Discussing SEL Through a Culturally Responsive Teaching and Equity Lens

Partnership4Success and their community partners focus on SEL through a culturally responsive teaching and equity lens.

Partnership4Success (P4S) is a collective impact backbone agency bringing together cross sector stakeholders to positively impact a shared goal. They and their community partners keep SEL through a culturally responsive teaching and equity lens at the forefront.

“Our approach to SEL is transformative. We center equity, disaggregate data, and we push providers to dig deep into their data. Together, we explore all possible expressions of bias in ratings, the consequences of switching raters in the middle of the year, and what we might need to be aware of when working alongside adults and young people who have vastly different lived experiences.” – Marguerethe Jaede

P4S Director, Marguerethe Jaede, and program managers from some of P4S’ network of organizations joined our panel to share how social and emotional learning (SEL) is transforming the outcomes of those they serve. The panel includes:

What are some of the activities your organizations have used to support your SEL initiatives?

Loren: We used “The Chill Zone.” Our staff worked together to create safe spaces for our students called Mindfulness Corners. If students are having a rough day, they can go to this corner to practice self-regulation. The time in the corner correlates with their age. When their time is up, we have a staff member lead a one-on-one conversation with the student. They ask questions like, “What led you to needing the mindfulness corner? What can we do to support you, so you don’t have to return there again? What strategies can we work on together to help you understand your emotions?”

Stephanie: This past year, we had the opportunity to offer learning extension centers in collaboration with United Preparatory Academy in Columbus, Ohio. We had been charged with developing and implementing activities that would help our scholars process the events of 2020 regarding COVID and the racial justice revolution going on.

While in a P4S meeting, I had the opportunity to create an activity for our 3rd-5th graders based on the poem delivered by Amanda Gorman at President Biden’s inauguration. We broke down the poem line-by-line, assigned each student a stanza of the poem, and asked them to illustrate what they read.

We were also able to play the poem for the students, which helped us explain how this connected to recent political events. This is something that usually may be difficult for 3rd-5th grade students to understand on their own, but with the poem broken down into lines they were able to produce amazing results.

Kevin and Nikki: We have been repurposing one of the Aperture Self-Awareness strategies for our adult SEL trainings. In the “Power Words” strategy, we ask staff to think about a negative word spoken to them or about them and the ways it may have impacted them. Then we ask them to write that word or phrase down on a notecard. We want to be conscious that this is a vulnerable space. It’s important to teach staff that it’s important to be vulnerable, just as we’re asking our students to do the same.

Once staff members have each written their words down, we ask them to reflect on how that word has impacted them. How are they operating as if that word is true? What has that phrase stolen from them? A big part of “Power Words” is replacing the original word with a positive one. We have them cross out the first word/phrase, scribble it out, and then we have them replace it with something that is positive about themselves.

Depending on the size of the group, you can even pass the notecards around the room and have each person write a positive word about the person on the card. These positive affirmations from a team can help with team building.

Lastly, it’s very important to make space for staff members to look back at the affirmations peers wrote about them. We want those positive words to sink in and allow our staff to walk in their new truth.

Shanyael: From the Aperture System, we used the “I Am” activity which gives you a poem outline with fill-in-the-blanks. I took it a step further and had students look at the etymology of their names to see what the meaning of their names are. Then, our staff shifted the conversation to asking what students wanted their name to reflect. We allowed students to take what they wanted for their self-expression to take form. We encouraged them to create for themselves what they want to be called and who they want to be.

Amanda: “We have predominately English language learners. Recognizing the challenge of learning a new language and understanding cultural norms, relieving stress and anxiety is something we’re focusing on. SEL has helped us strengthen our relationships. We try to incorporate as much visual representation as possible into our learning. An activity that we have really loved is the “Cup Of” activity where there is a worksheet with different cups: kindness, anxiety, hope, hurt, and fear.

If a student has an instance of feeling angry or hurt, they’d write it in the specified cup. We were able to see what cup filled up more than others and have a discussion on that. The visual representation was also helpful to refer to their emotional scale over the course of the week. We liked that it was also an activity we could do that encouraged students at different language acquisition levels to help each other express emotions when there may be a barrier hindering the communication of those emotions.

Omowale: We’ve taken a CASEL strategy and incorporated elements from Aperture’s System. The activity I want to share is called the “Restorative Restaurant (https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/15cOQK6pcMUcQoHQ6MYiWqbKNvGseHJJZ1JftAlonPBI/edit?usp=sharing).” All administration and staff have their own idea of what SEL is. We used this to break down the different ways you can use SEL. Appetizers represent opening activity options. The first course, equity and relationship building. The main course provides options for incorporating SEL in your specific content area (math, science, social studies, etc.) The sides are mini activities. Finally, desserts are the closing activities. We also built a takeout menu for coaching, where educators can “order” the services that they need assistance with.

Can you share specific strategies for how you identified and worked through potential barriers to SEL for the communities you served?

Marguerethe: We spent a lot of time developing our partners’ understandings of SEL. In life there are things we don’t have control over, but there are also issues that we can influence – we can control our responses. By focusing on adult SEL, we improve our practices overall.

We’ve asked our partners about the ways they are having conversations about trauma and uncertainty with their colleagues so that they can use what they learn from those experiences to inform how to hold those conversations with young people. You can’t change outcomes that are impacted by things you are unwilling to talk about. If you can’t talk about race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and immigrant/refugee status, then you can’t disrupt the inequities associated with it. If you want to disrupt systems of oppression, the first thing you must do is get people to recognize it exists, be aware of how it lives in our systems, and learn to talk about it in constructive ways. We must develop a nuanced skillset and comfort with navigating complex conversations in the presence of our differences.

From an educator stress standpoint, we encourage mindfulness work. What we know about educator stress, and really all stress, is that it is mitigated by community and connectedness. Belonging and relationships matter. The more you can connect educators to each other and the young people they serve, the more resilience they have to draw on under stressful conditions.

Omowale: We did a survey in our school based on implicit bias to better understand the cultural pieces our students wanted to see incorporated in their learning. Students felt like we didn’t talk about race or similar subjects enough, so we integrated those topics into the school calendar. The “Restorative Restaurant” menu is customizable to whatever data tool you use. If you find there’s some deficiencies in a specific area, there are things you can build into the Restaurant that still allow for teacher choice. It’s almost like a choice board for teachers; they can choose what they like based off the data that is supplied at the school.

Stephanie: Part of the reason I wanted to do [the activity with the Amanda Gorman poem] was that one day we weren’t allowed to go outside for recess during the President Biden inauguration because people were protesting. We’re located right downtown and there was a group of armed men within a mile of the school so we weren’t allowed to go outside for the day. The kids knew what was going on, they absolutely knew. In that moment, I wasn’t sure how to talk with them about everything going on. I didn’t want any parents to be upset with me. We have diverse political beliefs in our classrooms, so I didn’t know exactly what to do ethically. The Amanda Gorman poem was a great way to initiate a conversation because whatever side of politics you’re on, the idea of America having the history, ability, and the potential to develop great qualities is inspirational no matter where you stand.

How did you position SEL within the program(s) you serve?

Marguerethe: We leaned into normalizing conversations in the presence of differences. Folks know when they engage with us, we will surface topics that often make people feel uncomfortable. We talk openly about race, class, gender, sexual orientation, immigrant/refugee status, language, mental health, and all other sociocultural factors that impact how we experience the world. Our mission is to normalize conversations across differences to eliminate color blind and neutrality discourses that work to maintain systems of oppressions. We’re not afraid to step up and step into these complex spaces.

Our approach to SEL is transformative. We center equity, disaggregate data, and we push providers to dig deep into their data. Together, we explore all possible expressions of bias in ratings, the consequences of switching raters in the middle of the year, and what we might need to be aware of when working alongside adults and young people who have vastly different lived experiences.

Our continuous improvement process is modeled after the Ohio Department of Education’s (ODE’s) process. We want our work to be in alignment with the processes used in our partnering schools. Developing a shared language across sectors is crucial for effective collective impact.

Our collective impact approach is achieved through fostering communities of practice which are defined as groups of people who share a passion or concern for something they do and learn how to do it better because they interact regularly. This definition reflects the fundamental social nature of learning and is deeply rooted in the constructivism learning theory. Like all learning, our collective impact can be messy and is always fluid. We recognize that one critique of communities of practice is that they can reproduce systems of power and privilege that exist in the broader community. We actively seek to disrupt this tendency by centering the voices of community members through the co-creation of our approach, amplifying adaptivity, and onboarding new members to P4S in ways that center diversity, equity, inclusion, and cultural humility. In every convening, every meeting, every workgroup, we model what it looks and sounds like to collaborate thoughtfully in the presence of our differences.

Abby: I think the biggest part is to look at parents as partners, look at your community as partners. When you walk into the school, what do you as a community organization do to align to the school’s goals? Once that is identified, then work together and codesign what your programming looks like. Same for parents, codesign what that looks like, let their voice and choice be a part of it. For youth as well. When you come at it with a codesign lens, there is not a lot of pushback because it’s a group decision and everyone’s voices are included.

Loren: We prioritize constant feedback and constant conversations between our parents, family, staff, and students. We work to be intentional about those conversations because they inform the programming and activities we do.

Do you get pushback from community and parents?

Marguerethe: From a bird’s eye view, P4S did a lot of work with funders, politicians, and educators early on. We’ve been doing this work since 2015. We were in the schools talking about SEL, we were talking with the ODE, talking with the commissioners to build an understanding of the connection between SEL and academic outcomes. Spending a lot of time on the front end developing a shared language and understanding was strategic and intentional. We also met with the Chamber of Commerce. Something that stuck out from our conversations with the Chamber was their observations that while they hire based on resumes (e.g., grades, test scores) people are most often fired because they lack the social and emotional skills necessary to perform their jobs and work on a team. We were able to show both the community and parents the connection between soft skills and social and emotional skills. We got a lot of community buy-in, even prior to ODE making SEL one of five equally valued domains because of our pre-work.

Amanda: ETSS works with a lot of immigrants and refugees from different countries and cultures. Our family engagement program sends bilingual liaisons from the different communities to go into the community, into the schools, and talk to everyone about the importance of education, mental health, and SEL for our children. Getting our foot in the door with the community to communicate in an open and transparent way has allowed us to build a strong rapport and help strengthen our communities.

Learn more about how P4S uses SEL and the DESSA from Aperture to evaluate program impact through their 2020 annual report.

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