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Social Engagement

Social Engagement means the ability to consider others and a desire to contribute to the well-being of a social group, or community. Senior projects, service learning, volunteer hours, community support projects are all designed to help students have "real world" experiences with social engagement. Every great societal change is the result of some form of social engagement and, in my experience, Social Engagement provides the most robust SEL frame for considering American History. Surveying American history through the study of those who were socially engaged provides real-world relevance to the actions of the women and that shaped our nation, both in uplift and cruelty. By establishing a common expressive SEL students are able to come to terms with history, more equipped to dive deeper in analytical thought, share more in discussion (both academic and personal/social) because the feelings that often arise have an already protected value because, (not to put too fine a point on it) there is common expressive SEL language. For example, let's consider how a geography class could approach learning about and from the Removal Act of 1830.

Scenario: Your a heterosexual, cis-gender, Irish American female from a Judeo-Christian tradition. How do you appropriately and thoughtfully ​ensure that all students have equitable access to the content and discussion differentiating for learning styles and additional learning needs, and maximize all the myriad lessons for and discussions that surround The Removal Act of 1830 including but not limited to, source documents, culture, economics, ethics, morality, religion, myth and cosmology, race, the living legacy of survival culture, and the living legacy of oppressor culture, knowing that in those seats are Native students, Black/African American students, White students who have familial ties to the American South during the 1830's, White students whose families were starving in Europe at that time, LatinX students, Asian students, SouthEast Asian students, East African students, East African students whose families came from refugee camps, Jewish students, Arab students from refugee camps, and at least two students who, by all intents and purposes don't seem to give a rip about school.  

(I know, worst SAT question ever, and, just fyi this is not an uncommon demographic cross-section in many public schools, and teachers work to answer this every day.)

Possible Solution: You don't actually have to worry because you've been approaching your whole school year with an SEL lens! 

  • Self-awareness allows you and your students the ability to recognize emotions, feelings, thoughts, desires for expression, and actual expression.

  • Social Awareness supports you all in recognizing the shared space, the classroom norms, and you've already worked extensively with empathy and understanding the needs of others.

  • Self-management has been taught giving students strategies for handling uncomfortable feelings, and unwanted conflict, within the self.

  • Social Management has given the class the opportunity group, practice with valuing the community...

  • Self-efficacy has provided students the opportunity to see themselves successful with this deep and difficult part of American history and social engagement equips the class with a chance to do something about the legacy of this event.

  • Social Engagement is about planning and creating outlets where there is energy to make change so now you have an outlet for any residual energy that needs an outlet. 


So all the big feelings will be there and there will be tough moments, and that's okay because you've all committed to accepting a certain amount of discomfort as a natural and healthy part of life. Also, you're the teacher so you can model all of these aspect of SEL for the kids to normalize how emotions and feelings and thoughts and behaviors do not have to "ruin" academic life, but rather deepen the connection to and enrich the experience with academic life. So, if you are afraid, you just explain what you're feeling, how you feel in your body, what you want to do to express, what you will do to express it, how you'll support the needs of others, and so on until you're voted TEACHER OF THE CENTURY!!

Essentially this makes classrooms safer for all students, knowing that the feelings and well being of others, no matter how different, matter. Here are some ways to promote social engagement. 

What does empathy tell me?

Competence in social engagement involves knowledge and familiarity with social management particularly when understanding social norms. It is through social engagement that people have either worked to reshape social norms that were unequal, inequitable, or both, or, worked to maintain and strengthen social norms that promote the wellbeing of all. Empathy means ability to share in the feelings of another person. When you work to imagine how characters in books or movies or songs feel or you reflect on how someone like you feels you are activating your capacity for empathy. Empathy can be a powerful tool in gathering the energy necessary for social engagement.

Also drawing on the skills of social management, social engagement competence supports folks in doing something (empathy-to-action) about inequality, inequity, or both. For example, if the we  reflect on Normative Whiteness and we recognize that typically us white folks don't have to spend as much energy social managing, maybe we could work to decrease how much energy other folks have to expend too. Notice, I am not talking about white folks needing to increase their energy so there is balance (though that is an option) I am suggesting we get more comfortable with Blackness, Nativeness, Asian-ness, Latin-ness, Femine-ness, all-other-ness so everyone can work as little as us. We can just lighten up on folks and allow them to be as we be. That's what empathy tells me. 

What do I want for others?

Using empathy, either for imagining the feelings of someone who does not appear to be like you, or for in-group nurturance, you will want to spend some time thinking critically about what outcomes you would want for others? This could be anything from finding a cure for a terrible disease to holding the door for a busy family. The key here is to give yourself time and patience to deeply consider what it is that you are wanting to do. Also, important here is to continue to use self-awareness because this can also be an "ego-trap". Many well meaning teachers have burned out in a spiral of "rescuer" or "savior" ideation. It is not that empathy-to-action toward others cannot be mutually beneficial, only that you must be mindful (aware) of the motivations underlying the desired outcome.  We have a BLOG ENTRY about this very complicated trapping if you are interested in reading more. 

How can I contribute?

So what do you do with the desire to do for others?

Learning and experiencing both collectivist and individualistic approaches to education are essential for personal/social development, academic growth, and college and career readiness. What we would want for students is a healthy experience with both of these types of learning opportunities. What schools should be working toward providing is equity both in value and in practice for students to learn in these styles because it is through a cultural lens that you can best apply the desire to contribute. The best way to identify how to engage socially is to learn about the group or groups you are engaging with and engaging for. There are great strengths to both approaches and we want students to be comfortable and experienced with both so that, as the context and culture of their future experiences changes, they will be able to support themselves in a variety of different life experiences. If you jump over to the Culture Matters page is there is more information about the relationship between SEL and culture. 

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