Moving from 'Why' to 'What and How': Critical Starting Points to Nurture Equity-Rooted Social and Emotional Learning

Introduction by Dr Peter Bateman

In the past 12 months or so, AISA has been working to support the wellbeing of staff in our member schools as part of our ‘Wellbeing for All’ programme. In the coming year, we will continue to do this, but AISA will also turn our attention to the social and emotional wellbeing of the students in our schools. A key part of this work will be to support Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice (DEIJ). I recently met Nick Haisman-Smith who is Executive Director at the Institute for Social and Emotional Learning (IFSEL). I invited Nick to offer us his perspective on the “How” and “What” of supporting SEL in AISA Schools.

MOVING FROM ‘WHY’ TO ‘WHAT AND HOW’: CRITICAL STARTING POINTS TO NURTURE EQUITY-ROOTED SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING

It is an uncomfortable truth that over the years some efforts to bring SEL to school communities may have done more harm than good in dismantling systemic racism and oppression and lifting up the voices and experiences of the most marginalised groups.

Our charge now as educators and school leaders in international schools, is to ensure our SEL practices are Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice (DEIJ) rooted; trauma-informed; culturally competent; anti-racist and anti-bias. To do this, we must cast a wide lens looking at the entire school community. There is so much that must be said on this topic, but here are some simple profound starting points for engaging with or deepening your actions to nurture equity-literate SEL across your school.

Engage in a critical analysis of how your SEL curriculum resources may actively perpetuate or actively dismantle systemic racism and oppression. This requires us to listen deeply and understand the diverse perspectives and experiences of current and former students. When we listen, we can start with a mindset that we will hear hard feedback. This type of listening must include humility and curiosity, and if defensiveness arises, it’s even more reason to keep listening. In particular, it is critical to ask if your curriculum promotes and affirms diverse cultures and backgrounds, and resists conformity to any dominant culture. This analytical work also requires us to assess how universal SEL teaching and learning fits into a tiered approach to supporting students who have experienced trauma.

Commit to sustained educator SEL. Anti-racist, anti-bias SEL is as much about the ‘what’ (curricula) as it is about the ‘how’ (teaching practices) and ‘who’ (raising awareness about educators’ identity, bias, and contribution to the creations or reproduction of inequitable practices). Professional development on cultural competence or DEIJ is important, but alone it is not enough to ensure sustained changes and improved outcomes for this work. School leaders must create safe and inclusive spaces where all educators consistently are invited to develop understanding and awareness about aspects of their own identities and how privilege, power and implicit bias may unintentionally be part of their interactions in a school community. In developing these adult Social and Emotional Learning competencies over time through courageous conversations and by reflecting on pedagogies, relationships with students, colleagues, and families, we can move our whole community towards greater equity.

Know that school systems, practices, and structures will need to change. A commitment to SEL requires us all to reflect deeply on the systems, structures, and practices in schools that work in support of agreed goals, and those that pull against them. We must identify those systems that are designed to perpetuate disparities and speak bravely and clearly about why they must change. This is often the hardest part for schools who see some systems and rituals so connected to their history and culture. The question then needs to be, “Who are these systems serving?”. Evolving school systems, while hard, can be incredibly impactful and provides the foundation on which to build truly inclusive communities.

Parents, caregivers, and families are essential partners. Engagement with the wider school community nurtures stronger relationships that are the foundation of systemic, equity-focused SEL. By engaging intentionally and proactively with families, schools can affirm the assets of children from diverse backgrounds and understand the cultures, lived experiences, and values of their families. This in turn can then be part of what informs a culturally responsive SEL curriculum. By sharing with parents and caregivers the same SEL tools and practices that their students are learning, we can encourage all members of the community to feel ownership of their own social and emotional development.

For schools just starting out on their journey as an anti-racist, SEL-rooted school, the framework and questions above should provide some high-level guidance. There is however so much more that must be said that underpins this work. And as you proceed from here, it is important to be mindful of the Equity Traps and Tropes that can undermine your efforts.

Read the full article here, first published in AISA CONNEXIONS.

Upcoming Professional Development Events

IFSEL Institutes and Workshops provide opportunities for K-12 educators, administrators and counselors to experience a range of SEL activities, and also to understand the research and rationale that underpin them. 

The SEL Leadership Program

hosted at


IFSEL’s One - Year SEL Leadership Program supports leaders and educators around the world to build and sustain an inclusive, equitable, SEL - rooted school community.


Catalyzed by SEL

hosted at

Practical and High-Impact Approaches to Integrating SEL into the Subject Curriculum in Every Classroom.


This highly practical, two-session online course will provide 3rd - 12th Grade teachers and administrators with myriad strategies for embedding SEL directly within any learning moment.


The Joy of Advising (Course 1)

hosted at

Inspiring Approaches and Practical Tools for Middle and High School Advisors and Homeroom Teachers


This inspiring course offers opportunities to build and re-energize Advisor tools and approaches. Learn and practice 'low-prep, high-impact' practices that nurture advisory connection in-person and through Distance Learning.


Paving a Path for All to Thrive

hosted at

SEL Teaching Practices, Skills, and Positive Communication for the Elementary Grades K - 6


This course provides effective lesson sequences and simple, profound practices. Learn a framework of common language to build emotional intelligence, positive communication, and restorative practices.


Nurturing a Whole Community Approach to SEL

hosted at

Explore the ‘what, why and how’ of IFSEL’s Whole-Community Framework for SEL.


This creative and experiential online course offers educators, administrators, counselors and advisors the opportunity to learn how to build classroom practices and school-wide systems that nurture the social and emotional health of all members of the community.


The Joy of Advising (Course 2)

hosted at

Deepening Approaches and Practical Tools for Middle and High School Advisors and Homeroom Teachers


This experiential course, as a follow-up to Joy of Advising 1, extends and deepens approaches and practices that empower high quality advising in Middle and High Schools.


Check-In

hosted at

A simple, profound, and essential practice to maintain balance and guide decision-making for all ages (K-12th Grade)


IFSEL’s approach to Check-In offers a simple and profound practice that activates self- and group-awareness and is the foundation for all social and emotional learning.

Introduction to an SEL-Rooted Advisory Program for New Advisors

hosted at

Practical strategies and approaches for being an authentic and accessible Advisor within an SEL-Rooted Advisory Program


This experiential workshop is designed for new advisors at schools that already have worked with IFSEL to build and deepen their advisory program.

SEL Induction for New Faculty and Staff

hosted at

An ideal way for all current and prior IFSEL schools to welcome new faculty to this work.


This workshop will introduce IFSEL’s Whole-Community Approach to SEL through a series of meaningful and creative experiences.

Leading Through Turbulent Times

hosted at

A practical, renewing workshop to support the critical, life-affirming work of passionate school administrators.


This 2-hour workshop supports the critical, life-affirming work of passionate school administrators, and provides a sense of connection and shared humanity.

See All Professional Development Events

Upcoming Professional Development Events

IFSEL Institutes and Workshops provide opportunities for K-12 educators, administrators and counselors to experience a range of SEL activities, and also to understand the research and rationale that underpin them. 

All Grades

The SEL Leadership Program

hosted at


IFSEL’s One - Year SEL Leadership Program supports leaders and educators around the world to build and sustain an inclusive, equitable, SEL - rooted school community.


Grades 3-12

Catalyzed by SEL

hosted at

Practical and High-Impact Approaches to Integrating SEL into the Subject Curriculum in Every Classroom.


This highly practical, two-session online course will provide 3rd - 12th Grade teachers and administrators with myriad strategies for embedding SEL directly within any learning moment.


Grades 5-12

The Joy of Advising (Course 1)

hosted at

Inspiring Approaches and Practical Tools for Middle and High School Advisors and Homeroom Teachers

Three-Session Online Course Starting June 16th, or August 4th


This inspiring course offers opportunities to build and re-energize Advisor tools and approaches. Learn and practice 'low-prep, high-impact' practices that nurture advisory connection in-person and through Distance Learning.


Grades K-6

Paving a Path for All to Thrive

hosted at

SEL Teaching Practices, Skills, and Positive Communication for the Elementary Grades K - 6

Four-Session Online Course Starting June 16th, or August 4th


This course provides effective lesson sequences and simple, profound practices. Learn a framework of common language to build emotional intelligence, positive communication, and restorative practices.


Grades K-12

Nurturing a Whole Community Approach to SEL

hosted at

Explore the ‘what, why and how’ of IFSEL’s Whole-Community Framework for SEL.


This creative and experiential online course offers educators, administrators, counselors and advisors the opportunity to learn how to build classroom practices and school-wide systems that nurture the social and emotional health of all members of the community.


Grades 5-12

The Joy of Advising (Course 2)

hosted at

Deepening Approaches and Practical Tools for Middle and High School Advisors and Homeroom Teachers


This experiential course, as a follow-up to Joy of Advising 1, extends and deepens approaches and practices that empower high quality advising in Middle and High Schools.


Grades K-12

Check-In

hosted at

A simple, profound, and essential practice to maintain balance and guide decision-making for all ages (K-12th Grade)


IFSEL’s approach to Check-In offers a simple and profound practice that activates self- and group-awareness and is the foundation for all social and emotional learning.


Grades 5-12

Introduction to an SEL-Rooted Advisory Program for New Advisors

hosted at

Practical strategies and approaches for being an authentic and accessible Advisor within an SEL-Rooted Advisory Program


This experiential workshop is designed for new advisors at schools that already have worked with IFSEL to build and deepen their advisory program.


Grades K-12

SEL Induction for New Faculty and Staff

hosted at

An ideal way for all current and prior IFSEL schools to welcome new faculty to this work.


This workshop will introduce IFSEL’s Whole-Community Approach to SEL through a series of meaningful and creative experiences.


Leaders

Leading Through Turbulent Times

hosted at

A practical, renewing workshop to support the critical, life-affirming work of passionate school administrators.


This 2-hour workshop supports the critical, life-affirming work of passionate school administrators, and provides a sense of connection and shared humanity.


See All Professional Development Events

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