From Deficit Messaging to Asset Thinking: How Can Schools Frame Pandemic Learning & SEL?

By Tanasha Mahone

While districts plan and support the return for more schools implementing in person learning across the nation for the upcoming school year, the ongoing pandemic creates unforeseen challenges for schools. The meticulous rollout of safety plan guidelines and methods accommodating academic programming to meet the needs of school communities will require increased efforts of collaboration and discipline throughout the 2021 –2022 academic year and beyond. Embracing these challenges while sustaining work-life-balance for those in the education profession involves an immediate attention to self-care practices and high levels of flexibility and creativity.

Leaning into Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and the mental wellness of students and educators is one area of focus that has always captured my attention. As a U.S. Department of Education School Ambassador Fellow and educator, I have reflected over the past year on ways that students and schools can best be served by SEL frameworks and tiered approaches to embed SEL in daily school practices and instruction. Educators have a duty and wonderful opportunity to integrate SEL in meaningful ways that empower student agency and teacher efficacy in owning approaches that are more necessary now for wellness than ever before.

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), SEL offers a powerful means to explore and express emotions, build relationships, and support each other – children and adults alike. Schools must take interest in ensuring that students and teachers create learning environments that not only highlight time and resources to develop emotional awareness, but also allow transparent spaces for students and teachers to provide feedback. This powerful concept can be fulfilled during the upcoming school year if schools begin from an “asset mindset” rather than assuming a “deficit mindset” about skills or development areas.

So, what exactly would schools embracing an SEL “asset mindset” look like? Are there specific ways to begin with assets in mind? What type of assets do students possess? These are just a few of the many questions I have asked myself while thinking about my SEL focused practice.

Educators must encourage student reflection on virtual teaching and learning during the global pandemic and empower students to articulate what was gained from the experience. Here’s a few ideas to get started on those reflections with your students:

  • Were there any skills they improved, both academic and non-academic?
  • How did the experience impact their confidence, negatively and positively?
  • What will they miss most about virtual learning?
  • Are there aspects of the virtual experience that students’, teachers, and peers should consider as they aim to help each other in the classroom?
  • Who do students consider as a key role in their academic success?
  • How might teachers leverage these perspectives from students to solidify relationships in the classroom and continue to improve instructional practices?

The reality is that students gained far more during the pandemic than schools and districts will ever be able to measure. I’ve observed that students gained greater independence, comfortability with technology, and curiosity to explore extensions to new information. Capitalizing on these gains and emphasizing the importance of social and emotional wellness works in tandem with raising academic achievement. SEL and asset-based thinking could support students throughout their learning trajectory. I encourage educators to embrace an asset-based framework, recognizing that students and educators alike have grown through virtual instruction. 

Bio: Tanasha Mahone is an elementary teacher at an International Baccalaureate School in Atlanta Public Schools and the Regional Director in Atlanta for the Urban Leaders Fellowship. Tanasha is pursuing her doctorate in the Social Foundations program at Georgia State University. You can follow her on Twitter at @SELChamp

The Return to School Roadmap to guide educators, school leaders, families, and communities on a path to safe in-person learning this fall. The goal of the roadmap is to make sure every student has the opportunities they need to heal, learn, and grow in their classrooms, and to create school environments where students not only feel supported, but like they belong.

With the Return to School Roadmap we can support students as they return to in-person learning by:

  • Prioritizing the health of students & staff
  • Building school communities
  • Accelerating academic achievement

Learn more: | #BackTogether