Dec 06, 2019 2019-12-06
By Eileen Belastock, CETL
Students come to school with, as Dr. Adolph Brown describes, two backpacks. One of the backpacks contains academic tools, such as pencils, calculators, and textbooks, that represent their readiness to learn. The second backpack represents the invisible emotional weight that burdens each student entering our school buildings. Anxiety, stress, rage, self-doubt, and low self-worth resulting from bullying, child abuse, substance abuse, and neglect cannot be unpacked and shoved into a school locker. This backpack accompanies students throughout the school day and impacts their engagement, attentiveness, and interactions. Educators don’t always see the contents of this backpack, yet they witness its negative impact on student learning every day. So how can educators and leaders reach these students? How can we unburden them and teach them coping and relationship skills that allow them to participate in their education fully?
Districts across the country are prioritizing educating the whole child to include the physical, academic, and emotional well-being of every student. CASEL defines social and emotional learning (SEL) as the way children and adults learn to understand and manage emotions, set goals, show empathy for others, establish positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Focusing on SEL skills, such as self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness, district leaders, social workers, school psychologists, resource officers, and building administrators are committed to integrating SEL programs into strategic and school improvement plans.
Technology can be a valuable partner for educators, edtech leaders, support staff, and parents in the implementation of SEL. The National Education Technology Plan, which is the road map for the development of district technology plans, highlights the importance of “noncognitive competencies” or SEL skills. While instructional technology has its place in education as tools for online learning, blogging, collaboration, and researching, it can also significantly impact student learning. Software companies are recognizing this ever-growing focus on SEL and the need for students to have a learning environment that encourages them to be good citizens.
The New Vision for Education: Fostering Social and Emotional Learning Through Technology report identified three key opportunities to use technology to advance SEL. Edtech leaders should capitalize on existing products that have SEL features, embed SEL into products that support literacy and numeracy skills, and invest in innovative technologies, such as wearable devices and AR/VR. Software companies, such as Newsela, support this drive by incorporating engaging content, instructional strategies, differentiated text, and embedded activities. Nearpod provides explicit instruction for the skills students need for life in and beyond school, as well as learning labs that focus on implicit bias, personal learning, and students. KidConnect, an iPad app, focuses on emotional regulation to keep students in class and have them identify and self-manage. Apps like Calm and Headspace for kids teach students how to self-regulate when they are stressed, angry, and anxious. Tools, such as Class Catalyst, enable students to identify their emotions and use live feedback from teachers to increase self-awareness and learn self-regulating skills.
Edtech leaders must investigate and invest in products that focus on the competencies crucial to student learning, such as self-awareness, impulse control, executive function, cooperation, and caring about oneself and others. By changing our mindset on the impact of educational technology and by collaborating with software companies on integrating SEL programming into instruction, a significant effect can be made on the complex and difficult challenges that educators and school administrators face every day in schools. Only then can we create an environment where students feel safe to open up the second backpack, identify their pain, and reach out for support.
Eileen Belastock, CETL, is the Director of Academic Technology at Mount Greylock Regional School District, Massachusetts. She believes in supporting educators and administrators on a variety of technology integration initiatives that highlight the importance of professional development, student data privacy, digital equity, and support for both teachers and students. You can find Eileen on Twitter @EileenBelastock, LinkedIn, and on her website.