This resource composed by Nina Misra, MYAN staff member
Many schools and youth programs have integrated standard SEL programs into their daily structures with youth. When done well, embedding SEL concepts from childhood to adulthood in the learning contexts that young people experience is one strategy to support achieving educational equity. When equity is the goal, the process and strategy for achieving positive outcomes differs based on the community and the context in which young people are living and learning. Implementation of SEL frameworks should vary in order to create outcomes that are meaningful and address the structural inequities that differently impact each community.
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a framework used to describe how young people develop the self-awareness and skills necessary to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve their goals, form and keep positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.1
Integrating an SEL framework into youth engagement work can improve outcomes for young people by supporting them in cultivating the skills to form relationships, surmount challenges, and experience success.2 Supporting the cultivation of social and emotional competencies of young people:
- Improves their social and emotional skills;
- Improves long-term attitudes, academic achievement, and prosocial behavior;
- Prepares them to contribute to their community; and
- Reduces their experience of anxiety and incidence of substance (mis)use.3
Adults can support young people in cultivating SEL competencies by modeling these skills themselves so that young people can learn the skills through observation.4 Standard SEL curriculums and related programming models are especially impactful for younger children, up until the age of 10. However, when young people reach adolescence, discrete skill-focused SEL curriculums are less resonant. Instead, effective SEL development with older youth includes key elements, such as mutually respectful relationships with adults who model SEL competencies and/or opportunities to explore youth values in given learning contexts.5 Older youth can be invited into identifying the SEL competencies that most resonate with them and how to cultivate those competencies. SEL programs for older youth are more effective when they have ownership over their learning experiences.
Organizations, educators, and individuals working in youth engagement may choose to prioritize different social-emotional competencies. SEL competencies may change based on the age of the youth, the environments in which they learn, and their own vision of success; however, as the Education Trust states, “Instead of focusing on the ‘what’ of social-emotional skills, it’s important to focus on the ‘why’ and the ‘how’.”6 Many SEL frameworks focus on teaching young people to manage their emotions and actions without acknowledging and addressing the environmental harms they may experience. This fails to see the whole young person or effectively leverage social-emotional learning as the framework is intended. While social-emotional skill building is an important factor in youth development, SEL frameworks that target the learning environments young people experience can create more equitable outcomes. Addressing the context youth are learning in, instead of individual behaviors, will support “students to grow into adults who address the systemic and contextual issues and injustices that privilege some at the expense of others”.7 When youth are supported by adults who use strengths-based and culturally sustaining approaches, they are more likely to believe in their own abilities.
The Abolitionist Teaching Network argues that “most SEL standards are rooted in Eurocentric norms, not to empower, love, affirm, or free Black, Brown, or Indigenous children”.8 The environmental harms that BIPOC young people experience are vastly different than those their white peers experience, as well as the cultures and context in which they live. Leveraging SEL to meet the needs of all young people requires caring for and changing the environments and systems young people interact with. While historically, SEL principles have been integrated into school curriculums and lessons, “Abolitionist SEL is not an isolated lesson. It is a way of being that informs all aspects of teaching, learning, and relationship building with students, families, and communities”.9 Integrating this mindset requires addressing the environment in which young people learn, the mindsets of adults in their network, and the systems and policies that impact them.10 SEL frameworks should work to uplift young people by creating affirming environments where youth can develop confidence and cultivate the skills necessary to reach their goals. SEL work is work for adults, schools, and whole communities for the benefit of young people and their development. Inclusive SEL work requires shifts in school culture as well as systemic and environmental change.
1 What is SEL? (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://casel.org/what-is-sel/
4 Best Practices in Social Emotional Learning. (2019, July). Retrieved from http://www.wasa-oly.org/WASA/images/WASA/1.0%20Who%20We%20Are/220.127.116.11%20SIRS/Download_Files/LI%202017/Sept%20-%20Best%20Practices%20in%20Social-Emotional%20Learning.pdf
5 Yeager, David. (2017). Social Emotional Learning Programs for Adolescents. Retrieved from https://labs.la.utexas.edu/adrg/files/2013/12/5-Adolescence-Yeager-2.pdf
6 Social Emotional, and Academic Development Through an Equity Lens. (August 2020). Retrieved from https://edtrust.org/social-emotional-and-academic-development-through-an-equity-lens/
8 Guide for Racial Justice & Abolitionist Social and Emotional Learning. (August 2020). Retrieved from https://abolitionistteachingnetwork.org/guide
10 Social Emotional, and Academic Development Through an Equity Lens. (August 2020). Retrieved from https://edtrust.org/social-emotional-and-academic-development-through-an-equity-lens/
Image from: https://edtrust.org/social-emotional-and-academic-development-through-an-equity-lens/