Self-management: Why assessing it is important for an organised society

Shimo la Tewa candidates before the start of the year 2021 CSE exams at the school in Mombasa County on March 14, 2022. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

The sordid event on forest road involving a female motorist being assaulted by a boda boda gang spoke not only of the rot in our ethics as a society but also of the fact that we are such a disorderly society.

Disorderly because our public transport industry in general, and the boda boda sector in particular is a subculture premised on chaos. and so are many other sectors of our economy. 

Disorganisation seems to be our bane. Most of our systems don’t seem to work, partly the reason corruption has thrived.

We need to address this systemic problem at the school level, by equipping learners with superior organisation skills at individual levels, which will no doubt translate to a better-organised society, and country.

Education has a great impact on civic and social engagement in society. Self-management/organisational skills are essential components of Social Emotional Learning competencies, which teach students the skills to navigate their lives.

Character education teaches confidence, social-emotional intelligence, and self-awareness, among other life-long strengths.

Self-management, however, may be one of the most critical skills that students take from Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). Learning to self-manage teaches students to have a growth mindset.

For instructors to effectively teach self-management skills, a reliable and proven plan is needed. Teaching self-management skills for students has been proven to improve academic performance, productivity, time-on-task, and decrease problem behaviour.

A self-management plan is a set of tools that builds and fosters independence, self-reliance and self-motivation. More than an educational philosophy, self-management skills are crucial for students to learn.

Self-management plans use SEL character-building proficiencies to lead students toward self-discipline, self-motivation, and independent learning.

Self-management strategies involve:

Goal setting: Students and teachers should cooperate in setting small, reachable goals that the student can work toward. Goals can be anything from “working quietly for 15 minutes” to “turning in homework consistently.” By allowing the student to participate in setting their goals, you empower them to take an active role in self-management strategies, as well as self-management interventions.

Behaviour monitoring: Self-monitoring, or behaviour monitoring, occurs when students observe and record their behaviours, redirecting themselves when necessary. They practise their self-awareness skills and build a record of their difficulties and successes. Through self-monitoring, students become more aware of where they struggle and where they succeed. As their self-awareness increases, they gain confidence in their ability to redirect themselves and participate in self-reinforcement activities.

Self-reinforcement: Self-reinforcement is the act of rewarding oneself after completing the desired behaviour or meeting a goal. Rewarding positive behaviour increases the likelihood your student will repeat that behaviour. According to Psychology Today, 85 per cent of people who don’t learn self-reinforcement have trouble in other areas, like self-esteem. Rewards can be a chance to get up and move after completing an assignment, extra computer time, or assigning classroom jobs. Tailor the rewards to the student and the behaviours you want to reinforce with the self-management plan.

Self-evaluation: While students may look forward to the rewards, reflection on the process teaches them the most. What helped inspire them? What was the most challenging part of the process? Was the reward worth it? What can they do better the next time? These questions and answers help teachers and students gain confidence in themselves and their skills. They can also identify areas where the teacher and student believe they can improve. This self-evaluation process also teaches students the power of resilience and perseverance. They learn that failure can happen, but if they keep trying, they can succeed.

Some proven self-management/organisation tools in the classroom consist of:

Team operating agreements: Agreements or contracts created or co-created with students can be a great tool to help them own their challenges when it comes to self-management. While you might have class or school norms, students may not find a true attachment to them. When students create norms, they are more likely to follow them. In addition, students can create norms and agreements that are personalised. While one team might need an agreement about keeping their hands and feet to themselves, another might need one about the free expression of ideas. Norms and agreements should meet the needs of students, not simply be imposed upon them. When students help create the norms, it’s more likely that they will meet the students’ needs.

Task lists: In addition, students may need scaffolds to organise their thinking, planning, and overall work. They can use task lists to assign tasks to specific team members. Sometimes these sheets have places for teachers, team leaders, and others to sign off when tasks are completed. Task lists are also great tools for assessment and conversations on equitable collaboration.

Checklists and rubrics: Of course, rubrics and checklists are tried-and-true tools for self-management/organisation. There is nothing new here, but it’s a good reminder that assessment tools are also great management tools. They promote reflection and goal setting, as well as ownership of the work. Checklists and rubrics are more powerful when they are co-created with students, as students tend to understand and take ownership of expectations. Keep checklists and rubrics available to students and plan intentional time for students to use them to assess themselves and their peers, to help manage projects, and to keep constant momentum in the learning process.

Time management logs: Using time management logs, students document how long they spend on specific tasks, assignments, or collaborative work. They can do this over the course of a week or longer. The intent is to document and then reflect upon the time they spend learning and working. The log may surprise students and inspire them to use their time more efficiently.

Reflection and goal setting: All of the tools above are completely ineffective unless they are paired with reflection time. While students may look forward to the rewards, reflection on the process teaches them the most. Just as we take time to reflect on content learning, we also need to take time to reflect on the learning process. All of the tools above provide great opportunities for students to reflect on how they have learned in targeted ways and to set goals. Learning logs are a great tool for this as well, as they promote the process of learning, not just the product. Reflection on self-management is critical.

Rating Scales: A rating scale allows students to rate how well they accomplished a specific goal. For example, a student sets a goal to complete an assignment within a stated period.

Behaviour Report Cards: These report cards should have a place for teachers and individual students to grade their behaviour. Younger students may earn grades on teaching sessions, while older students may be able to handle a grade for the entire day.

We can learn a lot from education systems in countries that demonstrate superior organisation as a society.

In the US for instance, state departments of education have established self-management/organisation models from early childhood education.

The Minnesota Department of Education has stressed the need for self-management and organisation skills being introduced to learners as early as Grade 3.

Educators integrate evidence-based Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) practices across all subject areas to help students develop their social-emotional skills or competencies.

For the Self-Management competency, the department developed two learning goals, set measurable grade band benchmarks, identified sample activities for each grade band, and identified where select Minnesota Academic Standards connect to the benchmarks.

Educators come up with sample activities to teach the benchmarks. The intent is for students to reach mastery of each benchmark by the end of the grade range.

These learning goals include demonstrating the skills to manage and express their emotions, thoughts, impulses, and stress in effective ways, and demonstrating the skills to set, monitor, adapt, achieve and evaluate goals.

But how exactly is this being achieved in lower education? Students are taught to master self-management skills through simple lessons like demonstrating calming strategies in order to manage emotions, thoughts, impulses, and stress.

Use coping skills such as calming down, walking away, self-talk, seeking help, or mediation to manage their emotions and behaviours.

Recognise the importance of not giving up (perseverance). Use constructive ways of expressing their emotions, thoughts, impulses, and stress such as through using I-statements.

Analyse the relationship between their own ethical values – such as honesty, respect, and integrity – and behaviour. Analyse if they are behaving in line with ethical values and adjust accordingly, among other key competencies.