SEL Snack: Let Your Decisions Define You

Getting up before dawn in Nikolai was a great decsion and well worth the few moments of lost sleep. Photo Credit: J. Westrich

According to a study by, teachers make 1500 decisions per day related to their work in the classroom. The role of educator, at every level, involves informing, assessing, administrating, facilitating, and de-facto parenting. All day long we make choices  – and the heart of these decisions is our responsibility to our students. SEL:Snack posts are an opportunity to look at a component of the CASEL SEL Framework and focus on building a skill set for students around that area in a morning meeting or circle time. This month’s focus is on Responsible Decision Making  – but with a twist – looking through the teacher lens. This one’s for you, the educator, to reflect on all the choices you make each and every day – 4 per minute according to the research!

The early morning effort resulted in sunrise over Denali that took my breath away. Photo Credit: J. Westrich

For my student focused investigation into Responsible Decision Making I often look at the difference between quitting and “scratching”.  For more about this take a look at the post from the race Surprising Scratch.  

Responsible Decision Making includes identifying problems, analyzing situations, and solving problems. Teachers do this hundreds of times per day – and so do mushers. Here is an example from the Trail: in Unalakleet I watched Ryan Redington hook up his dog team and was surprised and fascinated by the type of toggle he was using to connect his tug lines. Why would he choose a toggle – which to me looked flimsy and prone to coming undone – over a clip hook?  So I turned to the closest expert; standing next to me was Liz Failor, wife of musher Matt Failor, of 17th Dog Kennel/Alaskan Husky Adventures and she was gracious enough to answer my inquiry. Many mushers are reverting back to this more traditional type of connector for practical reasons – the toggles don’t freeze like a metal clasp can and are easy to attach with cold hands! I couldn’t help but smile at the realization that newer isn’t always better, and sometimes history had it right! 

A toggle connects the tugline. Photo Credit: J. Westrich

Ryan Redington puts booties on his dog before leaving Unalakleet. Another important tool of the Trail! Photo Credit: J.Westrich

What decisions do you make in your classroom around materials?  What writing utensil should be used? Print resource or online research? Calculator or no? Just like a musher, teachers must decide what tools are going to get the best results.

Responsible Decision Making also includes evaluating, reflecting, and ethical responsibility. For teachers this revolves around instruction and the obligation we have to our students to provide the best education possible; meeting students where they are and supporting their growth. An example from the Trail: return dogs. At each checkpoint a musher can have a dog “return” home. There are many reasons, most often they are just tired or sore. Many of us watching in Nome (and from armchairs at home) were concerned about Jason Mackey and the fact that he was running 5 dogs, having left Koyuk with 123 miles still to go before Nome. I have no doubt that he was in this position because of difficult decisions that were right for his dogteam. Thanks to good decision making, Mackey finished the race with five power house canines – all running on track and in synch to succeed.

Handing Jason Mackey the Red Lantern as he comes into Nome. Photo Credit: J. Westrich

So what choices do we make about our students’ journey? Are we noticing when kids are tired, hungry, or irritable? Can we slow down, or reteach, if students are lagging behind and need more support? Should we switch instructional groupings? Do we have a child who isn’t “in sync” with the team and needs enrichment materials because they are zooming ahead? Is it time to evaluate our measure of success? Is a test  score the goal? Or is it developing a love of learning? These are not easy decisions, but they are the big questions that guide all of our small choices in the classroom each and every day – because in the end we are modeling Responsible Decision Making for our students. Just one more choice we make each day. 

Library Learnings: Iditarod has numerous examples of decision making to prompt discussion about ethical and moral choices.

Imagine you are racing the Iditarod, hoping to win Rookie of the Year, and you suddenly come across your biggest competition walking because he lost his dog team. What do you do? Give him a ride (knowing he’ll rejoin the race and might beat you)? Pass him by and eliminate your competition? Read all about Hunter Keefe’s decision to give Eddie Burke Jr. a ride in this year’s race and take a look at the awards they won HERE!

Where to get the best photograph coming into Kaltag? From the top of the hill….

…or down on the Yukon River…

…or maybe from a snowbank as the team cruises past the “Welcome to Kaltag” sign? All great choices! Photos: J. Westrich

The year I taught 2nd grade we had a theme for each morning meeting – and my students loved “This or That Thursday.”  I would pose two options, they had to make a choice, and then support it. “I pick soda over milk because I’m allergic to milk and I’d get sick if I drink it” – responsible decision making!  Check out the book What Would You Do? 46 Situations for Making Good Choices by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos for idea prompts for Kindergarten – 2nd grade learners.