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.