Where Am I? My Commitment to Transformative (Justice-Oriented) SEL & Supporting #BlackLivesMatter

Reflections from a 2017 Teacher of the Year By Wendy Turner, M. Ed.

I know and understand that I am a privileged White person. I have always been able to access resources and attain goals with relative ease throughout my entire life. I enjoy unfettered access to quality healthcare, healthy food, and the privilege of not worrying about the safety of my neighborhood. I see my likeness, White and female, often portrayed positively within the media and across society.

I recognize my privilege to be able to drive without fear or consequence of being unjustly stopped, mistreated, or even killed by cops. This is privilege. I also recognize that I have a moral and ethical responsibility to abolish racist systems and policies, which create inequality and continuously perpetuate systems of oppression.

We must first acknowledge the systemic racial, social, economic, and psychological oppression, which has harmed Black people for hundreds of years. We must name this, acknowledge this, and then tirelessly work to abolish those racist systems and policies. This is especially true within the education system.

I teach 2nd grade in suburban Wilmington, Delaware. My passion within education runs deep for Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and global education. I often write and speak about SEL, more recently, within the context of race. Perhaps the most important work I’m currently engaging in is the process of self-reflection to deepen my level of self-awareness within this current socio-political climate. Here are a few of the ways I’m currently engaging in this work; 1.) I am working my way through White Fragility by Robin Diangelo and can see some of the behaviors and feelings in myself that are White fragility in action. 2.) I am acknowledging my own implicit bias. Dr. Sheldon Eakins recommends taking the “Implict Association Test” on race before choosing to embark on brave conversations around race. I scored “Slight Automatic Preference for European Americans compared to African Americans” (see screenshots below). 3.) I have acknowledged my mis-steps and I am actively working to correct them... I have lots of work to do.

4.) I listened to the The Education Movement Podcast “Teachers Must Hold Themselves Accountable for Dismantling Racial Oppression’ with Education Author and Equity Advocate Kelisa Wing. She shared the idea that teachers should commit to “Do No Harm” for all students and one way we can start to live that commitment is to unpack our own biases with regard to race. 5.) We can use the widely accepted framework developed by the Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning, or CASEL for short, as a starting point to begin critically examining this work. Note: there are other SEL frameworks, however, CASEL has an extensive body of research to support its framework.

SEL in the Context of Race

Before we can discuss Transformative Justice Oriented SEL, we must first define SEL within the context of race. CASEL has defined SEL as “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

The goal of SEL is to foster the development of the 5 core competencies; self-awareness, social-awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making skills. It’s critical to examine these core competencies within the context of race, let’s take a look...


Self-awareness is defined by CASEL as “the ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism”. Context of race. Key ideas to consider here in the context of race are personal bias and one’s emotions related to people of color. We can then ask questions of ourselves in certain roles such as:

Self-Awareness Considerations for Educators

  • Do you wait for students of color, especially Black students, to misbehave?

  • Do you have educational materials that tell the stories of people of color in your classroom all year round or only on holidays such as Thanksgiving or during Black History Monthy?

  • Do you have cultural competency around races other than your own?

  • Do you share and discuss perspectives of people of color in your teaching?

  • Do you share stories of colonization around the world?

  • Do you share stories of success and current role models of color in mathematics, art, science and literature in addition to stories of struggle from the Civil Rights movement?

  • Do you have a growth or fixed mindset around race?

Self-Awareness Considerations for Parents

  • How do you speak about people of color, especially Black people, in your home?

  • Do you talk about Black people at all?

  • Do you talk about race openly and honestly in your home?

  • Do you access and share books and movies that tell the stories of people of color?

  • How do you treat people of color in front of your kids?

  • What do you say about other races?

  • Do you have a growth or fixed mindset around race?

Self-Awareness Considerations for Everyone

  • If you are exhibiting bias or lack of competency around race, can you get better at understanding your bias and increasing your competency around other cultures and races?

  • Can you practice becoming more comfortable talking about race, accessing stories of people of color and normalizing discussion of them?

  • Do you access and acknowledge your feelings around what is happening right now in the United States in an honest way?

  • Do you have a growth or fixed mindset around race? This graphic from @holisticallygrace helps us to answer that question.


Self-Management is defined by CASEL as “the ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.” Context of race. Key ideas to consider here in the context of race are responding to the emotions we feel around race and regulating our behavior related to race. We can then ask questions of ourselves in certain roles such as:

Self-Management Considerations for Educators

  • How do you feel when you think about talking about race in your classroom?

  • If you experience stress, how will you manage that stress and how will you model that effort for your students?

  • How will you access resources to support these conversations?

Self-Management Considerations for Parents

  • How do you feel when you are asked questions about race in the home?

  • How do you feel when you watch the news?

  • How will you access resources to support and build your skill set to effectively have these conversations?

Self-Management Considerations for Everyone

  • What emotions do you experience when you hear “Black Lives Matter?”

  • How do you manage those emotions?

  • Why do you think you experience those emotions?

  • How might your lived experiences have shaped your responses towards issues of race?

  • Do you have personal goals related to matters of race?

  • How do you track and monitor progress towards your personal goals?

Social Awareness

CASEL defines Social Awareness as “the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.” Context of race. Key ideas to consider here are empathy for others, our authentic connections with those from different cultures and backgrounds as well as our social behavior around people of color, and understanding supports for those that have been and continue to be oppressed. We can then ask questions of ourselves in certain roles such as:

Social-Awareness Considerations for Educators

  • Do you define the words racism and racist for your students?

  • Do you have discussions around these words?

  • Do you create a safe space to foster discussions of current events around Black lives in your classroom?

  • Do you ask and acknowledge how students and families feel with regard to what is happening right now in the United States?

Social-Awareness Considerations for Parents

  • Do you foster discussions of current events around Black lives in your home.

  • Do you seek out neutral news sources/reporting for your family or biased reports?

  • Do you ask and acknowledge how family members might feel with regard to the current situation in our country?

  • Do you define terms such as racism, race, or racist for your kids and do you have discussions around these words?

Social-Awareness Considerations for Everyone

  • Are you knowledgeable about the concepts of White privilege and systemic racism in society?

  • Can you explain such concepts to others if asked, including talking about examples of each?

Relationship Skills

CASEL defines Relationship Skills as “the ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.” Context of race. Key ideas to consider here are positive relationships with people of color, being an ally to people of color, and engaging in behavior that keeps relationships strong.

Relationship Skills Considerations for Educators

  • How do you treat people of color, especially Black students within your school setting compared to White students?

  • Do you have strong relationships with teachers, administrators, students and support staff of color in your building?

  • Do you model respect for people of color for your White peers and students?

  • Do you speak up when inappropriate comments, thoughts, stereotypes, or ideas are shared about people of color, even when they are not around?

Relationship Skills Considerations for Parents

  • Do you have meaningful and positive relationships with Black people?

  • How do you discuss Black people in front of your kids?

  • How do you treat Black people in front of your kids?

  • Do you foster the idea that we are equal regardless of position in society or look down on others?

  • Do you expose your family to new ideas, thoughts, and experiences with diverse groups of people?

  • Do you visit churches, neighborhoods, communities, restaurants that are different from your own?

  • Do you make generalized statements about groups of people based on faulty or limited beliefs and assumptions?

  • Have you or do you pass these same faulty beliefs and assumptions to the next generation?

Relationship Skills Considerations for Everyone

  • Do you have authentic relationships with people of color?

  • Do you truly know any POC and share your life with them?

  • Do you have relationships with diverse groups of people at work and outside of work?

  • Can you avoid this mistake “I don't need love texts from my white friends.”?

Responsible Decision Making (RDM)

CASEL defines Responsible Decision Making as “the ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.” Context of race. Key ideas to consider here are actions in the context of race, decisions in light of the Black Lives Matter social movement, creating positive impact in your work and social circles with your choices, and modeling strong decision-making around racial equity for others.

RDM Considerations for Educators

RDM Considerations for Parents

RDM Considerations for Everyone

Introducing Transformative Justice Oriented SEL

Now that we have discussed in detail considerations for SEL within the context of race, we may now introduce the idea of Transformative Justice Oriented SEL. A recent webinar hosted by CASEL and a panel of experts entitled “Using SEL as a Lever for Equity and Social Justice”, provided and shared three different types of SEL - Personally Responsible SEL, Participatory SEL, and Transformative or Justice Oriented SEL (see image below from the webinar). Transformative Justice Oriented SEL is a way to be critical and analyze socio political forces, to take action, and to combat racial injustices.

Where Am I In This Transformative Justice Oriented SEL Work?

I recently connected with two educators who are well-versed in this racial equity work, having been part of their district’s equity initiatives for years. One of them simply said “we must get to the point where we can interrogate ourselves about race; our beliefs, our bias, our actions”. The other dropped this gem into our conversation, “we have to push in on each other with this so we can push out with the work.” The good news is that we can get started today. Ultimately we have to ask ourselves “Where am I?” with respect to this work.This infographic from Drew Ibrahim has been widely shared; it helps us determine where we are as we move in and out of fear, learning, and growth zones towards action.

We all benefit from a stronger, more united, more equitable, and more just society. Identifying biases and areas for personal improvement in the context of race by examining our own social emotional competence is an accessible and reasonable starting point. Begin and share your journey today. #BlackLivesMatter #DoSomething

Wendy Turner teaches 2nd grade at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware. She is passionate about connecting learning in the classroom to the real world in all areas of study. Deeply committed to social-emotional learning, she guides her students to embody respect, empathy, resilience, citizenship, and growth mindset through dynamic classroom experiences.

In 2017, Wendy was named the Delaware Teacher of the Year. Additional awards and leadership include being named a Compassion Champion by the Governor’s office, being an NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellow culminating with field work in South Africa, and a Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Teaching Science as well as a 3 time Empatico Empathy Project Fellow.

Wendy is a regular contributor to education blogs and positive conversations about education on twitter. Find her on Twitter - @mrswendymturner.

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