As all educators are aware in this era of blended learning, digital tools can be invaluable resources for supporting teacher and student success when used with a meaningful purpose. One of the critical needs―and promising opportunities―for using digital tools in the classroom is supporting students’ mental health and social-emotional wellness. First, it’s important to identify overall strategies to support student well-being in the classroom, and then align those strategies to some tools that can extend impact. A variety of experts have shared their perspectives on EdisonLearning’s Building the Bridge podcast, and in this blog post we’re breaking down some of the essential strategies and “must have” ideas to enhance school and classroom efforts.
1. Integrate mental health literacy into the curriculum
Christina Broderick, founder and CEO of IgnitEDU, shared a perspective informed from some of first-hand frustrations she’s observed with mental health literacy. Broderick defines mental health literacy as understanding the concepts, skills, and strategies related to mental health and notes that these things are not being taught to students. Instead, mental health is being viewed from a backward approach by waiting for a mental health crisis or for students to indicate they need help. As a better approach, she suggests we integrate into the curriculum a way for students to be able to learn, build and strengthen their mental health foundation along their educational journey.
2. Break down the silos around our definition of success and wellness
Getting in front of the issues and learning about them before they become a crisis is critical to creating an environment that supports mental wellness, shares Broderick. To put it simply―understand the issue and be intentional. Students’ success isn’t siloed, so social, emotional, and mental wellness can’t be viewed as a separate consideration from academic progress, physical health, or any other form of success and well-being. To be successful as a school, she recommends integrating mindfulness activities and wellness practices into every classroom rather than relying solely on counselors or other specialists to be the only ones addressing these needs.
3. Teach mindfulness and self-awareness
If students’ academic performance suffers because they’re having breakdowns in class, struggling with test anxiety, or otherwise exhibiting disruptive behaviors, it’s a sign that they haven’t learned coping mechanisms. A lot of times students identify as just being a student, but they are so much more than that. In order to recognize that and to honor them, we must also help them to understand what’s going on within themselves, says Broderick. Many schools and programs do not spend a lot of time teaching students to become more self-aware and understand themselves better, but when they do, it helps students get into the right frame of mind for academic achievement. There are many different benefits when students practice mindfulness, says Broderick, a few of which include: they perform better in their academics, retention rates improve, and attendance increases.
4. Align needs to potential tools that can help
Once we understand our students, their needs, and our approach, we can consider the benefits of digital tools to address our objectives. In all aspects of their lives, including learning and assessment, students are living in the digital world, so it’s appropriate to support their wellness in this world, as well. The next step toward success in the school comes in evaluating the alignment between students’ needs and tools that can help.
Angela Arnold and Beth Saxton from OverDrive Education were two more education leaders who shared their ideas on Building the Bridge. Through their work, Arnold and Saxton take a holistic approach to student achievement and view the world of reading as a high-potential environment for supporting students’ wellness. They specifically advocate for the benefits of digital books, which give students access to a wide range of information while maintaining their privacy. For example, students may want to explore a sensitive mental health issue, and with digital books they can retrieve that information from the library without classmates being aware. They can then access the information anywhere on a phone or tablet and ensure they get the necessary insights and support without feeling stigmatized, which can prevent kids from seeking help.
Jess Kertz and Jostin Grimes, Education Specialists with Soundtrap at Spotify, shared another form of digital learning that has great potential to support social-emotional wellness: podcasting. Many students use podcasting as a way to deeply explore their thoughts, ideas, and personal stories, and to share things they’d otherwise be reluctant to share. When they can develop a podcast independently, reflect on their thinking and iterate on their ideas, students often find themselves more confident in their perspectives and ready to open up.
EdisonLearning provides solutions for schools’ comprehensive digital learning efforts, including in supporting students’ social and emotional development. The Own It! Youth Empowerment course helps students develop the skills and resiliency to feel better, accomplish more, and create the life they want. Learn about this course and more digital learning solutions here: https://www.edisonlearning.com/products