What We’re Reading: Does SEL Work for Students of Color?

Author: Shyanne Miller


What We're Reading
The education world is facing an equity crisis. Students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learners (to name a few) remain underserved by our current system. While many fight for solutions, gaps in our collective knowledge and understanding of the complexities around educational inequity linger.

Each month, the Rodel team will share some thoughts on a book, essay, article, or video related to equity in education with the hope that we will challenge both ourselves and others to think more inclusively about education reform.


What I’m Reading:  Is Social and Emotional Learning Really Going to Work for Students of Color? (Dena Simmons, EdWeek)

I’ve read a lot about social and emotional learning lately: SEL research, SEL policy, SEL best practices, SEL webinars—you name it. Much of what I come across re-hashes some version of familiar talking points—what students need to know to be socially and emotionally competent, best practices when it comes to setting standards, or engaging districts in implementing SEL programs.

But here, educator and researcher Dena Simmons takes us back to a fundamental question about SEL. Is it going to work for students of color? In all the work we do to advance the education system for “all students,” how often do we stop and ask ourselves if our solutions are going to work for those most in need? This article challenged me to reconsider basic questions about not only SEL, but in all our collective work in education.

Most poignantly, however, Simmons makes me ask: How can we make sure SEL isn’t further perpetuating educational inequities for students of color?

2 Responses

  1. Jon LoBiondo says:

    Hi, I have had a growing fascination with this subject over the last few years. Are students of color biologically predisposed to struggle with social and emotional learning or is there more of a socioeconomic component to this issue?
    It has been my experience that the socioeconomic strata seem to reflect more impact on social and emotional learning for students. This has come from working with pre-K and kindergarten students. Do these issues change for students as they get older?
    Thanks for helping me understand this issue more completely.

  2. Shyanne Miller says:

    Students of color are not biologically predisposed to struggle with social and emotional learning or academically. Biological assumptions based on race are typically rooted in racist science that has long been debunked. Socioeconomics do have an impact on a student’s SEL, considering that students living in poverty are more likely to experience trauma. However, any student can face trauma, no matter what their race or socioeconomic status. Students with trauma require intervention—and it is never too late for intervention. We cannot expect age to help mitigate the effects of trauma without key tools and learned skills to do so. This is why educators are essential in understanding trauma and culturally-responsive approaches to mitigating it. The point of this is not to say that black and brown kids cannot learn social and emotional skills. It is to say that the methods we’re using to instill them, the approaches we institutionalize, and the internal bias and deficit mindset of educators/community members (or whoever is working with these students) can make it interventions ineffective for black and brown students.

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