Systems Leadership for Math Improvement

Leadership for Anti-Racist Social-Emotional Learning

Fostering community and building trusting relationships is more important than ever for school leaders looking to support learning in the midst of the uncertainty and trauma caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing reckoning about racial injustice. Social-emotional learning (SEL) is one approach that may hold promise for helping teachers foster students’ emotional well-being in these turbulent times.

Our research examines leadership that uses SEL as a tool to support teachers’ anti-racist classroom practices. We document how leaders’ explicit anti-racist approaches to SEL encourage teachers address their own complicated emotions about race and racism, as well as to take up anti-racist practices in their relationships with students and families.

Race-conscious SEL stands in contrast to widely-implemented color-blind or race neutral approaches to SEL. SEL programs that don’t acknowledge the role of race and racism in shaping school environments can lead teachers to place responsibility on students to overcome the effects of racism through grit or resiliency, penalize students for reasonable emotional responses to oppression, and enforce culturally inappropriate behavioral norms. We stand with scholars who propose inclusive and culturally sustaining approaches to supporting students’ wellbeing and learning by attending to students’ racial identities and addressing inequities.

Our work adds to scholarship on race-conscious approaches to student well-being by investigating leaders’ roles in developing SEL as a tool to further anti-racist work. This race-conscious approach to SEL that we document in our research indicates that school leaders can pair SEL with anti-racist practices to ensure that teachers have the tools, confidence, and will to address minoritized students’ emotions and identities. Further, leaders can use SEL strategies in new and generative ways to support adults to talk productively about race. Our research reveals the potential for SEL leadership to be reconceptualized toward racial justice.