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Posts from the ‘School Improvement’ Category

Crossing 3 Bridges to Center SEL in Equity

One thing has become clear to me over the last few weeks—creating a kind and tolerant society will not bring about the necessary changes to end inequity and racism. We need to intentionally develop an equity lens in our SEL work, if we want to influence and transform the behaviors and structures that have fed an unjust system. Dr. Dena Simmons says “If we truly care about the future of our young people and our nation, we can no longer be passive about racial justice. We can no longer walk away, bask in our comfort, and ignore the way racism is killing us and destroying our nation.”

If you are teaching SEL in your classroom or supporting educators to implement SEL practices, you may be wondering what to do and how to do it. How can you support yourself and others to use SEL as a vehicle to build more inclusive, caring and equitable learning communities? 

Professional Learning Opportunity

I am excited to announce that I have partnered with my colleague and friend Michael Eatman, Inclusion Strategist and Founder of Culture7coaching, to help educators develop the necessary skills and tools to an equity centered SEL. Join us on July 29th for “Courageous Leaders: Building the HEART Skills for Equity Work in Schools“. During this workshop, you will have an opportunity to identify what guides your SEL practice, develop your cultural competence and examine how equitable relationships can be develop through SEL. For more details and registration, click here and send me a note if you have any questions!

During the workshop, we will explore in more detail 3 shifts that support centering SEL work in equity and racial justiceIf you have been teaching SEL, it does not mean that you have been doing it “wrong”. It means that the work we have done until this point, teaching SEL skills and infusing SEL in our teaching practices, is not enough if we want to create social change and opportunities for ALL students to grow and thrive in a just society. 

I would like to appreciate Dr. Tia Barnes, Mrs. Kamilah Drummond-Forrester, and Dr. Shannon Wanless for their thoughtful feedback on this framework. Thank you for your support!


Crossing 3 Bridges to an Equity Centered SEL


  • SELF – From celebrating diversity to developing collective responsibility. When we think about the competencies related to self in the HEART in Mind model, honoring emotions and electing our responses, we have many helpful goals–generate ways to interpret our emotions, develop a positive identity, learn to manage our behavior, among others. These skills help students and adults develop a better understanding of who they are as humans in a way that they can appreciate the unique differences between individuals and celebrate diversity. This is good, but it is not enough. If we stay at this level, we are missing some opportunities to understand and explore why social expectations for emotional expression and management are different based on your gender, race or sexual orientation, among others. If we want to go deeper, we need to develop cultural awareness and critical consciousness, so we can understand how stereotypes and prejudices are generated, how we all perpetuate them everyday and how we can confront our biases. We need to support our students and adults to develop a positive racial and ethnic identity, and help white students and adults build the emotional capacity needed to face racism with a sense of collective responsibility and humility. That is to say, I see the value of living in a diverse world, and I am responsible for the collective wellbeing of my fellow humans. 
  • RELATIONSHIPS – From nurturing inclusive relationships to creating equitable relationships. Building classrooms where students show empathy for one another, and have skills to peacefully solve conflicts seems to be a commendable goal, right? We teach students to appreciate the emotions and experiences of others, we practice active listening and teach students to communicate assertively. Again, while these competencies are important to develop inclusive relationships, they are based on the premise that students’ sociopolitical and cultural context doesn’t influence their ability and that of others to establish and maintain these relationships. By ignoring the context, we are missing the challenges that students of color experience when trying to establish equitable relationships and the structures (some inside schools) that create these inequities. Our empathy and relationship building work needs to analyze how power and privilege influence social dynamics, white privilege and the reasons behind historical and systemic differential treatment. Students and adults need to develop their capacity to effectively communicate through different cultural and social contexts with fluency and humility, so the relationships that are created in schools and communities are not only inclusive, but also equitable. 
  • COMMUNITY – From building engaged communities to activating social transformation. I’ve written in the past about the importance of transforming with purpose, the last competency in the HEART in Mind model, and cultivating a “call to action” to improve our communities. In your SEL work, you may be working with students to identify challenges or issues at school that need improvement, and helping them get engaged with problem solving and implementation. When we think about centering our “why” in equity and racial justice, we move from engaging students in their communities to cultivating their activism and capacity for positive social change. This means creating space for students to see the consequences of the current social, economic and political system on white people, people of color and other minority groups, and engaging them to act on the injustices and inequities they observe inside and outside their communities. In this process, schools will be cultivating youth’s ability to speak up, question the status quo and confront injustices. Creating school structures that support collective responsibility and equitable relationships will allow our youth to lead the way and bring about social change. 


Crossing these 3 bridges may be difficult. You may question their need, feel uncomfortable or wonder how to get it started in the middle of a pandemic. No matter where you are, start by reflecting on what you need to do to cross these bridges yourself. We, educators, need to do the work first, before we can lead our teams and our students to do the same. Go back to the reasons why you decided to engage with SEL work in the first place, and think about what would happen if you could give that gift to all students, no matter their race, ethnicity, immigration status or sexual orientation. What would you do? Dare to be courageous. The work starts with us.

For professional development, join me on July 29th to develop and practice the social, emotional and cultural skills needed to center your SEL efforts in equity.

For more resources, check out these other posts: using your EQ to fight racism, preparing for difficult conversations about racial inequity, educating for freedom, and teaching more than “little virtues”

Context Influences Relationships

This week, I will be spending two days with colleagues and friends from around the world who deeply care about the social and emotional health of children, youth and adults. This is CASEL’s first conference, a great opportunity to celebrate the work that has been done to date, identify the current challenges, and make plans to grow this practicing community.
In addition to presenting research that I conducted with colleagues from the Learning Policy Institute, I look forward to connecting with the many people with whom I have collaborated over the years, and also meeting new colleagues. These relationships fill my bucket and strengthen my commitment to continue doing the work that matters. Read more

Preparing Teachers to Support SEL

Implementing SEL programs and practices requires teachers to be open, self-reflective and sometimes vulnerable with their students. This may be easy for some teachers, while quite difficult for others. I remember a teacher saying during a training: “Students should learn these skills at home or in elementary school. I already have a hard time covering all my content, I cannot waste any time with check-ins and community circles.” You may have said something similar yourself, or heard colleagues have these conversations. It is part of the process. Read more

Creating an SEL Mindset

Two weeks ago, I visited a high school in Los Angeles (California) to gather data for a case study that I am conducting with the Learning Policy Institute. Serving around 500 mostly low-income students, the school has raised its graduation rates from 83 percent in its first year to 99 percent last year. A school that is built on teacher leadership, the educational program prioritizes a whole child approach with a relentless focus on providing students with the social, emotional and academic supports they need to ensure they are ready to lead successful and productive lives in college and beyond. Read more

Removing Barriers to Learning

I just returned from attending the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), one of the largest educational research gatherings in the world. Among the thousands of scholars participating in the meeting, there is a special interest group for those passionate about SEL. This year, I organized the program for SEL researchers and was excited to see some new research areas, such as parenting and SEL, cultural competency and diversity, and teachers’ wellbeing. At the same time, I was disappointed to encounter several inquiries that measured social and emotional skills, while ignoring (conscious or unconsciously) the context in which this learning takes place. Read more

SEL Data for Dialogue

When I first started working as a teacher in the US, I learned about “data-driven instruction.” The school where I taught used several data points to assess students’ understanding and mastery of the academic standards taught in class: reading assessments, math benchmarks, exit tickets, student writing samples, classroom observations, and student-led projects, among several others. Read more

Whole School Approach to SEL

SEL cannot be solely focused on teaching social and emotional skills once a week. Why not?

While explicit instruction of SEL competencies is a key component, and in many cases the first step taken by schools starting to implement SEL, students (and adults too!) need plenty of opportunities to practice these skills beyond the “SEL instructional time”. SEL programs and practices are more effective when students can experience how these competencies support their personal and academic goals, and when adults (teachers, parents and administrators) are invested in modeling and practicing the skills alongside their students. Read more

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