Toggle open
Learning Library Blog A New Framework for Activating Equity and SEL in the Classroom
Expand breadcrumbs

A New Framework for Activating Equity and SEL in the Classroom

By Jorge Valenzuela
April 23, 2021
Equity Framework Blog Version Idcn9i7 O1xs Sgpv A Km V El J Vc J1 Pm Pu5d IG

In my many travels to schools before the pandemic and my countless virtual interactions with educators since, I have come to realize that not all educators teach in districts where SEL training is readily available.

Even where training is offered, it isn't always clear to many educators how to implement SEL curriculum along with related pedagogies like restorative justice, trauma-informed teaching and culturally responsive teaching. As a result, I’ve seen many educators do their best to learn to integrate these critical concepts and skills on their own.

That’s where the Equity and SEL Integration Framework highlighted in the ISTE guide SEL in Action: Tools to Help Students Learn and Grow comes in. The five elements in the framework are:

  1. Understand the CASEL 5.
  2. Assess your own unconscious and implicit biases.
  3. Improve your knowledge of your students.
  4. Help students develop emotional intelligence skills.
  5. Activate SEL in your curriculum.

This guide and the work are informed by research, interviews with school leaders and teacher feedback (data) from numerous workshops. This framework starts by giving educators an understanding of the core SEL competencies, and helps them with the logical steps needed for focusing on equity by becoming better trauma-informed, more culturally responsive in teaching and able to restore justice as needed while still focusing on the content they teach.

Now that SEL is beginning to become an essential component of the schoolwide curriculum, here are two ways the guide can help educators focus on equity in implementation efforts.

SEL in Action jump start guide

Assess your own implicit bias

According to professor and ethicist Robert Prentice, implicit bias exists when people unconsciously hold attitudes toward others or associate stereotypes with them.

For educators, a dangerous side effect of implicit bias is that it lowers equity in schools by causing us to categorize students according to cultural stereotypes without giving it much thought and, worse, without knowing the harm caused. In the case of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) students, unconscious beliefs and attitudes can lead to harmful microaggressions and erroneous expectations about their overall potential.
Here are some examples of how implicit bias can appear in schools:

  • Teachers may assume students belonging to certain groups have limited intellectual abilities, which lowers their academic achievement expectations.
  • Math teachers may perceive the rigor in their class to be too challenging for Black and Latinx students.
  • Science teachers may perceive their class to be too difficult for non-Asian and non-white students.
  • Teachers may automatically categorize students according to racial and cultural stereotypes.

To dismantle implicit bias in schools, individual teachers but preferably within PLCs as part of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work, need to focus on what they believe about students, their expectations for them and how they can influence their success. One strategy a team of educators can use to address implicit bias is circle practice in which participants gather to speak and listen from the heart and agree to accept feedback when their perspective needs changing. The SEL in Action guide provides good question prompts for framing this process.

Empathy mapping

Using empathy maps to increase our knowledge of students can be a nifty tool that teachers use to support DEI and SEL efforts in their schools and classrooms. All you need is a template like this one I created for my workshops and you’re ready to begin!


(Example of a completed empathy map for an English language learner.)

Completed empathy maps have multiple uses. For example, a student improving her English speaking and writing skills (see completed empathy map example) with aspirations of becoming a lawyer can learn about the judicial system in tandem with practicing her decoding skills by reading familiar words in the context of law. 

Knowing that she belongs to the Latinx community empowers me to create opportunities for her to see herself in various informational texts. Empathizing with her appreciation for soccer and Latin dances allows me to seek recommendations for finding extracurricular activities to support those passions. 

Similarly, when we know that some of our students are interested in pressing social justice issues (stopping AAPI hate, LGBTQIA advocacy and BIPOC voicing their own narratives) — co-designing learning experiences, school activities and schoolwide themes around what matters to them becomes a less complicated endeavor. 

Additionally, the guide also provides more ways to improve your knowledge of your students to inform teaching, activating SEL in the curriculum and for DEI work.

Watch the video below to understand more about empathy maps:

Jorge Valenzeula will be sharing more SEL and equity ideas in his ISTELive 21 session Strategies for Activation Equity and SEL in Lessons. Register now for this fully online conference, June 26-30!

ISTELive 21

Jorge Valenzuela is an education coach, author and advocate. He has years of experience as a classroom and online teacher, a curriculum specialist and a consultant. His work focuses on improving teacher preparation in project-based learning, computational thinking and computer science integration, STEM education, and equity and SEL integration. Jorge is an adjunct professor at Old Dominion University and the lead coach at Lifelong Learning Defined. His book Rev Up Robotics and jump start guides Ready, Set, Robotics and SEL in Action are available from ISTE, and his next book, which takes a deep dive into the Equity and SEL Integration Framework, is forthcoming from Solution Tree.