SEL Spotlight

The Equity Lens: 2 SEL Activities to Empower Students and Cultivate Cultural Competency

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This summer, EduMotion began the process of expanding its movement-based Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum to meet rapidly changing needs, including integrating options for in-school and at-home learning, creating new lessons for middle/high school, expanding content for grades K-5, and deepening our commitment to equity and cultural relevance.

Our work began with a close examination of CASEL’s framework brief, “Equity & Social and Emotional Learning: A Cultural Analysis.” In this brief, the authors investigate the following question:

“How can SEL be leveraged to help youth from historically marginalized race/ethnic and socioeconomic groups to realize their fullest potential as contributing members of an increasingly complex and diverse global community?”

They conclude the brief by offering “equity elaborations” on CASEL’s standard definitions of the 5 broad SEL competency domains. These revised definitions include more emphasis on communal values and the links between one’s personal and socio-cultural identities. They recognize the need to help students navigate settings with differing social and cultural norms and demands, and to empower students to be part of building communities that are inclusive, safe and supportive for all.

Ready for Launch

EduMotion is collaborating closely with one of the authors of this brief, Teresa Borowski, to map out updated learning objectives for our curriculum using an equity lens. This Fall, we look forward to piloting our equity-focused middle & high school curriculum and working with Borowski as part of a research project to examine how this approach — when integrated with dance and movement activities — can develop social, emotional, and cultural competence in students and teachers.

If you are interested in learning about opportunities to implement this curriculum with an option to be part of the study, send an inquiry via EduMotion’s contact form and mention “equity study” in the comment field. 

Join Us!

We’re looking for partner classrooms to join a study of our equity-centered middle & high school curriculum. Complete our contact form and mention “equity study” in the comment field to receive more info.

Equity-Centered SEL activities – Two Examples

#1 – Self-Discipline: Focusing on Perseverance

When it comes to self-discipline, many educators jump to thinking about teaching students to comply with a specific set of social norms that define the “right way to act.”  By refocusing the idea of self-discipline on strategies that help students persevere and move past negative feelings that arise when they are confronted with challenges or conflict, we shift how we think about this competence from being about conformity to being about empowerment.

Part I: Prepare

Start the activity by asking students to consider this prompt: Self-Discipline means persevering through challenges and negative feelings so you can grow, learn and thrive. What are times in your life where you have felt like giving up? What are different choices you had in that moment?

You can help them generate ideas with some examples from things that happen during the school day. Consider having students start by talking with a partner and then inviting a few volunteers to share with the class.

Next, invite students to get up and stand in personal space. Encourage them to stretch their body by reaching up to the sky, touching toes, and coming up on a slow count of 8.

Now ask students to think of a movement or physical activity that they find challenging – this could be a dance move they admire but haven’t mastered yet, or a physical fitness activity like holding a squat, balancing on one foot, touching palms on the ground with straight legs, etc.

TIP: Each dance in EduMotion’s SEL Journeys program has new dance moves to try. All of these make great choices for this activity!

Part II: Activate

Once students have decided on their “challenge” move, continue the activity with the following prompt:

Did you know that emotions only last for 30-90 seconds in your body? The physical things you feel, like hot flushed cheeks or a churning stomach, are a physical reaction to emotions, but scientists have proven that these physical responses rush through our body quickly and then are gone. When emotions linger, it is because they get stuck in our mind – so they are no longer physical feelings, but thoughts that we are holding on to. The good news is that, once you “ride the wave” of the physical response, you can train your brain to release the negative thoughts, which can help you persevere and keep moving through difficult times.

Next, invite students to think about the dance move or physical activity they chose. Have them pick a moment in the movement to hold as a pose. Encourage them to pick something that feels like it will be challenging. Once everyone is ready, challenge them to strike a pose from their movement and hold it for 30 seconds. Start a timer and encourage them to persevere!

Once time is up, invite them to relax and have a seat.

Part III: Reflect

Conclude the activity by congratulating students on persevering and reminding them that – most of the time – the uncomfortable physical feelings we get with negative emotions are over nearly as quickly as the pose they held. Once those feelings are gone, it’s important to remind ourselves that we are not defined by our emotions. If time permits, invite students to discuss how they can apply this idea of persevering through an initial burst of negative emotion and then turn challenges into positive action during other parts of the day.

#2 – Respect for Others: Setting Shared Agreements

When it comes to building the social competence of “respect for others” educators often narrowly define what it means to be respectful within the confines of their own social norms. By inviting students into the process of defining how they think respecting others should look and sound within their classroom, educators can empower students to build a safe and supportive community of their own design.

Part I: Prepare

Start the activity by asking students to consider this prompt:

We can show respect for others through both our body language and in the way we speak. When you are part of a group or community, it’s very helpful to agree upon specific ways that you can show respect for one another, such as giving everyone a chance to speak and not interrupt each other, or supporting each other’s work with positive feedback such as snaps or encouraging words. How can you show respect for others through your words? How can you show respect for others through your body language?

You can help students generate ideas with some positive examples that you have already observed in the classroom.

Next, have students brainstorm with a partner about other ways the class can show respect to one another. Challenge them to come up with one idea that is verbal and one idea that is non-verbal. After talking, invite students to share their ideas to the whole class.  Finally, as a group, choose two specific strategies to try out together today.

Part II: Activate

Once students have decided on two ways to show respect to classmates (one verbal, one non-verbal), ask them to choose a physical movement to perform while mirroring a partner. This could be a sequence of simple movements like jumping jacks and squats, or perhaps a few favorite dance steps.

TIP: Each dance in EduMotion’s SEL Journeys program has new dance moves to try. All of these make great choices for this activity!

Once they have agreed upon “the moves”, cue them to first use the verbal and non-verbal cues they discussed earlier to show respect to each other. Once they’ve taken a moment to express mutual respect, they can perform the agreed upon movement.

After a brief period of activity, remind students to thank their partner and continue using verbal and non-verbal cues to show respect. If time permits, have students repeat the exercise with new partners.

Part III: Reflect

Conclude the activity by congratulating students for their collaborative work. Ask them to think about how they felt about each part of the activity, including the process of brainstorming and setting norms for showing respect for others, and then putting those norms into practice as they engaged in physical movement while mirroring a partner. Did they enjoy the opportunity to define those norms? How successful were they in putting the norms into practice?

These are just two examples of how EduMotion is using an equity lens to design SEL activities that empower students and cultivate cultural competency in educators. By placing classroom community building at the center of social and emotional learning, educators can transcend dominant social norms and create new practices that are inclusive and supportive of every student.

To learn more about this curriculum and our upcoming research project, send an inquiry via EduMotion’s contact form and mention “equity study” in the comment field. 

Margot Toppen

Margot Toppen

Margot Toppen is a visionary educator who works at the intersection of SEL, arts, and physical education.

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