Featured From the team May 16

Coming together in the name of well-being

Jared Joiner

Director, Educational Practice at Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

School communities have experienced unprecedented change over the last several years, setting the stage for ongoing discourse around the importance of well-being when it comes to educator and student success. With reports indicating new lows for youth mental health and teacher longevity in the classroom, how should education leaders support their schools with actionable strategies? 

A key protective factor that can buffer students against stress, anxiety, and other challenges they might experience in schools — and their everyday lives — is creating a foundation of strong teacher-student relationships within schools. When students feel like they can share feedback with an educator at school, they feel more seen and understood. And when educators have one-on-one relationships with their students, they also become more connected to the joys of the teaching profession—helping young people as they grow into whole adults.

A panel of experts recently shared how they are implementing solutions, such as teacher-student connections, at a panel taking place at the ASU + GSV Summit in San Diego, California. Their strategies focus on bringing together partners to help collaborate on the best resources to address student and teacher well-being. While many of the options involve technology or digital resources, establishing a culture of support starts with school leadership.

As schools recover from the challenges around the pandemic, data around the well-being of our youth continues to indicate a downward trend. Measure of America’s recent report states that “national youth disconnection”—defined as teens and young adults aged 16-24 who are neither working nor in school—increased for the first time after a decade starting in 2020. At the same time, data from several states report fewer teachers staying in the profession long-term.  

Within this environment, the panelists said that they are focusing on ways to help schools connect students’ well-being to academic recovery and achievement. For Dr. Aaliyah Samuel, President and CEO of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the solution starts by emphasizing practices geared towards  social awareness, self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making as contributors to healthy education and development. “When we think about well-being, we realize that the entire village that takes care of children are stressed. If we aren’t talking about holistic supports, we’re going to miss the mark,” said Samuel. “Wellness doesn’t just happen within the school building. You need to engage all adults who are prepared to model these skills and believe in [young people].”

And for Rebecca Benghiat, President/COO of The Jed Foundation (JED), a leading national nonprofit that protects emotional health and prevents suicide for teens and young adults, supporting youth mental health and well-being starts by centering on the formation and support of ongoing teacher-student relationships. When there’s an environment of belonging at school, students are better able to develop a sense of purpose. From there, more specific tools and practices can be provided when additional clinical support and intervention by trained experts is needed.

Many schools, however, are not set up today to focus on well-being in a real way. Kyla Johnson-Trammell, Superintendent of Oakland Unified School District, said that while one of the tenets of her district’s strategic plan is “joyful schools” and helping kids feel connected, working towards that goal requires ongoing sustainability efforts. “It’s too much for school systems to do this work unilaterally,” she said. “So, you have to develop strategic relationships—and those manifest at the speed of trust. We’re learning ways to work with individual students to make better choices and to provide the right support.”

Technology can help when it comes to building teacher-student relationships and creating positive school environments. Stephen Smith, CEO of Intellispark, said that technology can connect families, schools, and students and allow educators to care for the whole child by celebrating what’s going well through positive feedback. He also shared that there is a need to synthesize the outcomes attained by technology tools with teachers in a way that is clear and easy to access.

Oliver Sicat, CEO/Co-Founder of Ednovate and Co-Founder of Open Seat, shared that real change takes time even when implementing the right ideas through technology. “We have been developing a whole child report card, but the measures are hard to get to,” he said. “There’s an education curve, and we look to work with schools who are willing to go slow to go fast.”

School leaders have many options when it comes to identifying the tools that will work best for their teachers and students. For educators interested in learning more about Along, the free teacher-student connection builder which offers research-informed reflection questions, activities, and educators practices that promote a positive school culture, feel free to reach out to our team at support@along.org.

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