The Link Between Equity in Education & Social and Emotional Learning

By Maria Campanario, Educator & Consultant

“Social and emotional competence is the ability to understand, manage, and express the social and emotional aspects of one’s life in ways that enable the successful management of life tasks such as learning, forming relationships, solving everyday problems, and adapting to the complex demands of growth and development. It includes self-awareness, control of impulsivity, working cooperatively, and caring about oneself and others. Social and emotional learning is the process through which children and adults develop the skills, attitudes, and values necessary to acquire social and emotional competence.” (Credit: ASCD The Need for Social and Emotional Learning). As educators, we determine the importance of SEL in creating an equitable and culturally responsive classroom.

To begin to understand the importance of social and emotional learning, we need to allow ourselves to consider that equity in education is essential and may not exist in 100% of our educational settings. From the U.S. Department of Education: “America is not yet the country it strives to be — a place where all who are willing to work hard can get ahead, join a thriving middle class, and lead fulfilling lives. Our country derives much of its strength from its core value as a land of opportunity. But, today, economic mobility is actually greater in a number of other countries. Despite this challenge, we know how to work toward the solution: access to a world-class education can help to ensure that all children in this country with dreams and determination can reach their potential and succeed. Yet, far too many students, especially in underserved groups and communities, lack robust access to the core elements of a quality education. That includes free, quality preschool; high, challenging standards and engaging teaching and leadership in a safe, supportive, and well-resourced school; and an affordable, high-quality college degree.”

What does equity look like in education? At the simplest level it could be ensuring everyone gets a turn to participate in the classroom, but for students who may be shy or speakers of other languages getting a turn to participate in a large group setting may not be equitable. This could make the student self-conscious and impact learning in a negative way. Could it be solved by added funding? Dollars alone won’t ensure equity — could it be adding culturally responsive pedagogy?

What would culturally responsive pedagogy look like? Ladson-Billings describes it as “a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes” (Ladson-Billings, 1994, p. 382). In the diverse classrooms of our schools the number of diverse cultures represented may be daunting to an educator. But social and emotional learning may be the scaffolding needed to support an equitable culturally responsive classroom.

According to CASEL, “Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” Essential to this definition is that both children and adults are engaged in the process on an equal level. This is a crucial element in the equitable culturally responsive classroom. The relationships and skills learned through the SEL process when woven into every aspect of teaching and learning empower all students and teachers to have the “same chance to succeed”.


Maria Campanario has over 40 years of experience in public education in a variety of teaching and administrative roles. Her work has concentrated on building effective schools, particularly on matters pertaining to project based learning, literacy, academic language development, English Language Learners, special education and supporting district/school administrators in organizational planning. She provides professional development for leadership who are district and school based on current key national educational issues such as equity, social emotional learning, district planning, ESSA, WIDA, state standards, and the Dear Colleague letter. Teacher professional development also covers special education for diverse populations and instructional strategies across content areas. Nationally she has also presented professional development sessions focused on acculturation, secondary literacy, culture, race, urban education and socio-emotional learning for diverse special populations.

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