I have been working in the education industry for more than 15 years helping companies create products that are focused on moving education forward. During my time in education technology, the acronym SEL, which stands for social-emotional learning, has always been top of mind – but never as much of a focus as it is today.
The need for SEL-focused tools has been on the rise even prior to the pandemic with 70% of principals identifying it as a priority in 2019 – up from 43% just two years earlier. And, as teachers strive to address unfinished learning while simultaneously helping students re-adjust to in-person instruction, the need for solutions that support students’ social-emotional needs is greater than ever before, as highlighted in a recent Department of Education report.
When I started my career in Pre-K, evaluating children’s social and emotional growth was a more common day-to-day occurrence. Educators and parents understand the importance of tracking the social and emotional development as 3 and 4-year-olds learn how to share with others, work in a group, and understand their own emotions. By tracking their progress, educators can see the gaps in their learning and are able to provide additional support where needed.
However, this focus quickly fades as students come out of early learning and head into K-12. Often the focus turns on a students’ academic performance and less on their emotional well-being and social apt. While academic progress is core to education, we have an opportunity to leverage education technology and progress monitoring tools to support emotional well-being and social-emotional learning in all students and at every grade level.
The term SEL was originally coined by CASEL over 25 years ago. The CASEL SEL framework centers on five core areas of competence:
- Responsible decision making
- Relationship skills
- Social Awareness
As a leader myself, I know first-hand these skills are what can help students leave school and create successful careers. These are the skills that help shape our future leaders.
But the past two years in education have made it difficult for students to build these skills with the disruption of learning environments.
As I watched my own children, aged 14 and 17, head back to the classroom this past fall, I knew that after 15+ months of remote learning they needed extra support and care in understanding how to manage their emotions, communicate effectively, and have the self-awareness to work well with others in an environment with new protocols and shifted norms.
So how can educators balance their students’ academic and social-emotional learning to ensure that once those students’ schooling is complete, they’ll be ready for the workforce?
Here are three ways educators can leverage technology and data to help support SEL instruction and build the leaders of tomorrow.
- Continuous Professional Learning Support. To do SEL well, we must support our teachers. When schools implement a new professional development program, it should constantly be evolving to meet the new challenges and changes taking place in the world. A one-and-done approach to professional development of teachers is changing. Technology has enabled educators to have continuous learning models, providing support at the time identified versus waiting for a single bi-annual event. For example, the pandemic brought forth a whole new set of challenges for students and educators alike. After such a turbulent year, educators need support for their own emotional well-being and professional learning opportunities to understand the support and social-emotional learning that students need. Building SEL educator skills and collaboration can be supported through strong professional development programs that bridge the needs of students to the needs of our educators.
- Use Data to Support the “Whole Child.” Educators and parents can use technology and data to help provide meaningful insights on both a child’s academics, social, and emotional growth – which is often referred to as teaching to the “whole child.” The services provided to students by professionals such as counselors, student service professionals, and psychologists should align with the efforts of educators in the classroom. There should also be both formative behavior insights – looking at a students’ day-to-day growth – as well as traditional pulse checks throughout the year – which gives teachers and school leaders the ability to see trends within a student so they can create a personalized and individual path.
- Trend/Evidence Support for Leadership. Data is so much more than a grade point average or the number of attendance days. With the right tools, educators can receive actionable data. This actionable data helps take out the guesswork to provide the evidence for education leaders to understand the impacts of policies, student and educator curriculum, and schoolwide trends. For example, if an educator notices there has been a spike in behavior incident trends within his or her classes, they can ask the question, so the right support can be put in place. By having actionable and integrated data, educators can anticipate gap areas to provide better social-emotional learning support for all students and teachers.
While SEL has been an area of focus for educators for many years, it’s the recent advances in technology tools that can help ensure SEL has the right support in place to be a focus for students beyond early learning. By incorporating social-emotional learning with technology enablement into the K-12 curriculum with the full data view, professional development, and evidence support, we are not just making education more holistic, but we are making it more effective. This in turn builds stronger future leaders.