Ideas from Experts on How Districts Can Create the Conditions for Sustainable Change

Educational Equity Through Social and Emotional Well-Being

By Ximena Portilla, Michael Lamb, Kevin Thaddeus Brown, Jr.

The U.S. education system finds itself at a moment in history when district leaders are expected to address questions of student and educator well-being as they never have before, weighing decisions related to how to provide in-person instruction safely, how to support students’ and educators’ social and emotional well-being in the context of stress and adversity experienced outside of school, and how to keep students psychologically and emotionally safe from bias and discrimination at school. This brief shares the experiences and recommendations of a practitioner and several district leaders who are working to reexamine their districts’ systems, structures, and policies to ensure they support the well-being and learning of all students. Their insights fall into three main categories: First, they emphasized the importance of developing a new vision for a district. Second, they shared how to support adults in shifting their mindsets about students. Finally, they discussed aligning district structures and policies with the new vision.

Developing a new district vision

  • Reevaluating the district’s vision for schooling
  • Engaging caregivers, families, and communities
  • Incorporating students’ perspectives into the new district vision
  • Giving supportive and equitable conditions the same priority as academic standards, curriculum, and instruction
  • Reflecting the new vision in budget, metrics, and accountability structures

Helping adults shift their mindsets about students

  • Ensuring all district leaders, school leaders, and staff members understand the science of learning and human development
  • Creating opportunities to discuss how systemic bias plays out in schools

Aligning existing structures and policies with the new vision

  • Using data to determine whether policies and practices are equitable
  • Creating institutions to support equity
  • Reevaluating curricula
  • Providing more resources to school leaders and teachers in schools that need more support

Document Details

Publication Type
August 2021
Portilla, Ximena, Michael Lamb, and Kevin Thaddeus Brown, Jr.. 2021. “Ideas from Experts on How Districts Can Create the Conditions for Sustainable Change.” New York: MDRC.