Family Focus

Teaching social, emotional learning in the classroom through hip-hop

The role of cultural relevance in education is an increasingly important aspect in the classroom. School performance will ultimately determine the future of a student.

In the high-pressure, high-stakes schoolroom of learning, teachers get creative about how to relate to their students.

One Charlotte educator and self-proclaimed lover of hip-hop is using music to help engage and empower kids in the classroom.

“I want to show people that hip-hop can be used for positive reasons to essentially destigmatize people’s thoughts about hip-hop,” said David Spellmon Jr.

Spellmon implements behavior-management programs and is the author of “Just Like Music; Social Emotional Learning Inspired By Hip-Hop.”

He found that there was no social-emotional learning program that was culturally responsive or culturally relevant to children of color.

“Using hip-hop is an easy way to reach a lot of our youth that are Black and brown,” he said.

Each chapter in the book takes a hip-hop song lyric and then connects it to social, emotional learning skills but then the activities build the skills with the student.

“The activity for each chapter then ties those skills that we want them to develop, goal-setting, conflict resolution, improving their self-efficacy, showing them that you can mirror those two,” he said.

One chapter focuses on building responsible decision-making muscles with a lyric from Biggie Smalls, “Beef is only good when you’re in the burger business.”

“Beef is essentially an ongoing problem between two people or two groups of people. Beef potentially puts not only you in danger but the people you care about as well,” he said.

The lesson plan for this chapter helps the educator and student have a conversation about determining the potential consequences of being in control versus not being in control.

“In the school system, and I’ll say primarily in high school there’s a lot of fights. There’s a lot of violence. A lot of aggressive behavior, so the chapters that talk about conflict resolution really resonates with the students,” Spellmon said.

He hopes that culturally competent teachers will teach the curriculum in a way that is relevant and responsive to the collective norms and experiences of students.

“When we’re talking about equity, we should give each person what they specifically need to be successful,” he said.  “We’ve seen what happens when we have the current practices and policies in place. There’s disproportionality.”

Studies state that Black students are nearly four times as likely to be suspended as white students, and nearly twice as likely to be expelled.

That same Yale Child Study Center includes touchpoints why these disparities may exist: implicit bias.

“When we have the current practices and policies in place there’s a disproportionality of suspension and low literacy rates, so we have to do something different,” he said. “You can’t do the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome.”

Educating the educators is critical in his process.

“We need to change the mindset of the educators, mainly administration,” he said. “If you do not feel that students are capable of doing great things, it shows in your actions.”

The ultimate outcome is forging a stronger relationship between teacher and student that is built on dignity and genuineness where they not only learn the coursework but grow as individuals.

When you scan through the book, each chapter includes the bold words “YOU HAVE GREATNESS INSIDE OF YOU.”

“Educators across the country are searching for the answer on how to create better relations with students,” Spellman said. “This uses Hip-Hop to build and strengthen all relationships on campus, and my hope would be to have students excel behaviorally and academically.”

If you have an inspiring story, please contact Kevin Campbell, WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte Public Affairs Manager, at