Analyzing Microsoft’s New Report on Emotional Well-Being and Student Success

Earlier this month, Microsoft — in conjunction with The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) — released findings from a new global research project that was designed to explore:

  • What educators and school systems can do to help students succeed, and;
  • How technology (specifically, AI) can aid in (and supplement) these efforts.

Researchers from EIU interviewed over 700 educators in 15 countries at the elementary and secondary school levels, spoke with leading experts in the field of education and conducted an extensive literature review. According to Microsoft’s press release, results from the study indicate that the majority of educators (79%) see positive emotions as very or extremely important for academic success. Furthermore, half of all educators interviewed reported that they are working in schools with explicit social-emotional policies.

But beyond increasingly positive sentiment around the notion of investing in the emotional well-being of students, what did the research actually uncover in terms of a link between emotional well-being and student success? Our team analyzed the full white paper and summarized the key findings.


Investing in teacher well-being can pay dividends when it comes to long-term student success. The administratively complex, workload-heavy and emotionally demanding nature of a teacher’s role can quickly lead to burnout. Experts argue that a holistic approach to well-being in schools must address teacher well-being as a key component. 72% of the survey respondents believe a teacher’s mood influences the wellbeing of children. As opposed to implementing sporadic pilots or isolated programs, researchers advise that well-being policies must be enacted at the school-wide level and approached in a way that looks at emotion as an engine or learning.

(The North Allegheny School District in Pittsburgh serves as a prime example of how investing in teacher well-being can positively impact an entire school culture.)

Educators must distinguish between helpful and harmful uses of technology. Advances in educational technology have led to opportunities for more personalized and engaging learning experiences. Collaborative platforms are helping to enhance group work while amplifying students’ voices.

Technology can even play a role in enabling emotional health. New analytics tools are helping teachers encourage student well-being, and VR and AR are being utilized to develop skills such as empathy and perspective-taking. Technology is allowing students to receive feedback on their emotional state while giving school leadership valuable information on how their students are functioning.

Yet, for all of the positive impact technology has made in classrooms, digital devices and social media platforms may worsen well-being outcomes for youth. From cyberbullying to social anxiety to sleep disruption and difficulty concentrating, devices and applications are linked to a slew of problems. The authors recommend that innovators and educators work together to “advance an educational technology agenda that supports social and emotional health and [distinguishes] between helpful and harmful uses of technology.

While many schools are advancing programs that develop character traits such as grit and resilience, results pertaining to student success outcomes are inconclusive. The survey does a great job of highlighting a growing belief in the power of emotional well-being and effective social-emotional learning programming to improve various student success outcomes. But the report does not provide any conclusive (or even correlational) evidence that schools emphasizing student emotional well-being are seeing increases in cognition outcomes or other academic indicators.

(While this may come across as a major shortcoming, the study itself was designed as more of a process in exploration versus concrete pre- and post-intervention measurements to indicate the effectiveness of specific programs. Headlines about the new report have, in our view, done a poor job of outlining this and — as a result — have incorrectly claimed that schools are seeing their investments in emotional well-being pay off in concrete, measurable ways. Putting that aside, what is clear from the survey is that educators across the globe are coming to accept and celebrate emotional well-being as a key to student success. This should be celebrated in and of itself as a monumental shift in mindset that should, hopefully, lead to future research that can more conclusively demonstrate the benefits of SEL curricula.)

“We are seeing emotional well-being become a very intentional input that needs to be embedded and addressed at a whole school level. We are getting this message that the kids are not alright.  There is positive pressure coming from education, research and policymakers to address emotional well-being.”

— Mark Sparvell, Education Thought Leader @ Microsoft

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