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Month: April 2021

Leveraging Social-Emotional Behavior Data to Plan for Next Year

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About one in five kids will exhibit some type of severe social-emotional behavioral symptoms that would qualify for some level of support. And yet, very early since the pandemic began, there has been over a 20% increase of kids experiencing depression or anxiety after one month of lockdown with a disproportionate impact on students from minoritized populations.

According to Nathaniel von der Embse, Ph.D., NCSP, Associate Professor of School Psychology at the University of South Florida, and Stephen Kilgus, Ph.D., Associate Professor of School Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, there has been an increase of nearly one-third of kids accessing mental health services within an emergency room setting.

In an edLeader Panel, sponsored by Illuminate Education, both Dr. von der Embse and Dr. Kilgus recognize that it’s been tremendously challenging for untold millions of students and families to meet their mental health needs, and COVID-19 has exacerbated some of those existing risk factors. Students ultimately depend on those services delivered within a school setting, and many schools now face the challenge of serving an increased number of kids in need.

When thinking about mental health, it’s important to note that academic success doesn’t always equate to school success. Such things as academic skills, social-emotional skills, and behavioral skills are necessary to benefit from that high-quality instructional environment.

It is critical for school districts to be proactive and use evidence-based approaches towards recognizing the early symptoms and signs of mental health needs.

The most common way to address this systemwide or schoolwide is positive behavioral interventions and supports, or PBIS. Within a PBIS system, any sound Multi-Tiered System of Support should be adequate for about 80% of kids. Tier 2, or more targeted levels of support, should be for about 15%. The most intensive and individualized supports should live at the 5% level.

Evidence-based intervention is dependent on an evidence-based assessment process, and the presenters recommended universal screening using tools such as the Social, Academic, Emotional Behavior Risk Screener (SAEBRS). Universal screeners can be a temperature check for student populations for schools. It can provide schools with an understanding of the prevalence of mental health concerns, measure how students’ behaviors and social well-being have changed throughout COVID-19, and the best course of action in applying for interventions and support across schools.

In terms of data use, both Dr. von der Embse and Dr. Kilgus recommend schools thoroughly plan and develop a base rate, resource map, and intervention guide. Implementation considerations regarding universal screening should include questions such as: “Is the data graphed and sufficient to make decisions?”, “Based on the progress monitoring data, is their progress towards Standards-Based Teaching and Learning?”, and “Based on progress monitoring is the intervention(s) implementation with fidelity?”

Finally, any program that leverages social-emotional behavior data must be looked at through an equity lens. It is essential to train raters, educators, or students in the content and purpose of screening, including implicit bias, as disaggregated data can be a powerful tool to identify inequities in a system.

Leading Learning in a Blended Environment

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According to the Oxford English Dictionary, blended learning is a style of education in which students learn via electronic and online media and traditional face-to-face teaching. As stated by Ann McMullan, Project Director for CoSN’s EmpowerED Superintendent Initiative, the world that we have been living in for over the last year or so looks very much like a combination of both.

In a recent edWebinar, sponsored by ClassLink and co-hosted by CoSN and AASA, the presenters talked about leading learning in a blended environment. They address the four critical areas that school leaders must address as outlined in the Leadership for Digital Learning Initiative—technological platforms, human platforms, program management, and communications with all internal and external stakeholders. 

School systems need to prepare both their technology and human platforms for new ways of doing things and for continual, ongoing improvements for maximum impact.

In Meriden Public Schools (CT), they are committed to promoting anytime, anywhere learning. Educational content needs to be available outside of the classroom and easy to access. According to the district’s superintendent, Dr. Mark Benigni, their cloud-based solutions, including ClassLink, supports students spending additional time online learning.

Winchester Public Schools (VA) has taken a scaffolding approach to technology. According to Dr. Jason Van Heukelum, Superintendent, “You don’t want to stifle that creativity and innovation with your teachers. It is important to foster that exploration of other digital tools by teachers on their own and then scale up when specific tools are practical and have a lot of momentum.”  

The superintendents agreed that one of the challenges of leading in a blended environment is navigating human platforms. In Salem City Schools (VA), in which Dr. Alan Seibert is Superintendent, by honoring diverse content areas and levels, they have built a strong pedagogy around teaching strategies and knit it to the larger district goal. Dr. Van Heukelum concurred. “We are a people-intensive business, and many teachers all come at it with their flavor. If you do not invest in the professional development and the professional learning of teachers, you’re not going to get the most bang for your buck.”

McMullan said, “I think if we’ve learned anything in this pandemic year, it is the importance of communication and being sure that the right message gets out to the right people.” Dr. Seibert’s district gave a lot of thought to who the communication is intended for and uses classroom teachers to communicate messages to parents as often as possible. For Dr. Benigni’s district, the survey mechanism and some face-to-face open forums have been beneficial.

Lessons learned from the three leaders highlighted the positives that have come out of the pandemic. Dr. Van Heukelum said the pandemic accelerated the learning curve for his teachers in many respects, and pedagogically they are in a better place than they were a year ago. Dr. Benigni reflected that what he learned was not about the device itself but how it supports education in the classroom. “The products that work best for us are the partners we’ve always had.” All concurred with Dr. Seibert, who said that building relationships by any means necessary is highly critical, “Some of life’s best lessons are learned a

How this Texas district prioritizes SEL

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The Covid-19 pandemic may be on everyone’s minds right now, but school districts grappled with another pandemic before the virus changed our world. School violence incidents such as the Parkland School shooting were increasing, and students’ physical and mental well-being was at critical levels.

In the 2018-2019 school year, to measure its students’ mental health and well-being, New Caney ISD partnered with Panorama, a data collection system, to gather information from 10,000 students whose results highlighted significant SEL deficits.

Simultaneously, the 2019 Texas Legislature expanded SB11 to include student safety and mental health support for public schools. According to Loree Munro, New Caney ISD’s director of Advanced Academics and Counseling, the legislative traction of SB11 helped the district propel its initiative to incorporate SEL throughout the school district.

In the fall of the 2019-20 school year, using grants from organizations such as Mental Health America of Greater Houston, New Caney ISD piloted its SEL program at two elementary schools, two middle schools, and its early college high school. Using essential criteria such as common language across all grade levels, turnkey implementation, a light lift for teachers, and alignment with the CASEL competencies, the district implemented the 7 Mindsets program. This research-based SEL program promotes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

Despite the challenges presented when schools went remote in March 2020, New Caney ISD expanded the 7 Mindsets program district-wide in the fall of 2020.

“When I think back, I so appreciate and the dedication of our school and district leaders to continuing down this path because it would have been easy to say this is not the year to implement anything new,” Munro reflected.

What kept the district on course was its belief that students needed to acquire those social and emotional skills and competencies necessary for success in life. New Caney ISD committed to including SEL in explicit instruction, embedding SEL language across the curriculum and grade levels, and reinforcing SEL throughout the week to ensure that it is at the forefront of students’ minds.

While there are still bumps in the road and challenges to overcome, implementing an SEL program–even during a pandemic–has already resulted in fewer tier two and tier three interventions in the district.

Teachers, support staff, and building administration say they can identify and address students with behavioral needs and mental health issues more quickly at a tier-one level using 7 Mindsets.

While New Caney ISD had financial advantages that other districts may not have, Munro recommends that districts quantify the need to implement SEL using programs like Panorama and present the data to school boards and district administration. Once deficits are discovered, the district’s ethical responsibility is to address its students’ needs. Identifying critical players, and ensuring all have a deep understanding of SEL and the impact an SEL program can have on students and teachers, are the next steps.

Munro also recommends that while school districts may begin an SEL program at the elementary level, it is critical to have a vision for the entire K-12 school community.


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