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Category: SEL

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.

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.


How to Teach with Empathy in Today’s Climate

Originally Posted: eSchoolNews

“No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” This quote from Dr. James P. Comer highlights the importance of strong teacher-student connections and the key role that teaching with empathy plays in the classroom.

In an edWeb edLeader Panel, sponsored by Intellispark, panel presenters concurred with Comer that it is now even more critical to monitor student well-being and maintain healthy relationships.

Our charge as educators is to transition back to school as a positive opportunity for all students and foster a healthy mindset for ourselves, our colleagues, and our families. In their work with teachers, the presenters have embraced the importance of relationships in the classroom to ensure a healthy learning community.

Teaching with empathy is the key that unlocks authentic connections with each student to foster their sense of belonging and engagement regardless of their learning environment.


By inviting students to share unique perspectives and developing an empathetic lens, educators can strengthen teacher-student relationships and ensure that all students are engaged and connected to their learning. Students will only share their unique perspectives in environments where they feel safe.

Robert Letcher, Founder of EdGenuis, says it is imperative that students feel valued, respected, and cared about, whether in a face-to-face or online learning environment. This empathy-driven approach to building relationships is evident in classrooms where both teachers and students share their life experiences and understand each other’s differences.

Rachel Jorgensen, Coordinator of Work-Based Learning for the Anoka-Hennepin School District (MN), points out that students are coming into our learning community with unique needs. All of their actions and communications are attempts to have those needs met. The presenters agreed that healthier classroom communities happen when educators develop curricula and lessons through the lens of what their students might need and how to meet those needs.

The challenge is that we, as educators, often assume that students live the lives that we lived as children.

Teaching with empathy means being aware of how students’ own cultures, lives, and families have affected them.

How children are brought up in their culture impacts their ability to learn, experience content, and master understanding. Only by utilizing a universal design strategy of providing multiple manners in which content is delivered can students connect with and understand the content.

Learning environments

Teaching with empathy during a distance-learning or hybrid instructional situation includes providing empathy towards both students and parents. During this pandemic, parents are stressed in online learning and can be the weak link if left out of the educational process. Connecting to families, providing training, and being conscious of home situations can ensure healthy relationships.

The presenters emphasized that at this moment in time, with everything students are experiencing and everything going on in the world, placing connection in front of content is a very productive choice for educators to make.

Jorgensen recommends that educators prioritize the curriculum, determine what is essential right now, and introduce non-essential content when all students are back in the face-to-face learning environment. An empathetic educator would give themselves a permission slip to be flexible and make adjustments and prioritize.

Action steps

There are steps that educators can do now to ensure that they are teaching with empathy. In a safe environment, ask questions and engage in active learning that invites students to share thoughts and experiences about themselves. Pre-reflect on lessons to consider all learners with diverse perspectives, needs, and resources, and ensure a balance of content and connections. Reflect after each lesson to assess their understanding of student perspectives and determine where adjustments are needed to ensure student connections. Offer avenues for students to provide feedback on lessons—and welcome it!


3 Big Ideas for Effective SEL Strategies

Educators, practitioners, and administrators should identify the what, the why, and the how of essential social and emotional learning (SEL) skills when implementing these strategies in an effective manner, according to SEL advocates.

In a recent edWebinar, Dr. Stephanie Jones, director of the Ecological Approaches to Social-Emotional Learning (EASEL) Lab, explained that there are six SEL domains studied and documented by researchers.

The first three domains are skills and competencies: cognitive, emotional, and social. The next three are belief ecologies: attitudes, habits of mind, and ways of thinking about the world. One way to think about how these two sets go together is that one is a set of things you learn and know how to do, and the other is a set of internal guideposts that tell you to use those skills when it’s essential and when it matters.

The what

Regardless of setting or age, the goal of SEL is for students to engage in classroom learning activities, and four key components must be in place for this to happen.

Students need to focus their thinking by marshaling their attention and using their awareness to gather information from the teacher and the book. To access the content, they need to manage their behavior and not be distracted by what’s happening around them. Students need to build positive relationships, so they must trust that an adult is going to be there for them and is giving them information that they can use. Most importantly, children need to understand and deal with feelings throughout the entire learning process.

Why? Why now? Why at all?

Three critical pieces of evidence tell us how vital the research and studies are as they examine effective social and emotional strategies.

Long-term correlation studies provide evidence on how core social and emotional skills measured in early childhood, such as self-control and social competence, are predictive of future life and work outcomes.

The second piece of evidence includes trials of programs, interventions, and strategies designed to improve these skills. Those studies have found that when high-quality programs are implemented with fidelity, there will be a change in children’s abilities.

The third piece of evidence comes out of the world of neuroscience about how stress influences the brain and then cascades into behavior, causing the six domains of SEL to be particularly vulnerable to experiences of stress and adversity.

How? What’s effective? What’s innovative?

For an SEL program to be effective, it must establish safe and caring learning settings characterized by effective behavior management, instruction in social and emotional skills, and give students some ownership of the work itself.

The characteristics of effective SEL education are living and modeling the skills that educators and practitioners hope that children will acquire, and teaching skills directly about the words and what the behaviors look like that are associated with them.

Students must have opportunities to practice their skills, learn from mistakes, and talk about them in a safe environment. Effective social and emotional strategies bridge safe and caring learning environments and instruction with a foundation of connective, supportive, and reciprocal relationships between children and adults.

Originally Published: eSchoolNews 

How Districts are Addressing Adolescent Mental Health

Research from a recent white paper highlights the increasing crisis in adolescent mental health. In a recent edWebinar, presenters emphasized the need for school districts “to intervene with students as quickly as possible to keep them safe.”

The rise of anxiety and depression

Anxiety and depression rates are increasing, and suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for 10- to 19-year-olds across the spectrum of race, gender, and socioeconomic levels.

Seventy percent of teens cite anxiety and depression as a significant problem for their friends and their peers, and 40 percent of students report that bullying, substance, and alcohol abuse are affecting fellow students. More than 10 million students between the ages of 13 to 18 need professional help for a mental health condition.

This situation is a “mental health tsunami,” moving very fast in schools across the country, and the pressure is on. Some of the underlying causes of adolescent stress identified by mental health professionals include academics, social media, and childhood trauma such as homelessness and abuse.

Gateways to mental health issues

Schools struggle as students are exposed to online gaming, pornography, social media, and pro-self-harm websites when using technology outside of the school walls. While not evil, technology can be a gateway to some of the harmful behaviors we find in students who are in a crisis, such as gambling, sex addiction, eating disorders, self-harm, and suicidality.

Approaches by school districts

So how can school districts create a response system that supports students? There are several approaches that districts are taking to deal with adolescent mental health issues, including school-wide interventions, adding more support for students, and extending services from community helpers.

Dickinson ISD has taken a community-based approach by partnering with Gaggle, local law enforcement agencies, and coordinating agencies to intervene when there is a concern.

This collaborative approach lets students know that the school community cares about them and that the community will take appropriate measures to support the health and well-being of students.

Another school district that has an impactful influence on adolescent mental health is the Nampa School District. Taking an intra-district approach with the school community, district leaders created the Nampa Behavioral Youth Impact Team. This team identified three themes to define the problem and create proactive measures: school culture, adult and student relationships, and student-led learning.

Mental health is a growing crisis for our adolescent populations, but there are tools and resources available to schools and districts. Only when school and local communities focus on a common goal can they create safe and healthy learning experiences for all students. The presenters ended the edWebinar by echoing a common theme: Everyone has a vested interest in growing safe, secure, healthy kids

Source: eSchoolNews

Keep Stress at Bay–Keep Calm and Teach!

The management concept is known as the Peter Principle. People become ineffective when promoted to a level where they no longer have the skills to be successful and applicable to teachers.

Whether highly-successful teachers choose a career path that takes them out of the classroom or whether they choose to stay in the classroom, job-related burnout issues are a high possibility, according to Ginger Welch, Ph.D., associate professor of professional practice at Oklahoma State University, in a recent edWebinar.

It is essential to reduce these issues by keeping the passion for teaching alive and manage careers by addressing the stress and anxiety associated with burnout and learn how to control our cognitive thinking.

Cognitive errors

Our thinking connects to our behavior, and Welch said our thoughts could be the most effective weapon to combat stress. However, our cognitive errors or distortions can manifest as truths that can be disruptive, negative, and destructive. We need to be aware of “shoulds”: filtering, mind-reading, overgeneralization, and all-or-nothing thinking patterns.

“Shoulds” are irrational thoughts that say we should be doing something, and these thoughts of failure can lead to anxiety issues. Filtering is when we zoom in on the negative, and we minimize or ignore anything that went well. Mind reading can keep us from taking action because we assume that we know what’s going to happen. When overgeneralization occurs, we take one situation and turn it into a pattern for future encounters. All-or-nothing thinking can unconsciously bubble up, and we tend to be very black and white about our thinking, which results in missing out on the gray areas of life.

Barriers to effective communication

What’s happening inside you directly impacts what happens between you and other people. Most people experience anxiety that can be a real, significant barrier to overcome in interpersonal communication.

Stress makes us feel like we’re the only ones who could feel this way, which leads to insecurity, lack of confidence, and the inability to relate to others.

According to Welch, it takes real work to become self-aware of anxiety and fears to reduce the impression of being angry, stuck up, or shy.

Managing the stress

Your ability to be the teaching superhero depends on three things: formal teaching education, personal background, and ability to tolerate stress and care for yourself. So, we need to purposefully be mindful of our thought patterns, unconscious behaviors, and expectations of others.

To change our cognitive thinking, we have to replace the errors or disruptions with positive thinking. Tolerating stress and caring for yourself is a learned skill you have to build into your life. Set healthy boundaries by paying attention to our own needs and being careful with our information, time, bodies, and money.

These boundaries will ensure that we make sound judgments about what hurts us and what helps other people. Take care of yourself by cognitively assessing your values, relationships with other people, and your expectations for yourself and other people. What are your messages about others and yourself?


Accepting failure as usual and not a sign of imperfection and doing your best even when others do not are meaningful ways to care for yourself and reduce stress in your personal and professional life.

Originally Published: eSchoolNews
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