Brianne Gidcumb | November 2017

SEL and the Arts: Developing Self-Awareness

Last month, we began a series on social-emotional learning and the arts. Social and emotional learning “enhances students’ capacity to integrate skills, attitudes, and behaviors to deal effectively and ethically with daily tasks and challenges” ( It is comprised of five core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Each month, we’ll take a look at how we might address each of these competencies in and through the arts. This month: self-awareness.


This competency is described as “the ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values, and how they influence behavior; the ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a ‘growth mindset.’”

The arts provide a strong foundation on which to build these skills. How? Because the arts are highly process-based! They provide a structure in which students can explore creative endeavors, both alone and with peers. They allow the opportunity to give and receive feedback in a constructive manner, learn to accept criticism and praise from others, and develop growth mindset.

accelerator membership

In all arts contents areas, we ask students to engage in a creative process. As part of this creative process, we ask students to be able to brainstorm, develop and refine their own creative ideas. We ask students to interpret, present, and perform the creative works of others. And we ask students to be able to evaluate those works, both original and existing, to develop their artistic craft.

Particularly in the performing arts (music, theatre, and dance), every performance is unique. Each performance is an opportunity to show improvement, to bring new light and life to a work of art, to grow as an artist. This process requires an incredible amount of self-awareness. We ask students to put themselves in a really vulnerable place, to develop creative ideas and share those ideas with others, to put their strengths (and weaknesses) on display for an audience. Students in the arts must exhibit the very definition of self-awareness, and accurately assess their strengths and limitations with a sense of confidence, optimism, and a growth mindset.

Natural Connections

The arts are a really natural place for students to practice the skills and characteristics associated with self-awareness. So how can we encourage students to track this self-awareness through their participation in the arts? We can give students opportunity to acknowledge the feelings associated with the creative process in a number of ways.

  • Establish a community that encourages growth mindset. Make your classroom a safe space to make mistakes, put weaknesses on display, and learn from them.
  • Provide opportunities for students to celebrate their own successes and reflect on areas for improvement.
  • Encourage students to keep a journal for the purpose of their own social-emotional development. Prompt students to write about their strengths, establish goals for their own development, set mantras or intentions for a project, presentation, performance, Ask students to identify what works and what doesn’t, to identify emotions associated with feedback, praise, and criticism, to establish a vision of the type of student and artist they want to be.

For lots of great resources and ideas for SEL and arts integration, check out The Inspired Classroom.

About the Author

Brianne is a former music educator from Chicago and current graduate class instructor with EdCloset’s Learning Studios. She earned her Masters degree in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music and has over a decade of experience in the elementary general music classroom. With her experience in the performing arts, Brianne is dedicated to building connections between the arts and Common Core Standards, 21st century learning skills, inquiry and project-based learning. In addition to her work with EducationCloset, Brianne is a yoga instructor in the Chicagoland area. You can also find Brianne here: