Skip to main content

Why We Can't Afford Whitewashed Social-Emotional Learning (

Screenshot (4680)

Social-emotional learning (SEL) skills can help us build communities that foster courageous conversations across difference so that our students can confront injustice, hate, and inequity. SEL refers to the life skills that support people in experiencing, managing, and expressing emotions, making sound decisions, and fostering interpersonal relationships. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines five core SEL competencies, including self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. These competencies seamlessly lend themselves to preventing violence and to building a more peaceful world.

Strategies for Teaching Fearless SEL

Provide students opportunities to reflect on identity and equity to build self-awareness.

Aristotle said, "Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom." Self-awareness—the ability to recognize one's emotions, thoughts, and values—is a crucial skill for understanding others and the world. Teachers can teach a unit on the relationship between identity and equity, including activities that push students to reflect on how their identity hinders or enhances their life opportunities. Students can interrogate their power and privilege, as well as racism, homophobia, sexism, and other forms of violence, to consider what changes they can make within themselves and their world to achieve more equity. To begin, the New York Times has a collection of videos ("25 Mini-Films for Exploring Race, Bias and Identity With Students"), and the Teaching Tolerance website features many K–12 curricular resourceson these topics.

Enhance relationship skills through debate.

Relationship skills include making and maintaining rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups and being able to communicate, cooperate, and negotiate conflict constructively. Have students debate an issue in their school or community that matters to them as a way to develop their abilities to build relationships with diverse team members, resolve disagreements, and work collaboratively to debate in effective ways.

Develop responsible decision-making skills through community-based projects.

Responsible decision making means constructive choices about how we behave and interact based on safety, social norms, and ethical standards. Ask students to identify a community problem they want to solve and then, in groups, decide how best to solve it, keeping in mind safety, resources, social norms, and ethics. Students might start a community garden or organize a farmer's market to address access to fresh food in food deserts, protest a community-identified injustice, or partner with an organization to provide a service lacking in the community. The goal is for students to use their responsible decision-making skills while creating change in their communities.

Use current topics to foster social awareness.

Social awareness involves appreciating diversity, building empathy, and respecting others. To develop these skills and use them to create social change, students can study a current event or social issue that is important to them. For example, teachers could lead students on a unit about restroom accessibility. Students can research recent court cases, read and discuss narratives from transgender and gender-expansive students, and interview classmates. A culminating project could include a campaign or a letter to a government official to advocate for a cause or a creative writing piece from the perspective of a marginalized group.

Explore different expectations for self-management.

A key component of self-management is regulating one's emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations. Students can investigate the relationship between emotion regulation and race, gender, or other aspect of a person's identity to explore the different expectations for marginalized groups' self-management. For instance, police-related killings of people from marginalized backgrounds as well as the spate of "concerned citizen" calls on black people napping, celebrating in the park, or entering their own homes make clear that certain groups of people are expected to regulate their behavior and emotions more strictly in public. Research has confirmed this racial bias. Students can also study how implicit bias influences teachers' behavioral and academic expectations for students as it relates to the school-to-prison pipeline. At the end of the unit, students can write an opinion piece, produce a YouTube minidocumentary, or present their learning to the school board.

To read more of Dena Simmons' article, Iplease click here.

Dena Simmons (@DenaSimmons) is the assistant director at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. She is the author of the forthcoming book White Rules for Black People (St. Martin's Press, 2021). Her views are her own.


Images (1)
  • Screenshot (4680)

Add Comment

Comments (0)

Copyright © 2023, PACEsConnection. All rights reserved.
Link copied to your clipboard.