In a world reeling from pandemic and equity challenges, Raising Empathy, a social-emotional learning (SEL) consultancy, has launched as a proverbial ray of hope. Veteran educator and founder Dr. Shea Quraishi partners with schools, families, and educational organizations to transform SEL theory into practice -- and that means Tampa Bay Area children can become better equipped to handle the world’s twists and turns.
“Social and emotional learning is definitely something people talk about as important, but many don’t have concrete strategies,” Quraishi says.
Quraishi founded the consultancy to remedy that. Focusing primarily in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Sarasota counties, Raising Empathy takes SEL theory and translates it into focused practice. Plenty of resources exist that focus on curriculum and scripted lessons, Quraishi says, but Raising Empathy takes the nuances of each situation into account before suggesting a plan.
An emotional intelligence expert, Quraishi received her master’s degree from Stanford University and a doctorate in educational leadership and policy with certification in program evaluation from Florida State University. A stint as a classroom teacher offered real-world experience; since then, she has spoken at conferences nationwide and works with leaders in education to plan SEL-strategic measures for schools.
“There are ways to integrate SEL tools into the curriculum all day long,” she says.
A SEL-focused school might present the following situations:
Did you ever make a decision you regretted?
How do you see the protagonist?
Why do you think the characters act the way they do?
No one is arguing that it’s important to be able to identify nouns, verbs, and parts of speech, but what about using books to build empathy? A teacher dissecting a text can ask students to reflect upon the characters. By delving into character motivation, students take the reading experience further than just words on a page. They see the world through different constructs, consequently building understanding for others.
How have you felt in the past when you tackled something challenging?
How did you feel once you mastered it?
By revisiting self-management techniques, a teacher who anticipates pushback from students because of a difficult concept instead can inspire them to be resilient. By setting the stage for a well-fought battle where the victory is mastering a new skill, the groundwork is laid. Hopefully, students will take the knowledge that they can do difficult things into other aspects of their lives as well.
SEL also addresses the timely, pressing challenges of equity and implicit bias. Teachers are asked to consider what families are struggling to overcome. Suggestions for support vary based on the needs of each school. The SEL approach is context-based but grounded in research and best practices to ensure sustainability and success. In essence, Quraishi strives to ‘connect the dots’ toward the desired outcome.
And that outcome? It’s raising empathy, of course. To pundits who see SEL as a soft skill not to be viewed as important as the nuts and bolts of educational practice, she points to research that shows SEL increases academic performance across grade levels. A respectful, kind, academically-motivated student body; that’s the aim.
Present global circumstances remind us how important it is to raise respectful, kind citizens, like Quraishi hopes her own child will grow up to be. Her daughter inspired her to found Raising Empathy in the hopes that it makes the world better.
“I believe the more we invest in SEL now for our kids, the more we’ll thank ourselves,” she says.
To learn more, visit the Raising Empathy website.