May 18 2021

Social-Emotional Learning in the Context of Digital Equity

K–12 schools must first work toward digital equity to provide meaningful environments for SEL.

These days, social-emotional learning has become a buzzword, joining the likes of “growth mindset” and “grit.” The real meaning of SEL sometimes gets lost when districts try to incorporate it into lesson plans. In actuality, SEL and well-being and wellness come from searching within ourselves and determining what we need in order to sustain and thrive.

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, SEL is “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.” School leaders should think about their current SEL curriculum and what they want to implement with SEL: Does it support this statement? How can they leverage educational technology to make this statement a reality?

The intersection of educational technology and SEL is reflected in the platforms educators use to communicate with students. Educational technology supports SEL when it allows teachers to check in with and collaborate with students on what they need in the present moment. Also, in thinking about SEL as a school culture, educational technology supports SEL when it allows for colleagues to communicate, collaborate and innovate with each other.

Why Is Digital Equity Necessary for Social-Emotional Learning?

Digital equity supports social-emotional learning because there is no true SEL without equity. An important piece to remember when talking about digital equity is that equity doesn’t mean everyone is treated the same; equity means that everyone gets what they need in order to thrive. Equity also means that districts are unconditionally loving and supporting all of their students and providing, to the extent they are able, all the opportunities students need to succeed. If districts are not able to provide this in-house, they are seeking the knowledge and opportunities to bring this to their faculty and staff.

As it relates to academics, SEL is most effective when educators evaluate their lessons and the technology used to teach them. K–12 IT leaders should look at the different types of tech resources and the different types of media they want students to use and ask whether any of those could unintentionally harm learners.

For example, if a teacher shares a resource on the demographics of a neighborhood, city or school in class, it’s worth diving into why those demographics are the way that they are. Have there been concerns with redlining, financial gatekeeping or population migration in the area? This may influence the demographics of the area, which should be explored with students as they research and discuss this topic. This can be another area where educational technology can be extremely helpful: Students can do a deep dive into researching the factors that have impacted this.

DISCOVER: Librarians embraced the role of information professional during remote learning.

The districts providing resources should ensure that the tools and media represent their students and what they want to portray to their students. At the same time, when investing in these resources, district leaders should consider what they want students to learn from having these tools and media available and whether they will help learners articulate what happened in a given class. This is an opportunity where professional development from the administrative level can be particularly helpful. District leaders can give teachers the training and opportunities to learn about different types of tools so that teachers, coaches and students can use them during the school year.

How Can Schools Make Progress Toward Digital Equity?

Because SEL is so dependent on digital equity, schools must first find a solution for any inequities before providing appropriate SEL. Digital equity is a complex and multifaceted topic, but it boils down to student experiences. K–12 leaders must aim to provide the best and most equitable experiences to their students.

Giving computers to children is not going to solve all their problems. In many cases, internet access and bandwidth are issues preventing students from using technology and learning in meaningful ways. If students cannot utilize the technology they have, there is not equity.

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Another element necessary for digital equity is training. The importance of professional development for the educators using the resources can be lost when districts aim to incorporate new technology. When educators aren’t trained to appropriately use new technologies, one of two outcomes is likely to occur.

In some instances, educators become frustrated when they don’t understand how to operate resources. When they struggle to log in or can’t figure out how to use assignment tools, rather than expending the additional time and energy to learn, they may choose not to use that technology.

Source: Sykes, “2021 Teaching Survey: K–12 Teachers are (More) Overworked During Pandemic,” April 2021

In other cases, educators lean too far into technology and dilute the lessons they’re trying to convey. Because they’re excited about the tool, they may use it too frequently or put too much energy into the projects that rely on it. This changes a science class into a video editing class, for example, when students are spending multiple weeks creating one project with editing software.

Digital equity is achieved when educational technology is used effectively to benefit the students and enhance the lessons. Only then can SEL be taught in a meaningful and beneficial way.

This article is part of the “ConnectIT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology” series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.

[title]Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology

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