The majority of public schools and districts in the U.S. report they are working to support the social and emotional learning of students. But in too many places, the approach is to focus narrowly on changing student behavior rather than implementing practices that build relationships and create learning environments that support positive social and emotional growth. This is especially true in schools and districts that serve large populations of students of color and students from low-income backgrounds, exposing these students to environments that could do more harm than good.
A new report from Education Trust calls for school and district leaders to approach social, emotional, and academic development through an equity lens. This requires shifting the focus away from “fixing kids” and toward addressing the adult beliefs and mindsets as well as school and district policies that create the learning environment. It also requires school and district leaders to consider the context in which students live. Societal realities (e.g., racism, sexism, homophobia), individual realities (e.g., socioeconomic status, family dynamics, experiences in schools, access to opportunities), and cultural background all influence social, emotional, and academic development.
This analysis is supported by existing research as well as what Education Trust researchers learned from focus groups across the country with students and families of color, primarily those from Black and Latino communities. Participants discussed the importance of social and emotional skills; what students of color need to learn other than academic subjects; and what educators and school leaders can do to support social, emotional, and academic development for students of color. As the research in this area continues to grow, and as state, district, and school leaders consider policy changes to support social, emotional, and academic development, the voices of these families and students must be heard and valued.