Using Social-Emotional Learning and Literacy Tools to Bridge the Gap During and Beyond COVID-19

Using Social-Emotional Learning and Literacy Tools to Bridge the Gap During and Beyond COVID-19

Marianna Stepniak (Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium (MAEC), USA), Susan Shaffer (Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium (MAEC), USA) and Seth Shaffer (Shaffer & Associates, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7464-5.ch009
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Abstract

MAEC developed culturally responsive and accessible resources and tools to meet students' intersecting literacy and social-emotional needs during COVID-19, centering students and families from marginalized groups (considering race, gender, language, culture, socioeconomic status, and personalized learning needs). MAEC disseminated its materials by building the capacity of caregivers and educators to provide social and emotional learning and literacy to their students. Through MAEC's webinar and newsletter series, caregivers and educators learned how to enhance SEL and literacy skills through the use of technology and visual tools, common household items and experiments, and social justice literature. The approach and tools developed by MAEC in summer 2020 remain relevant and important as educators, families, and students move to re-enter, recover, and reimagine schooling.
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Introduction

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium (MAEC), an educational nonprofit that supports schools, districts, state educational agencies, community-based organizations, and families with achieving equity for all students, developed culturally responsive and accessible resources and tools to meet students’ intersecting literacy and social-emotional needs. MAEC collaborated with its partners and affiliates to provide educators and caregivers with creative ways to teach students literacy skills using accessible, creative, fun, and culturally responsive resources. These resources consisted of newsletters, webinars, and literacy-oriented tools.

By targeting caregivers and educators, MAEC engaged in capacity building, instructing caregivers and educators on how to engage with their students in activities grounded in social-emotional learning (SEL) and literacy. Through MAEC’s leadership, caregivers and educators learned how to enhance SEL and literacy skills through the use of technology and visual tools, common household items and experiments, and social justice literature. Organizations, schools, and teams interested in promoting resources that sit at the intersection of SEL and literacy can learn from MAEC’s summer of 2020 work.

MAEC defines literacy as “the ability, confidence, and willingness to engage with language to acquire, construct, and communicate meaning in all aspects of daily living” (Alberta Education, 2021, para. 2). This definition expands beyond reading and writing skills to include communication, critical thinking, and interaction with various texts and technologies. Likewise, MAEC utilizes a broad definition of SEL:

The process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions (CASEL, 2013, para. 1).

Although these resources targeted needs that emerged during summer 2020, they have resonance beyond the context of COVID-19. MAEC designed its resources to be long-lasting, with strong educational best practices for families, caregivers, and educators. Each resource and tool builds on three foundational concepts that live beyond COVID-19:

  • 1.

    Social and emotional skills are important for students to learn and practice.

  • 2.

    Literacy skills are important for students to learn and practice.

  • 3.

    Educators and caregivers need to be equipped with activities and strategies to engage their students in practices that strengthen their literacy and social-emotional skill sets.

As the future of education will likely continue to involve hybrid learning, it is critical to build the capacity of educators and caregivers to lead activities with their students at the intersection of literacy and SEL (Bonderud, 2021). The strategies and tools developed in MAEC’s resources initially targeted needs specific to the COVID-19 context, but the resources can be repurposed to continue to meet student needs and build the capacity of educators and caregivers.

MAEC and Its Work

MAEC is a non-profit, equity-centered capacity building organization with almost 30 years of experience promoting excellence and equity in education to achieve social justice. It houses the Center for Education Equity (CEE), a regional equity assistance center funded by the U.S. Department of Education, and the Collaborative Action for Family Engagement (CAFE), a Statewide Family Engagement Center for the states of Maryland and Pennsylvania. As a regional equity assistance center, MAEC serves state departments of education, districts, schools, community members, and families in 15 states and territories to help them address issues related to race, gender identity and expression, religion, and national origin. MAEC believes that by increasing educator awareness, understanding, and skills to address factors which contribute to inequities, clients will become the architects of their own change and create positive learning environments where all students can succeed. Whether in person or remotely, successful educational equity implementation depends on collaboration between educators and caregivers to effectively support students, academically and emotionally. MAEC employed this approach with its work in summer 2020 to develop and disseminate timely and effective resources.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Family, School, and Community Engagement: Collaboration between stakeholders (such as families, teachers, administrators, students, and community members) in students’ education to facilitate student learning.

Literacy: The ability, confidence, and willingness to engage with language to acquire, construct, and communicate meaning in all aspects of daily living (Alberta, 2021 AU44: The in-text citation "Alberta, 2021" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Caregiver: An adult who is responsible for the primary care and well-being of a school-age child. This person might be a parent, guardian, grandparent, and/or someone else.

Webinar: A live online educational presentation that takes place on the internet. Viewers are able to interact with the presenters by submitting questions and sharing comments.

Newsletter: An electronic report that is sent to an organization’s subscribers and members containing news and information concerning the activities of that organization.

Social and Emotional Learning: The process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions ( CASEL, 2013 ).

Social Justice: The ability of people to reach their full potential within the societies in which they operate, regardless of race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, ability status, socioeconomic status, and a myriad of other characteristics.

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