Improving outcomes in education requires that we center humanity in everything we do at Breakthrough. That means seeing young people as people before they are students or Teaching Fellows. It also involves acknowledging and addressing barriers and injustices in our education system. At a time of widening opportunity gaps for students and a shortage of quality and diverse teachers, our work to further educational equity is more critical than ever.

The Human First Framework (HFF) has been a critical tool to support the social-emotional and cultural development of our middle-school students and college-aged Teaching Fellows. Developed in 2021, with support from All Points North Foundation, HFF has helped strengthen how we propel students on their path to college and aspiring teachers on their path to the classroom.

“Social-emotional learning is a critical part of student success,” says Linda Francis, Manager of Learning and Instruction at Breakthrough Collaborative. “The Human First Framework brings an equity lens to SEL, ensuring we affirm and value the young people we serve – their voices, experiences, and communities. We are cultivating a sense of connection and belonging at Breakthrough, setting students up to thrive academically, professionally, and personally.” 

This summer, affiliates rolled out our new social-emotional learning curriculum aligned to HFF. Recent data confirms we’re on the right track! Students reported growth in their social-emotional skills across all three competencies of the Framework: 1) Knowledge and Love of Self, 2) Solidarity, and 3) Self-Determination. Notable findings from the summer included:

Knowledge and Love of Self: Students know themselves and their place in society and become subjects of their own realities. 

  • It is easy to know the emotions I feel: 64% to 67% (pre-summer to post-summer) 
  • I have ways to cope with personal and relationship related stress: 64% to 67%

Solidarity: Students understand how they and their peers exist in relation to systems and learn how to trust and support one another through collective accountability.

  • I formed strong relationships with my teachers this school year (pre) /my Teaching Fellows this summer (post): 70% to 80%
  • I am good at building relationships with others: 69% to 72%

Self determination: Students cultivate cultural and collective self-esteem and then direct that pride towards activism and change.

  • I believe I will be able to make a difference in society: 64% to 68%
  • I think about what might happen before I make a decision: 66% to 70%

We know that prioritizing students’ social-emotional growth must be done in conjunction with centering and supporting the wellbeing of aspiring teachers and educators. This summer, we also measured the baseline data for Teaching Fellows’ social-emotional competencies to understand how best to support their development. Our Fellows report very high SEL skills coming into Breakthrough, and similar to students, experienced increases in all three competencies of the Framework after their Breakthrough experience.

Breakthrough’s Teaching Fellowship is not only exposing students to the teaching profession, but also informing their perspectives as future education leaders and advocates. As one of our Teaching Fellows shared, “There’s a disconnect between the people on the ground level doing the work, like teachers, and the people at the top who control these big decisions, like with funding and curriculum requirements. The people at the top often aren’t educators and aren’t making equitable or just decisions, and yet it affects everyone who’s working so hard at the ground level, and worst of all, it negatively impacts our kids.”

Our hope is that Teaching Fellows will start their journeys into teaching with a human-centered foundation, discover their teaching identity and purpose, and think about education systematically and holistically. 

As we look toward the future, we are excited to launch interdisciplinary SEL units on social justice and identity development and an updated Teaching Fellow evaluation rubric, which will set clear and equitable expectations for Teaching Fellows, balancing their growth while driving key student outcomes. We are also currently developing new Instructional Coach resources that will support our professional teachers in providing mentorship and training to our Fellows.

While Breakthrough cannot solve the systemic issues facing the education system alone, we hope that the actualization of the Human First Framework continues to strengthen our Breakthrough community and our collective work to further educational equity.