Hi Education Friends- 

I sure hope you are all taking care of yourselves and hanging in there! I want to talk a bit about the continued (necessary) rise of social and emotional learning and the connection to innovation and technology. Be sure to check out an upcoming event I’m hosting on October 30 with knowledgable education leaders on this topic.

Social and Emotional Learning continues to be a key focus for educators and parents as we go further and further into what feels like a never ending pandemic. Schools are now in full swing and doing their best to make decisions that result in keeping families and communities safe and families are juggling jobs and careers while trying to manage their children’s learning schedules. Summer camps, which usually offered opportunities for kids to learn and explore interests and make new friends, were shut down. Debates over sports and whether or not kids should play and who should be allowed to attend have been occurring around the nation. There’s been limited opportunities forstudents to play and socialize and to top it off we’ve had a historically tough presidential election season of which our kids have been sure to feel the stress. While the effect of this crisis might be sparing most children from physically getting sick, it is certainly having a concerning impact on mental and emotional health.This is an incredibly difficult time in our nation and our youth are at the stress center of it all. Life is A LOT for us to process right now as adults…it’s hard to imagine how our youth is processing all of it. 

We have a significant percentage of students in this country that were already living in a world that included stress, mental and emotional health issues and family dysfunction before the pandemic hit. Many of these kids relied on the consistency of school, camps, and friends to provide some kind of support and normalcy. In addition, we know there are kids who haven’t experienced much adversity prior to this crisis who are learning how to manage tough situations. But what will the impact be across the spectrum of needs? How is this “new normal” impacting kids, families, schools, and communities? And how do we meet the needs now in a time where traditional therapy, support, and face to face relationships are limited or don’t exist? 

There isn’t a ton of research around the impact the pandemic is having on our youth’s mental health yet, but what is slowly being released is concerning. Parents are reporting significant increases in behavioral problems at home including more meltdowns, defiance, and general feelings of depression and anxiety. In September 2020, The Center for Disease Control reported 40% of Americans are struggling with mental health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps even more devastating is the report that 25% of respondants age 18-24 reported thoughts of suicide. It’s a heavy, heavy time for us all. 

It’s also a time to question what we can do and how we can help get our children through it? If I’m being honest, how can we help everyone get through it? Interestingly, children have reported their increased desire to be on technology, which is directly related to their feelings of loneliness and isolation. As a society, we’ve spent a lot of time focused on the amount of screentime we allow children; you can most likely find the answer you’re looking for on either end of the spectrum. But is there a healthy way to help kids with their social and emotional wellness through innovation and technology?

As a former school counselor and mom of two, I’ve had my doubts over the years. I’ve seen a variety of platforms that offer games, scenario based learning, and assessments that claim to identify, promote, and gauge a child’s understanding of social and emotional skills. While it’s true, there might be short term value and standard aligned content in some of these products, I’ve always questioned the level of engagement with the student and their retention of the skills taught. Can a child play a game that aims to teach social and emotional skills and leave the screen with the ability to apply those skills in their own life successfully? I’m not sure. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always believed innovation and technology are an important way to reach our youth and I’ve had ideas on ways it could be done. But I couldn’t scientifically explain or identify why I felt this way until a conversation with a couple of colleagues that brought it full circle.

Recently I was having a conversation with a colleague and Dr. Laura Jana- pediatrician, author of “The Toddler Brain” and consultant to TEAMology, around this very subject and our human ability to learn and retain social and emotional skills. Dr. Jana discussed the brain science behind social and emotional learning and how and why we respond the way we do in situations. As I was processing what I was hearing, and sharing my apprehension around web-based scenario learning and gamified applications, an additional comment was added to the conversation around many platforms using cognitive based questions to determine how much a student understands SEL. Meaning, the questions are geared towards “right and wrong” answers or the student somewhat knowing what answers the program wants them to select. This doesn’t necessarily translate into knowing or even being able to predict whether a student would apply that choice or behavior in real life (retention and implementation). After hearing it explained this way, it seemed clear as to why I didn’t have confidence in these methods. But the reality of our youth is they are exposed to technology from a very young age and it’s imperative to create and build products that meet them where they are.

“Out of adversity comes opportunity.” ~Ben Franklin 

Although the pandemic has been devastating, it’s providing a huge opportunity for us to innovate in education. We have been forced to look at the world differently and better understand how to meet student needs. I’m proud and excited to share that TEAMology has been working hard to create and innovate to best meet the needs of students socially and emotionally in ways that directly connect to and support them. We believe human relationships and connection can never and will never be replaced by technology. But there is tremendous opportunity to bring the best of these two worlds together for our kids. To learn more about the work we are doing in collaboration with Penn State click here.

I am excited to host an important virtual event on Friday, October 30th about this very topic. Join me and some important leaders in education to learn more about how Innovation and Social and Emotional Wellness are intersecting. Please click here to register.

Until next time…

Cheers,

Linsey