Specialty Practice Sections:
April / May 2023

By Paul R. Pace

Social Emotional Learning Model Prioritizes Critical Components for Student Mental Health

three children listening in a classroom

Social workers and teachers need cultural competencies to help end the school-to-prison pipeline for students of color, says Shawntelle L. Fisher, MSW, MDiv, LCSW.

“This has to be centered around the idea of being culturally competent,” Fisher says. “I know sometimes it has become a cliché; we all want to be culturally competent. But we have to move beyond saying it to actually doing it and practicing it, especially in the classroom.”

Fisher is the founder and CEO of the nonprofit The SoulFisher Ministries based in St. Louis. Its mission is to respond to the needs of youth with incarcerated parents and to promote restorative justice for those currently or formerly incarcerated. The organization provides free after-school tutoring and enrichment for students in the Riverview Gardens School District, who have an incarcerated parent or are performing two to three grade levels below expectations.

Fisher leads the NASW Specialty Practice Sections webinar, Social Emotional Learning: The Impact of Deindividuation on Prosocial Outcomes.

Fisher notes:

  • Culturally responsive practices embody cultural, political and professional ideology, which displaces monotonous teaching and focuses on student growth.
  • Culturally responsive practices in classrooms recognize the cultural wealth, knowledge and skills diverse students contribute to schools.
  • The implementation of culturally responsive practices avoids teacher-centered instructional practices and encourages a student-centered approach.
  • Teachers should understand the intricacies of this construct as it relates to learning, teaching, the individual student, their families, their communities, and the commitment to student achievement as a reality.

Using the Social Emotional Learning model, schools are expected to prioritize three critical and interrelated components of mental health for their students: social (how we relate to others), emotional (how we feel), and behavioral (how we act) supports to promote overall well-being, Fisher says. “Our afternoon program is centered around social emotional learning, as is our reentry program. When a person is emotionally sound, they can perform better.”

She explains that it is important to close the gaps in student achievement and discipline by requiring educators to acknowledge that students of color are marginalized because of traditional education. It also is vital to know:

  • When Black students experience highly punitive consequences for not following school expectations, the outcomes may be detrimental.
  • Teachers must remove their judgment of students based on cultural formations and begin to challenge the traditional curriculum and favor a more inclusive and culturally responsive approach.

“One of the detriments to students of color is racial bias,” Fisher says. “It is not just white teachers and Black students. Sometimes it’s Black teachers and Black students as well.”

“There are a lot of trainings available around the idea of implicit bias,” she says. “If you have never participated in one of those (trainings), I would definitely recommend that — especially if you are an educator or a social worker.”

We need to find ways to avert those practices and find ways to support the learning of Black students, she says. In order to do that, educators must examine their own racial biases and look for ways, collectively, that support the growth and well-being of students of color.

“As we continue to work toward helping find ways to eradicate the student-to-prison pipeline, we want to find ways to support the overall development and success of students of color starting in the classrooms at early ages.”

SPS Webinar: Working With Children and Youth With Complex Histories

Many youth exhibit multiple symptoms that can derive from different etiologies: trauma; disrupted or insufficient attachments; genetic susceptibility to mental illness and learning disabilities; the effects of racism and discrimination; the experience of poverty and other stressors; and/or exposure to alcohol or other substances in utero.

As they grow up, their numerous overlapping difficulties compromise their responses to existing therapies. The SPS webinar, How Social Workers Can Work With Children and Youth With Complex Histories, explores these issues.

Social workers can learn to differentiate symptoms, recognize their combined effects, and modify treatments to provide targeted interventions for this population.

The learning objectives include:

  • Describe the similarities and differences between different etiological risk factors and how they combine to impact a child’s presentation.
  • Identify how to distinguish and prioritize treatment needs.
  • Consider how social workers can modify existing treatments to address the needs of youth with complex presentations.

Visit the SPS Webinar Catalog >>

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