Social emotional learning (SEL) and character development go hand in hand. Values and identity, empathy and perspective-taking, self-control and social awareness are all areas of children’s development that underpin strong character. As such, SEL programs are increasingly used in American schools to promote positive character outcomes for children and youth.
However, current character and SEL-related research and practice are largely based on dominant cultural norms and are embedded in educational systems that often reinforce the inequalities of our broader society. This can cause researchers and educators to overlook diverse ideas and practices, and at times, unintentionally cause harm to students and families, especially those from communities of color and other marginalized groups.
To address these challenges, our project will create a process and set of supports for local communities to investigate and identify culturally sustaining and equitable practices for SEL and character development. Using participatory methods and inquiry-driven approaches, we will engage youth, families, and educators in communities of practice that explore diverse conceptualizations of SEL and character education; and identify how existing SEL and character programs and practices either help or cause harm to children and youth.
Our project includes two main activities: (1) building communities of practice organized around schools and community-based organizations across New York City, and (2) designing a series of leadership academies focused on policy-level and systemic change. The ultimate goals are to generate new knowledge, transform existing practices, and build local capacity within communities to implement new modes of SEL and character education that are culturally affirming and promote positive development and wellbeing for all children and youth.