In this blog series we will be focusing on SEL and Equity. Each post will rotate through theory and application of our blog concepts and key ideas related to SEL and Equity. For this post, we will talk about ways that SEL can advance equity.
Social emotional learning (SEL) appears to be at the front of every educator’s mind as we move toward the next school year. Even though research on the many benefits of SEL for both students and staff is not new, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the need for more SEL in schools. Moreover, the focus on SEL in schools has led to an influx of SEL curriculum and funding opportunities for districts and schools. However, even though schools may find themselves in the position to adopt resources and solutions to support their students, it is important that they are also cognizant of the power that SEL has to advance equity.
Equity in education means ensuring that there are systems and structures in places that ensure that all students are successful regardless of their background. When thinking about equity and SEL it is important to realize that SEL systems and structures have the power to both widen and/or close gaps. It is up to districts and schools to think about how the resources they adopt and structures they put into place help their educators view SEL through an equity lens. Viewing SEL through an equity lens, will help districts provide more consistent access to equitable learning environments across their schools.
When thinking about equity and SEL it is important to realize that SEL systems and structures have the power to both widen and/or close gaps.
First, SEL is relevant to all students and adults. SEL places value on the individual as well as the collective. Effectively facilitating SEL means that students and staff have the opportunity to explore their unique identities and backgrounds, while learning to understand and value different perspectives. This often makes room for conversations about systemic inequities that allow participants to explore ways that this kind of oppression has impacted their lives.
Next, SEL reinforces the importance of fulfilling basic needs. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a psychological theory that helps us better understand what our students truly need from us in order to be ready to learn. The theory emphasizes taking care of our students based on where they are at, and ensuring that they have their basic needs met. In many households across the globe, students leave and go to school without having access to a safe environment where their physical and physiological needs are met. This often results in a variety of issues within the school which leads to many marginalized groups of students being overrepresented in special education classrooms, or marked as having behavior disturbances. An effective, systematic approach to SEL ensures that there is a spotlight on all students' social-emotional strengths and areas in need of support.
Finally, SEL empowers students. As students engage in SEL, they are given opportunities to share their voice and their experiences. SEL practices focused on CASEL’s Core Competencies encourage students to explore their identity, build agency, and foster community. SEL systems and structures that foster these kinds of learning environments are more likely to produce students more equipped to enter the world and engage in their responsibilities.
SEL empowers students. As students engage in SEL, they are given opportunities to share their voice and their experiences.
SEL has the power to advance equity across our school systems. But, like many other components of schools, it also has the potential to lead to inequities. It is important for districts and schools to understand the ways in which SEL can promote equity within their system so that they can then begin to reflect on their current SEL approaches to ensure that it is equitable. Check out our next blog for strategies that will help you evaluate your current resources.