In honor of SEL Day, we wanted to take a moment to further discuss the topic of Social Emotional Wellness, which was the topic recently discussed by AllHere’s CEO, Joanna Smith Griffin and David Adams, CEO of Urban Assembly and Board Member at CASEL, during a District Administration webinar. Their conversation highlighted the need for institutions and individuals to partner as one society to make sure we are not only providing students with optimal learning environments, but also the social-emotional skills they need to go out into the world with the ability to solve problems and contribute to their communities.
Here are insights they shared about the challenges and the solution sets during the webinar titled “SEL and Student Mental Health Support as Essential Components for Attendance and Enrollment Recovery.”
An increase in stressors
Academic stressors, social isolation, and family economic tensions are impacting the amount of attention students bring to their learning process. The result of these impacts can be seen in decreased attendance rates and enrollment loss, among other things. Additionally, chaotic learning environments, whether at home or in the classroom, reduce the amount of energy students can expend on learning.
“The pandemic has everyone talking about learning loss and about students falling behind due to the disruptions of the past few years, but one of the things that we’ve heard more recently is the instinct to double down on academics. That is not the answer,” said Smith, who started AllHere after teaching in the classroom and directing family engagement at a school in Boston. “In fact, attending to the social and emotional wellness of the kids can help to create the conditions for learning to happen.”
Equipping students to solve problems
Social-emotional learning is how we relate to ourselves and how we relate to others in order to solve problems, which is why it’s such an important skill set—and not only for young people. The goal of school-based programs is to connect students, teachers, and parents with the tools and resources to get the help they need.
However, many school systems treat social-emotional learning separate from academics, despite the need for it being more dire than ever. For example, they may focus narrowly on sending notifications and letters about things like “days missed” to parents rather than implementing the practices and policies that build relationships with students and create positive learning environments.
“At the end of the day, everybody contributes to the social-emotional learning of young people. Even if you’re not teaching a social-emotional learning curriculum, you’re still impacting the social-emotional development of folks in your school—so let’s do it on purpose,” said Adams. “Let’s be intentional, come together in communities, and make sure young people can solve the problems we need them to be able to solve.”
The connection to absenteeism and enrollment
Absenteeism and enrollment are complex challenges that can’t be reduced to one single solution set. However, social-emotional learning can help in mitigating them, including through the development of high-quality relationships between students, teachers, and parents.
“Parents have lost faith in our public institutions coming out of COVID with our ability to support learning,” Smith said. “It’s become incumbent upon us to prove to parents that we are the institutions that can develop the social, emotional, and academic outcomes for their young people.”
This includes making sure parents and schools engage with each other in a positive way. When a school only communicates when a student is absent, for example, then parents start to associate school contact with negative outcomes. This is where tools like AllHere’s chatbot, which is programmed to use a conversational, approachable tone, can be a beneficial supplement to traditional communications.
Additionally, parents are looking at the type of environments being created for their kids. “The more consistent the environment is, the fewer self-management resources students have to pull for themselves,” Adams said. Of course, he added, “We still need to teach students self-management skills, because not all environments are going to be perfectly conducive to learning. That creates flexibility in the learner. That’s why it’s important to both maximize your learning environment but also teach self-management skills so that students are flexible and can learn in different environments.”
The unprecedented hardships facing students today also offer unprecedented opportunities for educators to support their social-emotional growth and help them develop the problem-solving skills they’ll need for the future.