Social-Emotional Learning, Black Panther, and Chadwick Boseman’s Legacy
By: Matt Slayter, PCC Education Program Manager
A Hero Falls
The influence of Black Panther cannot be overstated. For many, especially young Black Americans, the hero’s inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was their first exposure to a mainstream superhero that looked like them.
And while 2020 has been full of unexpected trials, the surprising passing of Chadwick Boseman has been especially hard. Losing the actor inside the Black Panther suit has left kids and adults alike with sudden feelings of loss, grief, and emotions that are difficult for people of any age to process.
The loss was felt deeply by students at Drew Charter School in Atlanta. That’s where Jasmine Stevens, a 4th grade teacher and Georgia’s Charter School Teacher of the Year in 2019, saw a moment to educate in the loss of a beloved figure.
Social-Emotional Learning from Everyday Heroes
The idea to address Boseman’s death came from what Jasmine describes as a positive staff culture at Drew.
“The school’s director of Culture and Equity spoke to us at a staff meeting about Boseman’s passing,” says Stevens. “We are a very diverse school. It couldn’t be more diverse, racially and socio-economically. To have someone on your staff address issues that happen in our world… it’s nice to have that platform to be able to talk about things openly.”
As Stevens processed Boseman’s death with her colleagues, she recognized a need for her students to do the same. The school’s solution: Stevens addressed Boseman’s passing during 4th grade’s monthly Town Hall.
Drew Charter School brought all 150 4th grade scholars together (virtually, of course) to grapple with their feelings, learn how to have open and empathetic conversations, and recognize the legacy of character that Boseman leaves behind.
“In the virtual space, we’re logging on for class, but not having enough conversations with the students. We’re not getting to build the relationships with the students that we usually would through side conversations during lunch and recess.”
This is why Stevens decided to address Boseman’s passing during 4th grade’s monthly “Town Hall”, where all classes gather together as a grade-wide community.
“I wanted to open up with Chadwick Boseman, so the kids had a place to process and talk about what it means, what he meant, as a superhero and as a person.” Says Stevens.
New Heroes Are Born
For many, the passing of a pop culture icon may seem unnecessary to include during a packed school day. For Drew Charter School, however, conversations like these are part of a well-rounded, socially conscious education.
“Since we serve such a diverse student population, we are pushing for education to be inclusive of EVERYTHING that’s happening in our world. We’ve found ways to talk about COVID and protests. We’re constantly keeping our students informed,” says Stevens.
During the Town Hall, students were given the chance to express themselves and even share their feelings and reactions with the rest of the grade on camera.
Loss, grief, and other hard-to-process emotions are part of the human experience. Through thoughtful social-emotional instruction, students at Drew reportedly learned how to process those feelings and rely on their community — even when that community is as diverse as Drew’s fourth grade student body.
According to Stevens, the discussion promoted healthy and empathetic conversations from diverse viewpoints. She says it also fostered the growth of students’ character.
“Through their character, they were honoring Boseman and his death without even realizing,” she added.
Social-Emotional Learning and the Passing of Chadwick Boseman
Conversations such as these are vital to the social-emotional development of students.
No matter whether your classroom is in-person or virtual, students need to be given to tools to have healthy and meaningful conversations with one another.
First, make sure students know your classroom’s norms for discourse. These are incredibly important to establish at the beginning of the year in order to foster a safe and comfortable environment, even if beliefs and viewpoints are challenged. Check out these expert tips below:
- 7 Teacher Discourse Moves That Let the Kids Talk
- Accountable Discussions Amongst Students
- 8 Ways to Be More Inclusive in Your Zoom Teaching
- Teaching with Zoom: Resources and Tips
Once norms are established, think of prompting questions that will spark authentic conversations between your students. It is important to note that early in the school year, instructors will need to act as a moderator during classroom discussions. However, the goal is to strengthen your classroom’s culture so that instructors are needed less and less to maintain a healthy discourse.
Classroom Prompts: The Passing of Chadwick Boseman
- If you had any superpower, what would it be? How would you use it to make your community a better place?
- How did you feel the first time you saw someone awesome on screen, such as a superhero, that looked like you? If they didn’t look like you, how did that make you feel?
- What do you know about Chadwick Boseman, the actor who played Black Panther?
- When you learned about Chadwick Boseman’s death, how did that make you feel? Why do you think you felt that way?
- How would you describe Black Panther’s character? What about Chadwick Boseman’s character?
- How do you think we’ll remember Chadwick Boseman?
- Besides through Black Panther, how else would you describe Chadwick Boseman’s legacy?
- What are ways that you show good character?
- How do you want others to describe your good character? How do you want this season of your life to be remembered?
- If we’re feeling upset about Chadwick Boseman’s passing, what can we do as individuals to alleviate that feeling?
- How can we rely on our community to help us through tough feelings?