December 17, 2021 | Larry Buchweitz
The mental health of students has surpassed academic attainment as a priority for educators, according to a new nationwide survey by a leading educational technology firm.
Promethean's State of Technology in Education 2021/22, which gathered input from more than 1,600 administrators, teachers, IT workers and other school leaders, found that social–emotional learning topped the list of strategies to advance student well–being, with 39% of educators ranking it as their school's No. 1 priority. But there are barriers to effective SEL implementation – and opportunities for companies to help districts in need.
Defining social–emotional learning
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social–emotional learning (SEL) as "an integral part of education and human development. SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions."
SEL is also a pathway to more equitable education for students in under–represented communities, because it focuses on "partnerships to establish learning environments and experiences that feature trusting and collaborative relationships, rigorous and meaningful curriculum and instruction, and ongoing evaluation," according to CASEL.
So, what does all this support look like for educators? Getting up to date on SEL begins with training – for students and adults alike, based on guidance from the NEA.
The NEA currently offers virtual courses on the five accepted facets of SEL: self–awareness, relationship skills, social awareness, self–management, and responsible decision–making, with descriptions promising development of better communication skills, a growth mindset, and empathy for diverse social norms.
SEL in action
Because SEL comprises a heavily conceptual set of goals, schools are finding unique solutions to integrate it. In West Orange, New Jersey, one elementary school has developed a "stress alphabet," defining words related to stress and how to address it.
A stress alphabet allows the students to work together and come up with positive or negative words relating to their idea of stress and how to address it.
"We developed ‘bridges,' or strategies, to go from sad to happy," one teacher told Tap Into. "Students were able to write them down on a card and keep them in their desks."
Middle–schoolers in Metro Nashville Public Schools begin and end every day with short video–led activities focused on SEL skills, with teachers also incorporating mindfulness, stretching and hand rhythm exercise in classrooms, as well as before every faculty meeting.
In Minnesota, Belle Plaine Junior High School has extended its sixth–period classes to make room for more SEL learning. At recent volleyball games, when things get intense in the stands, students have been using "shake–off" SEL exercises to release their nerves, and theater performances start with SEL calming techniques as well.
The Promethean study highlighted the need to integrate these emotional and mental health strategies, as well as a few factors educators are demanding more of: training and technology.
Diving deeper into the study
Despite SEL's apparent popularity with educators, that reality isn't explicitly reflected in school budgets, according to the Promethean report. That goes hand in hand with how teachers feel about the availability of training: 31% say too little budget is allocated for training, and 42% saying that shortfall is due to a lack of funding.
"They are not doing anything to help teachers or students. No support in training for teachers. No support for students and the psychological toll that COVID has taken," one public K–12 teacher from Connecticut told researchers.
EdTech solutions are closely tied to the next generation of SEL learning, the report found, concluding that "educators are eager to level up their tech skills. Between them, in–class tech training and modern learning techniques account for half of schools' top training priorities. Well–being is high on the agenda for all, with signs that teachers would welcome proper support for their own well–being, as well as that of their students."
Schools may be open to more efficient and cost–effective EdTech solutions in districts where the dollars are there, just not the right plan. Over two–thirds of educators (69%) agree that schools are spending enough on technology, but around half of those (34%) say it can be invested in the wrong things.
How EdTech companies can help
"Social and emotional learning is said to be a top priority. But a glance at the 2022/23 budgets uncovers that almost no schools (2%) will be paying to improve wellbeing," the Promethean research reports.
The overriding lesson for education marketers: Rising to the task of combating learning loss means prioritizing technology designed for maximum SEL benefits. But schools need help from vendors with incorporating SEL curriculum into their current technology as well as any new EdTech products, and they need options that make training available, accessible and flexible for teachers.
Because it's still an emerging model, not all districts have dedicated job positions for SEL integration. Titles to search for at the district level include:
All rounds of pandemic–related federal education funding contain language that make dollars eligible for SEL programs. Schools are looking for EdTech solutions that are innovative in the emotional as well as academic realms, and companies ready to help them gain funding approval according to state spending guidelines will continue to have a competitive edge.
MCH's education database has more than 6 million contacts and 5 million emails for K–12 educators nationwide. Our education marketing experts can help you strategize your next sales push, or even deploy your email campaigns. Call MCH at 800–776–6373 to get started.
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