Capacity Building

This is a school, a place where students learn. There are history and art, math and science. There’s also an element of social emotional learning (SEL) that takes place at school. School is the most common place where young people interact with a broad spectrum of others, from different cultures and abilities, backgrounds and races.

This is where we can change the world.

Many educators are mission driven. They came to this profession with that world-changing notion in mind, knowing that the relationship between educator and student can be powerful and life-changing. There are people throughout your school who have hearts and a passion for this work. Some may have become jaded. Others may feel tired, overwhelmed by parts of the job that drain them of that original passion.

Now is the time for a plan steeped in hope—the hope that sensitivity and leadership training can genuinely improve school climate; the hope that we can develop compassion in students who will become culturally aware, community-building stewards of our future; the hope that we can make a difference.

Learning for Justice has been present in the aftermath of several bias-related school crises. Certainly discussions dealt with aspects of the nine steps outlined in the crisis section of this guide. But the real power, the real hope, arrived in leadership and sensitivity training that involved students, staff and community members at these schools.

Social emotional learning (SEL) revolves around self-awareness and self-management, with an emphasis on social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. How do I manage my feelings? What sympathy and empathy do I have for others? How can I maintain positive relationships? And how can I deal with situations in a constructive and ethical manner?

Key to addressing incidents of bias and hate that may occur at school, SEL promotes understanding of the self and others. Respecting differences. Managing strong emotions. Resisting negative peer pressure. Working cooperatively. Learning to manage and negotiate conflict nonviolently. Seeking and offering help.

SEL can be part of professional development. It can be used by teachers in classroom management, or by counselors in their work in schools. There can be special trainings. Parents and caregivers and the wider community can be involved.

The goal is to build capacity—in your school community and in the individuals who comprise that community. This will not only enrich your school, it also will make it less likely that a hate crime or bias incident will arise within the school. And if the incident comes from someone outside the school, you are all the more prepared to deal with it in a constructive, forward-looking manner.

What does a school community without this capacity look like?

“It’s a culture of fear,” said Enid Pickett, a California elementary schoolteacher. “People are afraid of engaging with each other. It closes people down.” 

That’s why Sonia Galaviz, an Idaho elementary schoolteacher, calls on this kind of capacity building as a way of creating “a culture that exposes and deals with fears.”

“It’s time,” Galaviz said, “to see things in a different light.”

Tools for Your Toolbox that Encourage SEL