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Slow down and see cultural resilience

By Margo Herman

"Cultural resiliency is what we call the competencies acquired through diverse life experiences, which then become the foundation from which students can develop essential 21st century skills: innovation, adaptability, critical analysis, cross-cultural communication, and teamwork." -- E3 - Education, Excellence, Equity

This quote set the context for our Oct. 2 public symposium on social and emotional learning Dr. JuanCarlos Arauz of E3 spent two days with us challenging our thinking about SEL, sharing his talent and his research that bridges academic assessment with culturally responsive teaching.

The cultural resilience content he presented refined my thinking about integrating social emotional learning into my youth development work. One nugget that still has me pondering is defining youth engagement strategies that reflect cultural resilience.

JuanCarlos suggests that to best support young people, we need to slow down to understand and assess a youth's lived experience and their cultural resiliency before we can know how to determine the best ways to engage them in learning. This approach requires changing our current education paradigms. Common Core measures do not properly account for cultural diversity or cultural resilience, especially for those youth growing up in toxic or difficult environments that impact their emotional skills and their academic learning.
"Both under-achieving and high-achieving students are in need of guided practice and assistance to learn how to acknowledge the competencies that are learned from lived experiences and how to translate them into an academic context."

With this passion in mind, JuanCarlos developed the Engagement Identification Tool and the Educational Strengths Assessment Tool that uniquely combine quantitative and qualitative data about each young person, taking cultural resilience into account. These assessment tools then inform how best to engage that youth in learning.

I learned to slow down to learn about the lived experience for individuals, then create engagement strategies that focus on three things:
  • building relationships with youth
  • recognizing unique skill sets for each youth
  • presenting learning content in a culturally responsive manner

Then we can start to shape the 21st century skills that are in high demand for the work force.
Many attending the symposium were looking for specific skills, tools and measurements to assess SEL. Measuring social emotional learning is one of the newer challenges in the youth development field. And we will get there. But first, we need to slow down to assure we bring our cultural awareness and skills to know how to best engage youth in our programs. And maybe some of you are doing that already.

What specific strategies work well for you to know and appreciate the lived experience of youth in your programs to best engage them in our learning environments?

-- Margo Herman, Extension educator

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  1. Thanks for this blog, Margo. One of the best ways that I've found to help me learn about the lived experiences of young people (as well as to help them learn about each other's, which is also crucial to building that safe, culturally responsive environment) is providing opportunity for a group to experience pieces of their lived experience. This could be a field trip to a place that the youth feel is important in their lives, or it could be interacting on a smaller scale with family, say, through home visits. Most of the time, trust needs to build in order for this type of activity to happen effectively; but once the experience happens, the level of understanding between me and the youth, and among the youth themselves, improves incredibly. Doors previously closed become open, even if only ajar--both in terms of opportunity of what can be done with the youth, but also in terms of how we think about and learn from each other.

  2. Great idea, Jessica! Trust is indeed an essential element in all of the cultural resilience strategies, and surely a necessity in your approach. What a rich honoring and sharing your strategy offers for understanding the experience of a young person. Thank you for exchanging the idea. It shares a vulnerability, honesty, and curiosity between youth and adult that allows the other strategies to unfold with more openness and integrity. If only every youth (and every adult when they were a youth) had this opportunity, I can see where change may occur!