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Big Ideas for Educational Innovation

The coronavirus pandemic brought unexpected challenges to K–12 education, on top of the struggles it was already facing. Technology (including record-breaking ransomware attacks on schools), equity issues, student health, debates over curriculum and many more comprise the challenges that schools face today.

Current priorities include supporting mental health and social-emotional learning (SEL), and teachers are trying to figure out how to provide the resources students need to help them thrive. The good news is that implementing SEL initiatives can support mental health and improve academic outcomes. But healthier, more resilient children may be the biggest gain of all.

The Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership – Administration online program through St. Thomas University (STU) can equip education leaders with the skills to facilitate healthy learning environments for students and educators and build a resilient population.

How Can Addressing Social-Emotional Needs Support Mental Health?

Children’s mental health was already considered a crisis pre-pandemic, with the National Education Association reporting one in five teens living with a mental health condition. In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a national state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health.

Teachers cannot take the place of mental health professionals — but incorporating evidence-based SEL programs can help.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

Social-emotional and mental health are not the same; however, SEL has been shown to promote positive mental health. As CASEL explains, “by promoting responsive relationships, emotionally safe environments, and skills development, SEL cultivates important ‘protective factors’ to buffer against mental health risks.”

How Are Schools Implementing SEL and Engaging Families in the Process?

School leaders are taking note of the benefits of SEL. According to EdWeek, district spending on SEL grew about 45% between the 2019­­–2020 and 2020–2021 academic years. Educators and policymakers can use funding under ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) to support SEL initiatives. Examples of SEL implementation follow:

  • Build a daily SEL block into students’ schedules to allow for direct SEL instruction on a regular basis. Related initiatives include a district-level SEL curriculum.
  • Along with proactive strategies such as SEL blocks, students need opportunities to practice SEL in real time. Embed SEL into academic instruction to help students internalize SEL behaviors. For example, small group work is a natural time to address relationship skills, including respect for others’ perspectives.
  • Make SEL discussions part of the staff and grade-level meetings to promote reflection, collaboration and community-building.
  • Engaging families is essential for building consistency with SEL programming because families also have valuable insights to share with schools. Leaders can build on the use of tech-based connections with families during the pandemic to continue facilitating home-school connections. For example, TalkingPoints is a free multilingual school-to-home messaging app with text and video options.

How Can Earning an Ed.D. Prepare Educators to Lead Change?

STU’s Ed.D. in Educational Leadership – Administration online program can advance educators’ leadership skills to prepare them for wide-ranging opportunities to impact student outcomes and innovate change for the next generation of students.

Areas of focus in the program include:

  • Using real-world challenges to examine the design, development, implementation and maintenance of innovations in education
  • Leading in innovation-driven environments
  • Managing performance to ensure organizational goals are met
  • Analyzing characteristics and abilities of effective leadership, including the impact of diversity
  • Developing and managing public policy

Graduate degrees such as an Ed.D. typically pave the way to higher-level positions and increased earnings. When that degree can prepare graduates to lead meaningful change, the payoffs may be even more impactful.

Debates about SEL are not new. As with other controversies in education, keeping the focus on what is best for students can help leaders find common ground and build consensus. In the case of SEL, abundant research backs up the benefits for all students in attaining the goal of “college, career, and life readiness,” while also supporting their well-being.

Learn more about St. Thomas University’s online Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership – Administration online program.

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