SEL, Mindfulness and Equity

7 Jan 2023 9:47 AM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

By: Susan Davis

The middle years can be challenging as students face many physical, psychological, social, and intellectual changes that come with adolescence.  Schools can support students by implementing social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculums and practices and incorporating equity.

SEL is a process by which individuals develop their knowledge and capacity to incorporate behaviors, thoughts, and emotions to support social interactions (CASEL, 2003). Transformative SEL addresses issues such as power, privilege, and discrimination (Jagers et al., 2019) and centers equity through identity, agency, belonging, collaborative problem-solving, and curiosity (Jagers et al., 2021). It is essential that SEL and equity work together to be truly effective.

Mindfulness is one approach to SEL and is defined as non-judgmental, present-moment awareness (Kabat-Zinn, 2015). This article outlines actions that educators can use to create spaces that integrate SEL, mindfulness, and equity into the fabric of our system.

Identity Development

“Who am I?” “Where do I fit?” Educators often tell students what to learn, how to behave, and where they fit. Awareness of self and how we affect each other leaves us less likely to cause harm. Identity development is understanding and valuing one’s sense of self, and for many, positive identity development relates to their race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, and ability. Identity indicates understanding and discernment associated with various intersectional personal and social group statuses. The following are ways educators can facilitate identity and belonging in schools:

1.Recognize our own beliefs.

2.Do the inner work first.

3.Be open-minded.

These practices set the stage for others to feel safe to be themselves around us and with us to create an environment where everyone can shine with their authentic selves.


Mindfulness explores a focus on the now with openness, curiosity, and acceptance, and strengthens our sense of belonging. Ironically, our awareness of self leads us to compassionate action towards others through the awareness of our interconnectedness. Unifying staff through collaborative learning teams can be a great way to foster belonging. Teachers can translate this practice into group work within classrooms. Bringing a non-judgmental, present-moment awareness to group dynamics sets the stage for safety and belonging.


Educators can facilitate agency by providing opportunities for voice and choice in educational spaces. Rather than beginning from a teacher-led, educator-centered practice, co-constructing a safe space through group agreements allows students to explore student agency (Duane et al., 2021). One example of a co-opted agreement adapted from East Bay Meditation Center (2022) is the following:

·   Try it on: Be willing to “try on” new ideas or ways of doing things that might not be what you prefer.

·   Practice self-focus: Attend to and speak about your own experiences and responses and not speak for a whole group.

·   Understand the difference between intent and impact: Try to understand and acknowledge impact. 

·   Practice “both /and”: When speaking, substitute “and” for “but.” This practice acknowledges multiple realities.

·   Move up /move back: Encourage participation by all present. Take note of who is speaking and who is not. If you tend to talk often, consider “moving back.” 

·   Practice mindful listening: Avoid planning what you will say as you listen.

·   Confidentiality: Take home learnings, but don’t identify anyone other than yourself, now or later. 

·   Right to pass: You can say “I pass” if you don’t wish to speak.

Collaborative Problem Solving

Collaborative problem-solving is an essential skill set rooted in relationships and is a critical 21st-century skill.  Project-based learning provides an excellent opportunity for schools to practice collaborative problem-solving. The following are some tips to be more mindful during collaborative problem-solving (Baker, 2022):

  • Put feelings or thoughts into words. Articulate your feelings; don’t engage in a long conversation about the details of the emotion. This allows you to objectively state your opinions without getting hung up on the emotions surrounding the core problem.

  • Understand that your beliefs may be emotionally driven. They are subconscious, automatic thoughts that can be illogical, invalid, or biased.

  • Accept that your perception is limited.Your understanding of the situation is only one side of the story. Try to interpret the situation differently, change its meaning, or view it from another person’s perspective.

  • Be solution-focused rather than wanting to win the fight.

  • Keep in mind thatnot everyone wants to reframe conflict as an opportunity – it’s comfortable to ignore problems in the short term, but leaving conflicts unresolved will lead you to similar situations in the future.

  • Allow all voices to be heard. 

  • It is helpful to have a mediator involvedif tensions are high. This creates safety and an opportunity for all voices to be heard.


Curiosity mirrors a core need in the iterative process to share information about self and the surrounding world. Get curious about emotions When we get curious about our emotions, it gives us a moment to pause with nonjudgement. We can facilitate opportunities for students to get curious by:

  • Practicing Intellectual humility: acknowledge that as the educator, you do not hold all the answers. Allow students the opportunity to seek solutions for themselves.

  • Looking beyond standardized tests and grades. Allow students to get innovative and remove these boundaries.

  • Asking open-ended questions. Explore reflective journal writing or classroom discussion. Create opportunities to discuss questions where there is no right or wrong answer.

  • Celebrating mistakes. Growth happens when we make mistakes.

Mindfulness can transform education: superintendents while setting organizational direction; principals while working with students on discipline issues; teachers while navigating the complexities of being a teacher; students in dealing with each other and their differences. Not one individual does not affect another. We are connected, and our actions affect the whole.

SEL or mindfulness is not a short-term fix to all the social imbalances the education system faces but a long-term commitment. Imagine a world where SEL and mindful practices crystallize in our relationships at work, grocery stores, on social media, or while waiting at a traffic light. Mindfulness is a practice that changes hearts and minds and leads to living a more meaningful life.

Susan J. Davis is an SEL coordinator in the St. Vrain Valley School district. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Colorado Denver with a research focus on equity and social and emotional learning.


Baker, K. (2022). 7 ways to use mindfulness in problem-solving. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (2003). Safe and sound: An educational leader's guide to evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) programs. Dept.

East Bay Meditation Center. (2022, March). Agreements for multicultural interactions at EBMC. East Bay Meditation Center. Retrieved from

Jagers, R., Skoog-Hoffman, A., Barthelus, B., & Schlund, J. (2021, June 3). Transformative Social and Emotional Learning. American Federation of Teachers.

Jagers, R.J., Rivas-Drake, D., & Williams, B., (2019) Transformative social and emotional learning (SEL): Toward SEL in service of educational equity and excellence, Educational Psychologist, 54, 162-184, DOI: 10.1080/00461520.2019.1623032

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2015). Mindfulness. Mindfulness, 6(6), 1481–1483.

Colorado Association of Middle Level Education


mailing address:  CAMLE  •  4650 E. Amherst Ave.  •  Denver  •  CO  •  80222

CAMLE is a 501(c)6 non-profit organization.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software