Alison Faison

Messages We Tell Ourselves: Social Emotional Learning

It used to take me hours to make a mix tape. Children and youth can now easily curate their songs into playlists and instantly share with family and friends. They receive recommendations for other similar playlists and learn about new artists and songs of the same genre. If only it were that simple to organize our thoughts. Kate Garnes, author of the book Mixtape, says, “I’ll honor your story as I share mine, and I’ll help you become the DJ of your own life. It’s time to change the music. Let’s create your own mixtape.” What if those were Jesus’ words? How would we engage more with the actions and life-giving messages of Jesus?

Social emotional learning (SEL) is a common buzzword and method used in churches, schools, and organizations to help children, youth, and adults choose a growth mindset over a fixed one. A growth mindset supports a healthy and restorative model which can offer open-ended answers and solutions. I like using the app “I AM” where I read affirmations daily. I can choose 1 minute or 5 minutes of affirmations. Some are: “I see my struggles as an opportunity to learn.” “I have healthy habits.” A fixed mindset can be binary, limited to judgment, and lead to reward or punishment. With all of the many things to fear in our daily lives, we do not need to live in a cortisol-filled fight or flight state of being. Sometimes we don’t have the space or time to breathe and process, so we need to live our life even if we are afraid. Rev. Joann Lee posted this quote by Elisabeth Elliot, “Sometimes fear does not subside and you must do it afraid.” That takes courage.

In growth mindset mode, we are critical thinkers, problem-solvers, and boundary-makers who proactively care for ourselves and others. Oftentimes students or retreat-goers create a poster with two columns where they can write or post fixed mindset messages such as “My thoughts are not important enough to share.” and then complementary growth mindset statements such as, “I might be surprised how the discussion could change if I shared my thoughts.” This exercise creates a visual picture of our collective cultural messages, as well as empowers us to choose messages that might work better for us. As we know, there is much need for people to be willing to look at multiple perspectives and respond by using best practices which include listening, mutual respect, and encouragement.  

In the bible, there are distinctions between being a child and acting in childish or immature ways. As a parent, as well as a teacher of infants to 5th graders, I observe that children are self-guided, deep thinkers and feelers, as well as self-protective even though they have not developed some judgement skills which happen as the brain develops. In the passage Matthew 18: 1-3, the disciples asked Jesus ‘Who, then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ 2He called a little child to him and placed the child among them. 3And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” I think that this refers to the authentic lens that children live through. They express their needs and wants and also observe nature and the way things are. With regard to childishness, Paul wrote to the Corinthians about a divided people and told them to put away their pettiness, so that they could be united in Christ. In 1 Corinthians 13: 11 he said, “When we were children, we thought and reasoned as children do. But when we grew up, we quit our childish ways.” Believing the illusion that we are a divided people denies our humanity and natural sense of wanting to belong to community. It is counter-productive to healthy cultural and moral growth. A group that fosters a singular mindset, focused on what they want even if it ignores the safety and health of the group, is an immature self-interest group. As a child grows in community it realizes that it can express its wants and needs, but must also consider how its actions will affect others in their community. Those messages a child or adult listens to shapes how they work with their emotions and impulses. Once they take time to sift through their thoughts they can find a sustainable healthy solution that produces energy rather than depletes it. The child would be following the moral narrative that actually benefits all people not just those in power.

Creating art is a way for me to follow messages of growth mindset. I receive a message of encouragement or inspiration to do something. Then I think about whether or not I should manifest it into a physical, visual, kinesthetic or auditory thing. Since 2020, I have been following through with these instincts to create, speak out, and share. For spring break, our family went to visit my mother at the home where I grew up. Each time I go, I encounter some objects that spark memories of being a child or teen. My mom had bags of cassette tapes to be sorted, so I helped put her tapes in one section. She had used to enjoy making audio letter tapes as well as mix tapes for family and friends. I could have thrown away the stash of forty blank tapes but decided to take them home and create something.  

I thought about the messages that I listened to during my childhood, youth, and young adult years. They were not all in the fixed mindset camp. How could I use the blank tapes and my own fixed and growth mindset messages to create 3D conceptual visual art? I took two gopher wire cages that held last season’s pumpkin and zucchini plants and repurposed them as foundations for the cassette tapes. Then I wrote my own fixed mindset tape messages on blank tapes and tied the cassettes to a fixed mindset cage and to a growth mindset cage. If I were to create a classroom poster, it would include these messages:

Fixed mindset from childhood

“I need to play small.”

“When I ask for clarification they are defensive. I won’t ask questions.”

“Do work and feel fulfilled. Play is a waste of time, money, and talent.”

“What I say and feel is permanent.”

Growth mindset during adulthood

“I like to entertain and be entertained.”

“I can ask for clarification without being ignored or attacked.”

“Sometimes I need to be childlike while “adulting.”

“I can change my mind or be wrong.”

I am inspired by all of the ways people have added affirmations to their meditation, prayer time, therapy, and 12 step programs. “One day at a time.” “I am worthy.” “I can do hard things.” It is important to be able to notice our old messages and welcome new ones into our being. I think that encouraging messages are the Holy Spirit’s way to help us live God’s call.

More to Explore

Wear Orange: When Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough

Isaiah 2:4 says, “He will settle arguments between nations. They will pound their swords and their spears into rakes and shovels; they will never make war or attack one another.” I read Sandy Hook Promise posts on Instagram and cannot escape thinking of the horror a parent experiences after their child or teen is shot. This is not sensationalism or fake news. On August 27, 2019, I took my middle school daughter to Lincoln High School for a Town Hall on gun sense, directly relating to the shooting of 15-year-old Day’von Hann, a student who lived in the Mission District. Then Speaker Nanci Pelosi, Rep. Jackie Speier, Founder of Moms Demand Action Shannon Watts, CA Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, and 17-year-old Phillip and Sala Burton High School student and member of United Playaz, AJ Santiago led the meeting. After these change-maker women shared personal experiences, data, and gun sense bill proposals, I was sure we would have gun violence reform. I was wrong. The CDC says that firearm incidents are the second-leading cause of death among American children and teens. One out of ten gun deaths involve age 19 or younger. Everytown Research relays that “there were more school shootings in 2022 (46 shootings) than in any other year since Columbine.” One would think that this statistic would be enough to take immediate action to make common gun sense bills into law and enforce them in court. Money talks, so many of the proposed bills continue to be blocked by gun supporter groups. How do we empower our children and teens to use their power to urge legislative, judicial, and executive branches to make change now? We need to continue telling stories of the pain and grief that parents and adults continue to experience after a child dies because of gun violence. Speaking the truth that advocates protection of all people follows Jesus' non-violent civil disobedience against the empire. Christians are obligated to love their neighbor and care for the vulnerable. If they do not want to prevent gun violence against innocent civilians, their beliefs are not based in Jesus' life-affirming truth.

Life After Foster Care

During a Faith in Action Bay Area meeting yesterday we were working on pin-pointing false narratives about unhoused people. Our goal was to find true stories that dispel those untrue statements. What are the false narratives about what happens after a youth becomes an adult and leaves the foster care system? In general, a youth has aged out of the system at 18 years old, but some states are extending it to 24 years in order to provide more support. People who do not want to pay for the foster care system might say, “The foster care/government system has supported children until they became adults. They should have the tools to become independent. They are on their own at 18.” Unfortunately, according to the group, A Sense of Home, we know that 50% of people experiencing homelessness are former foster youth. ( The foster care system does not have the capacity to fully serve resources to the average of 566 children who enter the foster care system every day in the U.S. According to the June 2022 AFCARS Report (, that's 1 youth every 2.5 minutes. There is a disproportionate amount of houseless teens who identify as LGBTQ2SIA+. True Colors United says that they are 120% more likely to experience homelessness and are at risk for gender dysphoria and suicide. ( The nation-wide worker shortage or rather workers’ unwillingness to work in unsupportive environments has also brought an uptick in workers striking in order to get their demands met. Working in the foster care system takes training, dedication to learning on-the-job, as well as compassion and problem-solving skills. If workers are not properly trained and supported, they get emotional burn-out. How can we be the hands and feet of Jesus to help change this system?

Feeding Our Grief

“Cynecism is ungrieved grief.” I thought about this quote a lot after reading Traci Smith’s free Treasure Box Tuesday email. She, a children’s minister and author, quotes pastor and author, Rob Bell, who probably officiated many memorials and heard countless stories of grief from congregation members. In the past two months, I have attended three memorials for parents of my peers. All of the services were culturally different, but the grief was the same. We got together to breathe in stillness, hear music, observe the grieving family, eat a meal together, and connect with our own mortality. Ashes to ashes. I experienced three Ash Wednesdays after Easter. Civilian and urban folks world-wide have endured multiple brutal and unplanned Ash Wednesdays since Easter. San Francisco, Texas, Ukraine, Sudan.