Previously, we discussed social and emotional learning (SEL) as an avenue for advancing equity schools. A few key points from that piece highlight the potential for SEL to advance equity by:
- Focusing on the individual and the collective
- Reinforcing the importance of basic needs
- Creating a space for student voice
The focus of this blog is to serve as a companion to this information by providing suggestions for evaluating SEL practices for equity. Districts and school buildings are in different stages of adopting SEL practices for their staff and students. Many districts and schools have implemented and continue to implement universal SEL curriculum, while other schools are doing this in addition to comprehensive assessment and monitoring solutions like Satchel Pulse. Regardless of the current progress toward SEL practices and goals, here are three ways to evaluate these approaches for equity:
Ensure the inclusion of culturally affirming content and diverse perspectives
Beginning with the composition of screeners and assessments you are using in your district or school is an easy place to start. Often, students complete self-assessments where they have to reflect on their strengths and areas of growth as it relates to their social-emotional skills. Ensuring that these questions are strengths-based and not deficit-based is a simple way to affirm student backgrounds and identities. Next, examining SEL curriculum content is also important for advancing equity. It is important that content celebrates cultural differences and encourages students to value these differences and perspectives. A few guiding questions to ask your team about your resources might be:
- Which cultures are represented in our material?
- How are cultural differences represented in our material?
- Where do students explore diverse perspectives?
- Who is missing from our material?
Create opportunities for culturally-responsive and trauma-informed teaching practices, and professional development to support practices
All students should have consistent access to systematic and research-based SEL practices. However, with the ever-increasing educator workload, it can be difficult to truly infuse SEL across all classrooms. However, one place to start is by creating lesson plan templates for staff that integrate simple, inclusive SEL practices. CASEL provides three signature practices for SEL:
- Inclusion Activity
- Engaging Pedagogy
- Optimistic Closures
These three practices can easily be infused into any content-area lesson. In fact, school buildings that adopt these across classrooms not only ensure that all students are getting access to SEL practices regardless of the classroom, but also establish routines and consistency which helps with overall student regulation. Providing teachers with professional development on these three signature practices for SEL is also an important step. It allows for teachers to have a space to not only learn about the practices, but to put them in the greater context of supporting SEL in their classrooms, as well as share with colleagues how they are utilizing and leveraging them in their own contents.
Adopt and apply a systematic approach to SEL for all learners
SEL curriculum has out-paced assessment tools. As a result, many districts and buildings have adopted a variety of resources, but do not have systems to ensure that their efforts are having the intended outcomes. By adopting a systematic approach to SEL, districts can keep a pulse on all students. For example, using universal screeners provide an opportunity for all students to measure their SEL skills. Even students with higher SEL skills still need universal instruction for SEL. Another example is to use data from SEL screeners to place students into a tiered approach like MTSS/RTI. This approach allows for districts and buildings to identify the specific needs of all students and marshall resources to support the unique needs of students in each tier. Utilizing a systematic approach also supports gathering data over time. Being able to see both student and school growth related to SEL over time will help to reach district goals.
By adopting a systematic approach to SEL, districts can keep a pulse on all students.
Overall, there are a number of ways to evaluate current SEL practices to ensure that they advance equity as opposed to contributing to the current inequities we often see across school systems. While these are just a few strategies to support this work, it remains important to consistently examine this work as it becomes a sustainable practice in districts and schools.