Social-Emotional Equity: Resources for Teachers & Students

January 14, 2021

SEL Equity

Yale University’s Dr. Dina Simmons recently wrote a piece for ASCD entitled “Why We Can't Afford Whitewashed Social Emotional Learning in which she argues that teaching social-emotional learning (SEL) needs to happen within a sociopolitical and racial context. While SEL alone will not solve longstanding and deep-seated inequities in the education system, it can help schools promote understanding, examine biases, reflect on and address the impact of racism, build cross-cultural relationships, and cultivate adult and student practices that close opportunity gaps and create a more inclusive school community (CASEL). At Teaching Matters, we see you and we hear you, and we want to support you and your students’ social-emotional development during these stressful times.

A Culturally Responsive approach centered on equity considers teaching and learning in the context of students’ cultural identity and experience. According to the New York State Education Department, increasing SEL competencies can decrease implicit bias, increase cultural responsiveness, and result in greater equity for New York’s young people.

  • Implicit biases are unconscious stereotypes and attitudes that can negatively impact students. Increasing SEL competencies can help us manage these biases.
  • To reduce these biases, we must be able to see them in ourselves (self-awareness), manage them (self-management), and manage their influence on our attitudes, actions, and decisions (social awareness, relationship skills, responsible decision-making).

The culturally responsive approach, which requires skill in all the SEL competencies above, has been effective in improving student academic performance and life opportunities, including achievement scores 11-13 points higher and improved attitudes and behaviors, including motivation to learn, commitment to school, and engagement in the classroom.

During these times we should not take a break from learning about ourselves. SEL begins at home and is facilitated through supportive school and classroom environments, so here are some ideas for how you can continue to support yourself and your students.

Social-Emotional Learning for Teachers:

The emotional and social challenges of the pandemic have made it even more crucial for teachers to attend to students’ mental health needs. Here are some ideas for doing that, both remotely and in person. Get tips for strengthening students' mental health and well-being during remote or hybrid learning from the Child Mind Institute’s strategies for teachers to support students’ mental health. For example, having a close relationship with the teacher can be a strong protective factor against the development of mental health issues. If you have noticed a student seeming down or having trouble engaging, consider checking in on them — even a simple “How’s class been going for you?” can go a long way for a student.

Take a moment over the long weekend to learn how "transformative SEL" education and justice-oriented citizenship can help create equity and racial justice in the classroom. Conscious Discipline, in conjunction with CASEL, has produced SEL as a Lever for Equity: 5-Part Series. The series focuses on prioritizing equity and racial justice through the lens of SEL.

Common Sense Education offers two great resources. First, We All Teach SEL, an 11-part article series, offers quick, practical tips and tools for integrating SEL into any classroom no matter the subject or grade. Explore topics such as empathy, integrity, compassion, and more to find actionable activities and resources that build on tools you might already be using and content you're already teaching. 

And don’t miss their SEL toolkit. Explore topics to learn more about character strengths like empathy, find actionable activities and edtech tools for the classroom, and discover ways to involve students and families in SEL learning.

Social-Emotional Learning for Students:

Speaking of students, here are some of our favorite SEL tools, resources, and activities for young people while they are home with their families. 

Share with students how bullet journaling might help them feel more in control of their life and health. In the episode Peer Health Exchange, Health Educator Courteney shares her mental health-inspired #bulletjournal as she reflects on her experience while social distancing. Click here to watch more!

Journaling and poetry go hand in hand. In hip-hop culture, the cipher represents 360 degrees, a completion of thought, a continuum, and the giving/exchange of energy or information. Students might also try out this Knowledge of Self self-paced writing and reflection activity from The Boys and Girls Clubs of America to learn more about oral poetry, and take a stab at writing their own. 

Journaling and writing about our emotions and feelings can often bring up the good and the bad. The Character LAB’s Two Stories templates help students learn from their own experiences by reflecting on a past success and failure. In this writing activity, students reflect on a time when they succeeded and the steps taken to succeed and also a time when they failed and what was learned from that. 

When it comes to technology, students can use the multiple tools in this Virtual Hope Box app to relax and focus on some of the positive, inspirational things in their personal life. Read the Virtual Hope Box app review from Common Sense Media here. Virtual Hope Box helps users access immediate reminders of hope in moments of stress. Created by the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, students can use the multiple tools in this app to relax and focus on some of the positive, inspirational things in their personal life. Students can upload personally meaningful photos, videos, songs, and quotes. They can also choose puzzles, relaxation exercises, and guided meditations, as well as "coping tools" such as self-created cards.

In SEL, the key for kids is emotional intelligence: knowing what emotions are, how they work, and how to use them and manage them for social interaction and learning. To that end, Teaching Matters has created a Mood Meter slide, based on this resource from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Students also need the capacity to recognize other people's emotions, to discriminate among the different feelings, and to label them appropriately. Check out this collection of top-notch emotional intelligence apps and games to help students with everything from anger management to emotional identification to meditation.

Social distancing and shelter-in-place orders during a pandemic can take a toll on all of our lives. Technology can also help students to stay connected while social distancing. How are students staying connected with loved ones during this difficult time? In a Peer Health Exchange episode, Health Educator Zimani shares how she is staying engaged and connecting with family during this challenging time. Click to watch more. Ask students to identify a couple of things they can do to stay connected.

On the flip side, technology can also be a source of stress. Young people often report pressure to stay connected. While virtual connections can be a great way to keep in touch with friends and family, is all screen time created equal? In this Teen Voices video from Common Sense Education, students can hear what other teens have to say about how digital media has them feeling "hooked." Ask your students: Do you feel the same way? How might you manage your use? Encourage students to take inventory of what's not working for them when it comes to technology and social media, and then make changes that support their wellbeing.

We hope you and your students have been able to discuss and process all that has gone on in the last week. To that end, for additional ideas designed to support students and staff with SEL, check out ideas for classroom, small group, and 1:1 activities offered by Greater Good in Education, the Social-Emotional Learning Alliance, and CASEL’s 3 Signature Practices Playbook

Marshall Street’s SEL resource provides guidance on six research-based SEL curricula for students for whole school or small group implementation.

Like anything worthwhile, developing emotional self-awareness takes practice. Over time, these skills can become intuitive, powerful tools for ourselves and students to feel heard and understood, a precursor to deepening emotional self-awareness and building better relationships.

By Lance W. Ozier, EdD

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