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Looking at Social-Emotional Learning and Engagement through an Equity Lens

I've been to so many conferences where the keynote speaker talked about classrooms without walls, making global connections, and making our content come alive. I remember being excited at these possibilities, and still am, but I definitely was not prepared to take this so literally.

Right now, we're not just without walls, we're in orbit.

Despite my dreams of where education could go, our biggest focus should be our kids and equitable access to learning. Equity means providing all students equal access to education opportunity and the resources to sustain that access in order to support academic success. This may seem big picture, but there is a very practical component to equity happening every day right in our classrooms.

Where do equity and engagement overlap?

Although equity is a complex issue, in a remote environment it has become somewhat simplified. Equity is a conversation on how teachers and parents can work in tandem to ensure students have access to materials, know what is expected of them, and are able to leverage the resources provided to further their learning. Equity is the hand that guides students through this experience, making sure that all students have the same chance at engaging in remote learning.

To achieve equity in education, our focus should be engagement. A 2018 Gallup Education Report titled Superintendents Say Engagement, Hope Best Measures of Success, participants in the study identified engagement and hope as the best measures of school effectiveness. While this research highlighted how school leaders measure success in their districts, in a remote learning environment these two factors feel the most at risk.

Gallup Education has added to this conversation with studies on the impact of engagement and hope on academic outcomes. In a recent report titled Focus on Student Engagement for Better Academic Outcomes, the results from a study of schools in Texas highlight the links between student engagement in school, student hope for the future, and academic success. The report argues for a greater focus on social-emotional skills to positively impact student engagement and hope.

What does social-emotional learning have to do with engagement and hope?

SEL is a means to supporting students so that they can feel successful in the classroom. Social-emotional competencies are directly connected to engagement in school, engagement with peers, self-esteem, and planning for the future in a typical school setting.

Engagement in School

When looking at the CASEL wheel pictured to the right, engagement in school means developing relationship skills and self-management. Students who are engaged in school are learning to interact with their peers and their teachers in appropriate ways, they look for opportunities to be involved, and they are learning to manage their commitments.

Hope for the Future

Self-awareness and social-awareness both support a healthy self-perception. Students have hope for the future when they believe in their abilities and are confident in the steps they need to take in order to achieve their goals. It might be tough to measure hope, but it is very clear when it is not there. A student without hope for the future has accepted that they will not be successful in a class and is adverse to engaging in the work to be successful.

What can we do in a remote learning environment to support social-emotional learning?

An Education Week article this past week talked about the 6 reasons students aren't showing up for remote learning. The article discussed the difficulty students are facing in our current environment and what factors might be contributing to a lack of engagement from our students.

Yes, we need to give our students, their families, and our teachers a high-stakes break.

At that same time, we also have a duty to provide students with every scaffold and every opportunity imaginable so that access is not the barrier to engagement. By supporting positive behaviors, supporting engagement in school, and supporting hope for the future, we are giving our students their best chance.

Supporting Positive Behaviors

A US News article titled Supporting Social-Emotional Learning in the Coronavirus Epidemic, talks about how parents might be able to support social emotional learning at home. Recommendations for this include:

  1. Reinforce Appropriate Behavior

  2. Encourage Cooperation

  3. Encourage Emotional Expression

  4. Teach Empathy

These are great recommendations, and simple. At home we should be encouraging our kids to make responsible decisions throughout their day. In my home I encourage my kids to make a plan for their day and set goals for what they can get done. We follow a schedule, but we are also paying attention to each other's limits and making adjustments to our daily schedule when needed.

It's not all sunshine and roses over here. I saw this graphic on twitter posted by @TransformingEducation and I think it is fantastic for adults and children. We all need to hit pause from time to time, calm ourselves down, and work through why we are frustrated. Managing our emotions makes us better humans and we should be encouraging our kids to learn these skills so that they are better, and more understanding, adults.

Supporting Engagement in School

It would be a whole lot easier if I just let my kids watch Netflix all day or play video games, but I want them to maintain a commitment to learning. Yes, it's stressful. I'm trying to work while at the same time trying to police what my kids are accomplishing.

Student agency has been the hallmark of my approach to remote learning with my own children and within my work. No, my kids do not want to do work every day or every minute of the day. Giving kids voice and choice in their plan for work encourages ownership in their learning, produces better outcomes, and sustains engagement. Thankfully, their school work has been a combination of review topics and new topics where they can pick and choose what to complete based on their own work-mood.

Supporting Hope for the Future

I think we all need a little bit of help with this one right now. For the sake of my kids and their education, I have been putting on a brave face and focusing on the positive. Kids are learning so many great skills that will be important in the future.

  1. Communicating Online - Kids are learning how to ask timely questions when working through their assignments for the week. Mine are learning how to be clear in the questions they ask to their teachers, and how to be patient when messaging through email or google classroom isn't quite translating well on the other end. These are great skills!

  2. Managing their time - Kids are learning how to independently manage their tasks for the week, how to prioritize deadlines, and how to adapt when something gets in the way. They may not be successful at this every day, but can any adult honestly report that they manage their time well every single day?

  3. Being Creative - Kids are learning how to take simple instructions and create something they can be proud of and share with their teacher or parent. Mine have written stories, created videos, and created presentations to demonstrate their learning. This little taste of freedom has increased their commitment to completing their work.

  4. Creating Balance - I need a lot of help with this too. At home, we are making sure we take breaks and holding each other accountable. We really have to pay attention to turning off our devices, getting out and exercising, and stopping work to spend time together as a family.

Looking at engagement and social-emotional learning through an equity lens

There will be learning loss and there will be moments in the upcoming year where our kids will be struggling with engagement and hope for the future. We will need to support all of our students in improving their social-emotional skillsets when they come back to us to be able to address these gaps. To achieve this, we have to remove barriers to engagement and support student social-emotional skills so that our kids can put their best learning foot forward.

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