Mastery of Sourdough Bread

by Anna Ivanova from

Over the Summer, many of us had the chance to rest and renew. We hope you were able to enjoy the sun and warmth, and the ease of the long Summer days. Our team at Mindful Practices enjoyed our time by taking leisurely trips to the farm, doing yoga on the patio, taking long walks with our dogs, and a team favorite: learning to bake sourdough bread.

These creative pursuits aren’t just good for the body; they allow a different part of the brain to come online. When this happens, things we have thought about and categorized in one way, often expand into something fresh and new, much like baking sourdough bread! Having the creative space to learn this new skill allowed us to see this applicable metaphor: mastering the various components of bread baking is strikingly similar to mastering levels of SEL competency.


So what do we mean when we talk about mastery?

There is a difference between simply “having SEL Skills” and “‘mastering’ SEL competencies.” The difference is one’s ability (whether child or adult) to solve for context.

Let’s look at this in context of the knowledge, skills, and competencies needed to make a crusty loaf of homemade sourdough bread.

Sourdough Bread in Oven

Acquire Knowledge: It starts with the baker Googling images of beautiful sourdough loaves. Then researching recipes online (i.e. King Authur Baking website) or dusting off copies from masters like Nancy Silverton and Alice Waters.


Sourdough Bread FlowerRead, learn, memorize: After the baker has collected their resources, they need to spend time with the recipes, read about various techniques, and memorize the basics. It’s in this step that the baker is laying the foundation of their understanding. 


Sourdough Bread CoolingBuild Skills, Create Conditions: As the baker digs in, they grow the sourdough starter, and look to obtain the best tools to create the optimal conditions for bread making: freshly milled Turkey Red flour, perfect Le Creuset crock, Miele oven, etc.

Sourdough Bread LoafPracticeTheir bread doesn’t rise properly the first time, so the process needs some modifications; they practice it again, and again.

Sourdough Bread Loaf Slice‘Master’ Competencies: Then, the baker travels to a family gathering out of state. The host asks the baker to make an impromptu loaf of sourdough bread – either because the host wants to show interest in this new hobby with few expectations about the outcome (low stress) or to showcase the creative hobbies of the family by presenting a perfect sourdough bread loaf to friends (high stress). The host provides an old bag of semolina flour, a Teflon banana bread pan, and an oven from 1984.

SEL in the real-world

The context of the situation and what is available via knowledge, practice, self-awareness and tolerance for stress all equal Mastery

Note the conditions in this example: The baker doesn’t have their sourdough starter, or any of the ingredients or tools they’re used to. The baker’s awareness of this, and of the conditions they must bake in, will impact the choice the baker makes to bake the bread or not. 

It is because contexts shift and change so frequently and widely that the term ‘mastery’ is not always used when discussing SEL competencies. Just as one can ‘master’ a competency in a low stress, familiar and optimal context (i.e. the baker baking bread at home with all the recommended tools on an unstructured day) one can fail to demonstrate that very same competency in a high stress, unfamiliar and suboptimal context (i.e. trying to use a relative’s kitchen without the necessary tools under stressful expectations and on a limited timeline). 

So, what happened in this situation, you wonder? Well, the baker put their ego aside, and graciously bought bagels for everyone from a local bakery! While they didn’t master sourdough bread baking at a relative’s house, they did indeed use SEL skills to make a different – and better – choice given the context. 

Whether you are baking sourdough bread metaphorically or literally, our team hopes that the respite of summer has helped you begin this school year on the right foot. May your year be full of contexts that bring you ease and joy, as well as opportunities to make connections in fresh and new ways.

How Mindful Practices can help

We can help you up your SEL skills with our in-person and online SEL supports (curriculum, certification and professional development)