The Intersection of SEL and Equity: A Saturday Morning Chat with #Satchat

In December, I had the privilege of hosting a Twitter discussion on the topic of connecting social and emotional learning (SEL) and equity in the classroom. If you are not familiar with the concept of a Twitter chat, it is a public conversation held on Twitter and connected by the use of a hashtag—in our case, #satchat (for Saturday Chat). Using the hashtag on all posts allows people with similar interests to follow and contribute to the discussion.

We focused on six questions over the course of the chat. I’ve reflected on the common themes that emerged during this discussion on the timely topic of the connection between SEL and equity in classrooms.

Q1: How are equitable practices and SEL different? How are they alike?

We discussed how SEL is the process by which we acquire and apply the skills we need to understand and manage emotions, feel and show empathy for others, maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Equitable practices provide every student with access to the resources and educational rigor they need while helping us to understand the impacts of race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, background, and family income.

We also discussed how while sometimes equitable practices and SEL are discussed as parallels in the educational context, they do have differences. Equitable practices require teachers to adapt, and SEL requires students to adjust. SEL skills like empathy and considering the perspectives of others can pave the path for understanding the cultural demands and meaning of diversity in different contexts. When combined, the power of SEL and equitable practice can be transformative.

Q2: What underlying perspectives impact equity in the setting in which you work?

Approaching this discussion required educators to look first at themselves and the lenses through which they view equity. As a result, the responses to this question were as diverse as the participants, their experiences, and the perspectives they bring to the work of equity. One underlying perspective that was introduced was the idea of the classroom as a microcosm of society at large. The lens through which we view the world outside our classroom doors is the same one we bring with us to our students—our perspective of equitable practices in society impacts how we view equity in the classroom. Take a look at this reply from @ACoupleofPrinc1:

We cannot approach equitable practices until we examine our own backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.

Q3: In what ways do you teach SEL strategies and skills in your classroom/building/district?

SEL in educational settings gets approached in a variety of ways. One common theme that emerged from this discussion was the idea of teachers modeling, practicing, and guiding students through each SEL competency. We can’t expect from students what we don’t first teach. When SEL is woven into the entire day, it changes the landscape of SEL in the educational context. Instead of being “one more thing” to add to the day, it becomes the common thread throughout the day, the connection between all the academic subjects.

This reply from @SamanthaLCoy discusses working collectively as an entire school community:

Q4: Where does equity exist in your curriculum?

It is important to be intentional in our discussion and planning of equitable practices within our curriculum. What we value, we create. In her book Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, Zaretta Hammond explains how social justice within the classroom’s culturally responsive practices should focus on the teacher supporting students in growing from dependent learners into independent ones. She states, “The ultimate goal . . . is to help students take over the reins of their learning. This is the social justice aspect of culturally responsive teaching.”

Have we looked closely at the books on our shelves? At the strategies and phrases used in our instruction? At the ways we relate to students and colleagues? Do we provide space for equity within our curriculum? Many participants discussed the need to explore these questions in a more honest manner, which would need to be prefaced by the building of a safe and inclusive community, one where teachers and students could listen closely to the needs of those who are marginalized and do not see equity living within the curriculum they experience every day.

Q5: How do you plan for instruction that integrates SEL and academics?

In this chat, participants discussed how SEL could be consistently embedded within our academic day. We delved into how teachers’ instruction must model and explicitly teach what SEL skills and strategies look, sound, and feel like. For example, teachers should provide a space for children to discuss how a particular aspect of the instruction made them feel, or teach how to listen with empathy during the instructional day. We also discussed the trend in schools of SEL getting taught in an isolated silo (such as monthly character education ) and becoming “one more thing to do.” Many of the participants reinforced the idea that SEL shouldn’t be something we do; it should be the foundation from which other daily school components grow.

Q6: How can we support equity beyond the surface and shallow levels of culture?

In Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain, Zaretta Hammond describes three levels of culture: surface, shallow, and deep. Surface culture includes concrete and observable elements, such as holidays and dress; shallow culture includes unspoken rules of norms around topics like personal space, attitudes towards elders, and nonverbal communication; and deep culture includes the beliefs and norms, the unconscious assumptions that govern our worldviews. In my own experience, I know I was a surface-level culture teacher when I was in the classroom. I didn’t even delve into shallow levels. I think one way to address deep culture is to consider cultural beliefs and norms before jumping to conclusions, especially when considering student behavior. The discussion around this question caused many participants to think about their own understandings of culture first, exploring these layers more deeply before considering how to apply this learning in their classrooms. We were left with even more questions than we started with, especially about what holds us back from supporting deep levels of culture within our schools.

I appreciate not only the discussion during this #satchat Twitter chat, but the ongoing conversations afterward that continue to challenge my thinking around equity and SEL and how they intersect in classroom settings.