'm a bad teacher or I'm not engaging enough." And it wasn't until they did those check-ins, regularly, whether it be a circle where they go around and really get to rate how they're doing, it might be based on a color where they get to say where they're at, or a number. And the kids just say, you know, "I'm a three because I didn't have breakfast this morning, or my baby brother kept me up all night," or whatever it may be. There's so many things out of the control of an educator. And even though we all know this, you can't help but take it personal when they act out sometimes. But having that foundation was a game changer. When I saw these teachers, their eyes are like, "Oh, OK, you're hungry."

Serena:

Yes, exactly. I know one of my friends, she did one of those online check-ins, but she tailored it to what the students were, like, watching. So she had, like, The Mandalorian one with Baby Yoda. Pick what Baby Yoda image you are. So I did that with my students. They were obsessed with My Hero Academia. It's like an anime show. I watched the whole season. We would talk about it every day. So I did one of those check-ins and, again, it helped because they were like, "Oh, she's listening to us. And she's like consuming the media we're consuming. And also I feel now I trust her enough to say, 'OK, like, it's the anniversary of my grandma's death.'" Right? Like they're able to share those because they trust you now, you know.

Getting to know them, checking in as much as you can so that you do build that rapport. And so then you could say – you could be that trusted person when they are having those emotions. They're not going to kind of lash out at you. They'll be like, “Hey, can we chat? Can we talk?” But I mean, I was not great at it, either. Like, I was still learning and trying to get better right up until I left. You know, I think it's a daily struggle and practice that everyone has to kind of work on.

Elana:

Yes. And I think when we talk about the power of an educator, you know, we're always learning academically, and most of the time we're not going to know everything the kids know. And in fact, you know, that's when we transfer from being like this sage on a stage to like that guide on a side where we have them figure out things that we might not know. But with social-emotional learning, it’s something where you can connect with them and they remember that you care, and that you believed in them and that you cared. And for me, that's my best educators in my life. And what kept me going is that, "Oh, they care. They've taken the time to get to know me and they reach out when they think I'm struggling." That’s the foundation of SEL, and giving you that power to figure it out yourself, at times.

Elana:

Yes. Absolutely. I think it's so important. Awesome. Well, when we think about Soundtrap, in particular, because I know that what you are in every day is really working with educators with this specific tool. And I know that you were very passionate about social-emotional learning. Do you want to give some examples about maybe how educators are using that tool, so it might spark some ideas from other educators that are a little bit tech savvy? They're like, "Oh, I can do it with that tool, too."

Serena:

Definitely. Yeah. So I think one of my favorite first-day activities, like I mentioned, we have this lesson Say My Name. And I know my colleague Audrey has done this with really young kids. It's super cute. You have students, you have the Soundtrap project, and you have students record their voice saying and pronouncing their name. I think names are so important, saying them right. I know that's why you asked me earlier, like how to pronounce my last name. So yeah, having that. Again, it's getting students to realize like, "Oh, they care. They care about even how I say my name." And so students would record their name and any other information, like nicknames, pronouns, if they feel like it. And then it's just like one at a time. And so that way, again, if you have, like, a substitute later on in the year, or just to practice yourself, practicing the names as the students say it is really a cool lesson to start.

Then another one that I really like, and I've done this with teachers, I think it's really fun, is our Empathy Interviews. And what this is is you have an Empathy Interview, kind of like this one, where you just talk, you get to learn about someone, how they're doing, how they're feeling, what they're interested in, the things that they love, their hobbies, what they're passionate about. And then at the end, you go into Soundtrap and you record them a song or a story that will bring them joy, and then you give it to the other person. So again, now, we’re not only building that trust between teacher and student, but student to student, right?

Elana:

Cool. That's so cool. Because I do a lot of design thinking, and it's very much about I don't care about myself. I want to know what's going to give you joy and whether we're designing a product, or a service, it's all about thinking about you and then redesigning, redesigning. But you're creating a song or a podcast or whatever, and giving them joy. That's awesome.

Serena:

Exactly. Yeah. And it's fun to see. I mean, you know, I've done this with teachers, and I know that some teachers have brought it back to their students. And to see some of the students just, like, talking to each other and then creating. And they want to give joy to another person. Kids are, students are filled with love and joy, and they want to share that. And so I think it's really cool to have them do that.

Elana:

And music and the power of voice, I just – you cannot not have a straight face. And you're like, "Here's my song. I hope it gives you joy." No, it's like you can't help but, like, move and laugh with it. It's magical what music could do. And even just the power of your own voice. When you talked about the kids saying their own name. When I first listened to a podcast, actually, Meredith was on, your boss that's the head of engagement, I think.

Serena:

Customer Happiness.

Elana:

Wow, Great title. So Meredith was on a podcast and she talked about her child and the first time they heard their voice. And it just lit up. Because we all take that for granted. But when they hear their own voice, they're like, "That's me!" And I see it with my niece, now, who's three. I have her do those little Apple ephemeral messages that are, like, the audio, and she just loves doing it, and she cannot get enough of it because she loves hearing her own voice. And I think there's something to getting kids used to and loving their voice in the beginning. Because when you get our age, we hate our voices because we didn't do it. Right? But they're so simple, those things. I'm looking here at the portal at Soundtrap and there's some other really cool activities like 4-7-8 Breathing. That one’s a good one.

Serena:

That one's great. I, I definitely – I use that when I'm trying to go to sleep and stuff and, like, chill out for the end of the day. So what we do in that one, because Soundtrap has – we have a time ruler at the top. So it has, like, by seconds, you can see four seconds, and then after that seven seconds later and eight. So what we do is, like, take loops from our loop library and drag them in and make, like, really cool calming loops. One for four seconds, one for seven, one for eight. And then you take the cycle bar at the top and repeat it over and over again. So students breathe in for the first loop, hold it for seven seconds while they're listening to the second, and then breathe out for the last eight seconds. And then just repeat that over and over. And that helps to regulate thinking about that, like, parasympathetic nervous system. Like, that's a great way, like a great strategy for them.

Elana:

Yes. One of the education brands I used to work closely with is Education.com, and they work with a lot of parents, and parents directly to the children, and doing activities. But one of the most popular activities was a calm bottle. And you'd make this, just a water bottle with, like, glitter and all sorts of fun stuff inside. But the idea is, you would flip it over and by the time everything's settled to the bottom, they had to watch it and then take deep breaths. So it kind of reminded me a little bit about that. There's different ways you can – you don't necessarily need to use Soundtrap in all of these things. But are there ways that you can incorporate either technology or activities just to get kids aware of their breathing and deep breathing?

Serena:

Exactly. That parasympathetic nervous system, right? Like, after that fight or flight, how do you bring it back down? Right? How do you calm yourself? Because that's a struggle, you know, for lots of people. I literally, during the pandemic, bought a lava lamp for that same reason. Just turn it on and just watch and breathe. And play music with it. Like, so helpful. I know that's, like, way old school, but I loved it. Non-tech but kind of tech.

Elana:

That’s awesome. You're like, "I just want to watch my lava lamp. Leave me alone, everyone."

Serena:

It is great.

Elana:

So we will share all these links around the 4-7-8 Breathing. We talked about the Empathy Interviews for creating joy, which I love. The Say My Name for the kids. Are there any of the other ones you'd like to talk about that you think that this audience might find helpful?

Serena:

Yeah. So there's two I'd love to chat about, still. The What's in Your News I think is really great. So that's adapted from an educator, Sara Ahmed. Essentially it's just reflection questions during hard moments in students' lives. So when things happen in the news that are traumatic, that are stressful, that incite emotions, how can students reflect? And I think the questions that it offers, what's happening in your news, how does it make you feel? And then also, based on what your identity is, how does that make you feel? Right? And then what actions can I do later? So I think that's a really great one.

Again, there's going to be stuff that happens, whether it's, you know, extreme storms, fires, you know, insurrections, that's when we made the lesson. Because we're like, we need a space for students to process everything that's happening, a global pandemic, perhaps. There's just so much healing that needs to be done, and sometimes we need to process that, and sometimes talking through it helps more than, like, writing in a journal. So that one I think was a really, really helpful one. And then the other one. Oh, go ahead.

Elana:

I was just going to add that things like that, when you add the power of even podcasting or storytelling to it, the idea of having an audience for kids in particular and students is, it's powerful. That's what I always loved about project-based learning, that element of let's make sure it's real life and practical in the real world. Make sure that there's other people listening and they can give feedback. That's a big deal. And how do you receive feedback? And then the digital citizenship lessons around that are huge. But the idea that they're doing matters and relates to the real world. Because you know, how many times as an educator did you hear, “Why do we even need to learn this? Do people even use this?” I hate that question.

Serena:

Every lesson I wrote why are we doing this. And like, every lesson I'd give to students, there's always, like, a, “Why did we do this? Why is this important?” Because they definitely need to know. Being able to process and share your thoughts around what's happening in the world is a very easy why.

Elana:

Yes. And the podcasting component, too. We share a lot on Soundtrap’s Twitter account about just really cool, innovative student podcasts that you wouldn't even imagine what they're doing. And if that can inspire your kids and maybe potentially link subjects together you wouldn't think linked to, it's inspiring. So I just wanted to bring that up, before we move on to another cool activity.

Serena:

So the last one I wanted to share was our Allies For Justice, which my colleague Justin created. And he adapted it from Learning for Justice's lesson, where you learn about how to be an ally to marginalized communities. And I think that's so important. Specifically, that was tied to the worker unions in California, but obviously it could apply to everything. So giving students a space to think about how can I be a better ally to my community I think is really helpful. And again, it's kind of similar to the idea that social-emotional learning also needs to be culturally responsive. So I think that lesson is really powerful and I think really important.

Elana:

Yeah, that's awesome. That wasn't on my radar at all.

Serena:

That’s a recent one.

Elana:

OK. Great. We'll make sure that it's up there and linked, too. I guess finishing up social and emotional learning, is there any kind of parting thoughts you'd like to give? Educators that are still thinking about it, but on the fence, but they're in a pandemic still and they need to prioritize things. What's the advice that you’d maybe give them that push to get started, or even just try something new right now in the midst of all the craziness going on and everything they're faced with?

Serena:

Yeah. I can speak for myself, at least. I wish I had done it Day 1, since I started teaching seven years ago, I wish I had known immediately, you know? And I'm lucky that I taught music and that I could connect with students in a different way. But if I had been able to teach them those valuable skills from Day 1, it would've been game changing for me as an educator and for my students. So I just think it's really helpful for everyone to do it, like, as soon as possible. Because I think it's one of those, like, incremental – when you start it, start slow, But it can have such a larger impact in the long-term for students.

Elana:

Wouldn't you say that it really affects everything, right? So if you start building this foundation through SEL in your classroom, it makes everything easier. You don't have engagement problems or outbursts as much. I mean, not to say it's going to be the silver bullet. It takes time and it's incremental. It's that kind of like oil that kind of helps, I don't know, a lubricator, I don't know a good metaphor, but it really helps everything go more smoothly.

Serena:

I think it helps the students feel better and try and, like, navigate life easier. And that I think is kind of why we do this, right? It's not to teach, you know, our subjects. It's to make students feel better and go through their life happier and better.

Elana:

Yeah. And it's not just for the students. I see educators using SEL within faculty meetings to collaborate. And then even when you use SEL techniques in your classroom, the benefit isn't just for the student. You have that beaming of it brings you back to that why and that connection as well, right?

Serena:

Oh, yeah. I would breathe along with my students whenever we did, like during testing, we'd always do meditation. And I was like, “I'm going to do this with you.” And it's so helpful. Teaching is a stressful job, and we also have those moments of fight or flight, and stress and trauma. And so I think it's helpful for teachers, as well.

Elana:

We were talking right before we started about just the latest research on SEL. And for those of you that don't get Edutopia Research E-Newsletter, it's great. They're not paying me to say this. I used to work there. But I just think it's – I think it comes every two weeks in your email inbox, but one of the first things was a social-emotional learning study. And they talked about how, regardless of if you're a parent, a teacher, an admin, if you're a Democrat, if you're a Republican, whatever you are, there is widespread public approval of saying, yes, we all need more SEL in the school. And it's never been like that. And so we're all recognizing we need something. With teacher burnout, in particular, student engagement, really hard with all the hybrid, the Zooms, the blah, is how do we all start connecting more?

Serena:

Agreed. It's so helpful. And I love that everyone is kind of onboard and thinking about our students and what they need.

Elana:

So what we'll do in the show notes is provide you a whole list of organizations you can go to for social and emotional learning, because we gave you some great activities. But if you are excited about this concept, we can give you all of the things, all of the research. But all of the activities will be in the show notes as well. And Serena, I'll link up with you to see if there's any other organizations that are not on my radar, but there's so many great things.

And I think my last piece of advice for educators is don't make this like what they call a binder on a shelf that you bring out once a year. And especially in SEL, they used to do that. They’d literally have a binder and be like, "OK, kids, we're going to do SEL.”

Serena:

Wellness week.

Elana:

Find little ways to incorporate it at least once a week, and you and your kids will be beaming with joy of like, "Yes, we care about each other." Well, awesome. I think we're going to switch gears really quickly, and then I'll let you go. Because I know you are super busy training educators. I'd like to talk to our audience that aren't educators. Usually, we mostly have non-educators on the show, and I have to say, “Hey, remember the educators.” But educators, you're getting a lot of stuff you can use in the classroom.

But when we think about EdTech folk and they're listening, as an educator, and also now you're in the world of EdTech and get to work with educators, I'd love just a quick piece of advice of, you know, what do you think EdTech companies should do more of when they're talking to educators? And potentially, like maybe there are some things that they should avoid. I think we're always trying to strive for authentic connection with educators, but there's so many things in the world of EdTech that get in the way. We have pressure for sales. We have got, you know, all sorts of things where we want to make sure that they know our product, and it's all about our product because we love our product and we get in our head. But what would give some advice around EdTech companies that are just trying to reach out to educators and tell them that they've got this great product or service?

Serena:

That's a great question. And I'm actually going to say do nothing and just listen. I know that's, like, tough because you, again, want to share, and I'm guilty of it now, too. I'm like, "Soundtrap, Soundtrap, Soundtrap." But I think the most helpful thing is following those educator voices, listening to what they have to say, listening to what they need, and then trying to see where your product could fit in. You know, I think that's – there's such an incredible community on TikTok, on Twitter, on Instagram, everywhere, Pinterest, even. Where teachers are sharing their expertise, their knowledge. They're also asking questions. What do I need? What can I do? How do I do this? And so I think listening and trying to tap into that community as best as possible, and then share your product, I think would be really helpful. So that's my advice.

Elana:

That's such great advice. Oh my gosh. I always talk about providing value as much as possible to educators. Like, let them figure out what they need and if you can provide value, great. But say you have a product that actually doesn't, you know, their biggest challenge is school scheduling and you’re Soundtrap. You're like, well, can't help you there, right? But you also are part of a community of educators and you're like, you know, so-and-so over here, does this really cool thing with their master schedule? Why don't you connect with them? So provide value and listen as much as possible. Because I'm big on always creating content, as well, to go along with your product, and talk about the things you're passionate about.

It's never really about your product. You can also be a great connector and still provide value. We're all in this together. I think sometimes we just get really caught up, as EdTech people, and say, "OK, how do we get the word out? How do we raise brand awareness? How do we raise engagement with our product?" It's not about us, sometimes.

Serena:

It’s the teachers and their students. And I think they have a good voice and they know what they need.

Elana:

Yes. And listening is all about going slow, and you need to go slow. I mean, eventually go fast, I guess, but just go slow because it's the right thing to do.

Serena:

Exactly.

Elana:

Awesome. So we always ask all of our guests one thing, and I think in particular it's really pertinent because burnout is high. Every day is hard, even if you and I, we love what we do. We have purpose. We're in a mission-driven company. But it's hard every day, still. How do you keep inspired? Are there things that you do, physically, or read, or are there things that you're just like, "Yes, I got to listen to this music to get in and get a little pep in my step." Are there some things you can share with our audience that might be struggling?

Serena:

I mean, I got the new Peloton. I got a Peloton bike, and I've been obsessed with it. And I'm not normally like a person who, like, goes to the gym. I used to run pre-pandemic. But this has been so helpful. And I think it's fun. And I mean, as an educator, I really like seeing the instructors and like their vibe, their style. It kind of does two for one, right? Like, I'm exercising, but I'm also, like, learning and trying to, like, see how they engage with their audience. The other day, one of the instructors high-fived me in the middle of a different class. I’m like, “Holy crap. That's so cool.” I should be doing that. Like, how do we do that here? But yeah, I'm obsessed with a Peloton right now.

Elana:

Awesome. Do you have any favorite instructors or music or things that, like the type of classes you go towards?

Serena:

I definitely, my favorite instructor is Robin Arzon. She just, like, has that – she gives me, like, so much good advice. She's like, "If people don't like when you're making waves, make them swim." And I'm like, "Oh, yes, Robin." And I just love her vibe.

Elana:

I love that quote.

Serena:

Right? And she always plays lots of Beyonce which, like, is my jam.

Elana:

I love that, as an educator, you're always looking towards other people that are doing things in innovative ways, too. And then you get the pleasure of teaching other teachers and go, "All right, have you tried this?" And that's cool. And I never thought of the Peloton that way. I'm staring at my Peloton right now, going, “I need to get on this more.” Anything else you want to mention? Anything you’re reading or doing?

Serena:

I mean, take a look at some of our Soundtrap stuff, you know, I think we have some cool things happening soon. I know Taylor is doing our Soundtrap Anthem for some of our music folks. But we also have, like, some cool Spotify podcasts, with Michael Lipset, which is super cool. I definitely recommend those. But yeah, just learning and listening to all the teachers and trying to send love and space to them. Because it's a tough, tough time.

Elana:

Yeah, that's so important. And the way you worded it around just listening is so perfect. And I want to reiterate that over and over again to everybody, as educators, and people in the Ed Tech world. So lastly, Serena, how can people get in touch with you? We'll share all the resources that you talked about in our show notes. But are there ways that people can get in touch with you and collaborate with you?

Serena:

Yeah. So I talk a lot about education on my Twitter. It's @SerenaFRDewey, my married name. And then of course, anyone can, like, contact me by emailing me serena@soundtrap.com. It's super easy because it's got alliteration in it. And yeah, that's pretty much where you can contact me.

Elana:

And you’ll see her at most of the education conferences, as well.

Serena:

Seriously, I'm traveling a lot this year.

Elana:

Well, I can't wait to meet you in person. Hopefully we can meet each other ISTE or something.

Serena:

Absolutely. And get some beignets.

Elana:

Yes. Thank you. I know how busy you are. Thank you for spending time with me today and sharing your passion with us, especially something as important as SEL. I know we didn't talk about your career trajectory, but I am lucky enough to work with someone that, you know, Porter Palmer, that has a title called Director of Joy. And I could see in your future something like that, a nice title that really just resembles all of the passion you bring.

Serena:

That does sound good, Director of Joy.

Elana:

I know. After I introduced myself to her, everyone's like, that's a good title. Well, thank you so much. Everyone else, thank you for listening. You can access this episode's show notes at, again, leoniconsultinggroup.com – that's two G’s – consultinggroup.com/13. So all of the resources, the templates, the lesson plans will be there. Thank you all for listening. We appreciate you so much, and we will see you all next time on All Things, Marketing and Education.

Thanks so much for listening to this week's episode. If you liked what you heard and want to dive deeper, you can visit leoniconsultinggroup.com/podcast for all show notes, links, and freebies mentioned in each episode. And we always love friends. So please connect with us on Twitter @Leonigroup. If you enjoyed today's show, go ahead and click the subscribe button to be the first one notified when our next episode is released. We'll see you next week on All Things Marketing and Education.

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