5 Ways to Promote Equity with SEL

Educational equity means that “every student has access to the resources and educational rigor they need at the right moment in their education regardless of race, ethnicity, language, disability, family background, or family income.”

Creating an equitable classroom where all students can thrive is a complex process. While social and emotional learning (SEL) alone will not solve inequities in the education system, systemic and quality SEL implementation can help schools and districts create equitable learning environments that help students succeed.

Start creating more equitable learning environments with these five easy-to-implement SEL tips for teachers.

Examine your implicit biases.

Research shows that we all have implicit bias. Implicit bias can be subtle, such as setting an expectation for a student based on race, appearance, or another external factor.  Even the most progressive among us has implicit bias. At some point, you’ve probably judged a student solely based on appearance (“that student looks like she’s going to be a troublemaker,” or “that student looks like he is going to be someone important later in life.”).  The good news is that research shows we can overcome implicit bias by learning to identify when it occurs and by practicing effective responses. Explore ways to identify implicit bias and reduce its prevalence and negative impact on students. Start by reading our blog, Promoting Equity: 3 Ways to Reduce the Effects of Implicit Bias.

Learn about your students.

Taking time to learn about your students and their backgrounds can help you relate to and identify with them on a more personal level. You can ask them things like who lives with them, what language(s) they speak at home, their family values, how they spend time together as a family, family traditions, etc. To gather this information, send home a simple survey or have a conversation with each student. (Be mindful that some students/families may not want to share, and respect their privacy).

Knowing about your students will help you understand their diverse situations and needs. Taking an interest in their cultures and heritages shows them that you care and promotes strong student-teacher relationships. It also promotes equity by clueing you in on areas that you may need to learn more about. For example, you may want to read about students’ native countries or learn about traditions you’re unfamiliar with. Also, picking up a few Spanish phrases will go a long way toward connecting with English language learner (ELL) students and their families.

Explore diverse backgrounds and traditions with your students. 

Having students share about their home life experiences is a great way to build empathy and cultural acceptance within the classroom. It can also be a fun learning activity, giving students the chance to explore different norms and traditions.

Invite students and/or family members to share about themselves in a show-and-tell. They could talk about their family’s history, or explain how they celebrate special occasions and holidays. This simple activity can boost students’ confidence and self-efficacy while teaching all students about empathy and acceptance.

Hold every student to high expectations.

Students of color often report being held to lower expectations than white students. Female students sometimes report hearing more about their appearance than their academic performance.

When a teacher develops a set of beliefs about a student based on a variety of factors, they begin to treat that student differently. Students tend to mirror the teacher’s expectations, and they even begin to align their self-image with those expectations. If the expectations are low, the student tends to respond in manner consistent with the teacher’s beliefs.

To promote equity, we must hold all students to a high bar of achievement expectations. This means pushing past the desire to “protect” students. For example, sometimes teachers use a less challenging pedagogy with certain students, or they may not call on them in class out of fear of embarrassing them.

One simple way to hold all students to the same standard is by giving every student equal chance to participate in class discussions. An effective way to ensure all students are participating and are equally called on to answer questions is through “equity sticks.” Write each student’s name on a popsicle stick and grab a stick at random. The student whose name is selected must share or answer a question. Cycle through all of the sticks so every student gets a chance to share.

Utilize an equitable SEL assessment.

Teaching strong social-emotional competence is one of the most important ways to help all students be successful in school and in life. You can start by utilizing a quality SEL assessment. SEL data will help you understand the needs of your students and which skills need the most improvement.

When selecting an SEL assessment, choose one designed with equity in mind, such as the DESSA. Watch this on-demand webinar, Advancing Equity with the DESSA: Practical Applications to a Crucial Issue, to learn how the assessment is designed around equitable best practices and about the specific, practical tools and techniques embedded in it.

As educators, it is important to commit to educational equity in our schools and communities to ensure that all students have equal access to resources and are treated fairly — no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, family income, disability, cultural background, or religious affiliation. Use SEL as a tool to promote equity in schools so all students can thrive.

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