Cover: Prioritizing Racial Equity Within Social and Emotional Learning in Tacoma

Prioritizing Racial Equity Within Social and Emotional Learning in Tacoma

One of Six Case Studies of Schools and Out-of-School-Time Program Partners (Volume 2, Part 6)

Published Sep 15, 2022

by Susannah Faxon-Mills, Heather L. Schwartz, Catherine H. Augustine


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Research Questions

  1. What are the benefits of school programs that focus on SEL?
  2. What approaches to implementing SEL are useful?

The Wallace Foundation's Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative is a six-year initiative that The Wallace Foundation launched in 2017 to explore whether and how children benefit when schools and their out-of-school-time programs partner to improve social and emotional learning (SEL), as well as what it takes to do this work.

According to the Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning, SEL is "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." This case study explores how Lister Elementary School in Tacoma, Washington, established SEL and equity as a nonnegotiable foundation for its work with students, staff, and families.

Lister staff received comprehensive support in their SEL and equity work. This included written SEL lessons that incorporated racial equity, a range of training opportunities developed and led by Lister school administrators, regular check-ins and opportunities for input during standing staff meetings, and feedback provided through formal and informal evaluations. Lister established schoolwide consistency with regards to SEL. Students and staff used common terminology to communicate about SEL. The SEL scope and sequence was designed to ensure that the same concepts were reinforced across classrooms and evolved as students progressed through each grade.

Key Findings

  • Committed school leaders drove the SEL and equity work by embedding both throughout school systems, policies, and practices.
  • Leaders gained school staff buy-in by elevating teacher leaders to champion SEL and equity, highlighting positive impacts of SEL and equity work, and asking for and using staff feedback on SEL and equity resources and supports.
  • Establishing common terminology and shared language about SEL and equity supported consistent and open communication between and among staff and students.
  • Designing and developing SEL resources and trainings in house ensured their relevance to the school's context and priorities and allowed for their continued refinement over time.

Research conducted by

This research was commissioned by The Wallace Foundation and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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