Thoughts on Learning: Some of the Emotional Stuff at Work

What is Social
Emotional Learning?

The concept of focusing on the connection between emotion and cognitive processing has been a theme of education for many decades, dating back to the 1930s, but only recently have we seen these concepts being introduced broadly in education.

What is culturally responsive Leadership?
It means that you acknowledge the broader context of each person you come into contact with and hope to lead and serve.
It means that you see yourself and those around you as racialized and engage with them knowing there is an unfair responsibility on both parties to exceed the limitations of race while also remaining sensitive to the damage it has already caused.

I think there are two major challenges when we think of social emotional learning (SEL) as a public health tool.

Internally it’s important to have a consistent message around SEL, key terms, and how it fits into your learning communities mission. As for the strategy of implementation, the process must be small scale, iterative and evidence-based.

First there is a ton of misinformation on who “needs” SEL and what social emotional learning looks like. The challenges to implementing SEL are magnified when we, as advocates are not anticipatory of the issues related to misinformation and the need for unlearning norms. These challenges can defeat an initiative before it even begins. Too often SEL is confused for moments of sympathy, or it’s prescribed as an intervention tool, localized to certain students. Similarly, managers may assume that have social emotional intelligence or developing competency is purely intuitive or a secondary skill, respectively. These assumption mitigate the fostering of health social emotional environments rooted in process and equity.

The second challenge is similar to the previous, it’s around messaging; while you may be able to find funding to implement a SEL pilot, and demonstrate success this doesn’t matter if you’re not able to articulate the benefits in the context of what your stakeholders care about (students, parents, teachers, etc.) In the bubble of academia and/tech for social good we can be convinced by a rejection of the null, ignoring the data that proves how exceptionally unique it is to see successful SEL. Most people in our broader school communities unconsciously limit their aspiration for what a socially healthy space looks like; settling, forced to accept what they “could do,” for their students.

Personal note: I’ve been an educator for over 10 years now; I’ve mentored mentors, while bring mentored myself. In that timeframe of teaching, mentoring and tutoring I’ve leaned that mentorship can be a common space for healthy social emotional development. Both as a youth tutor and employee resource mentor, I’ve seen the power of fostering a sense of interpersonal belonging between folks in similar interest, familial background, and culturally communities. These factors of potential similarity can’t be forced out into the open. I believe that through acts of service leadership and practicing the tenants of culturally responsive leadership, you can foster the social emotional development of youth and adults in your community.

With an intentional learning process, culturally responsive leadership and a message that ties into the values of your community you’ll see sustainable success. Without it you’ll confuse vicarious emotions and sympathy, for courageousness and empathy.

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