This past August, EdSurge’s research team released a report that synthesized takeaways from 60 stories told by educators, reporters and researchers from the past two years. By visiting schools at convenings in 22 cities, speaking with learners and educators, and capturing stories about how school communities are shifting their practices to meet the needs of all learners, EdSurge’s in-depth reporting uncovered a plethora of insights regarding how educators are tackling the educational imperative of supporting the whole child.
“But for all that we know about the importance of reaching learners on their terms and relying on evidence and research, we know comparatively little about educators’ perspectives, successes and frustrations.”
The final report — which includes many examples of small- and large-scale changes that schools are making to meet the needs of all learners — categorizes the 60 articles into four main themes, focusing on educators’ perspectives of obstacles faced and how they are measuring success. The publication explores how educators understand the whole child, what approaches they are using in the classroom, how much they are drawing on research and/or collective evidence to support these approaches, and how concepts such as social-emotional learning have changed their practices.
Our team reviewed the 40+ page report and summarized our key takeaways that correspond to each of the four main themes.
Theme #1: Reaching All Learners: how practitioners are addressing students’ needs and circumstances to empower all learners to flourish)
Research indicates that problems outside of school (e.g., food insecurity, violence, homelessness, etc.) can have a negative effect on student performance. We also know that school environments (and the communities that form within them) can make a difference in academic and social outcomes for students facing adversity.
There are several examples of schools that are implementing new efforts to respond to the needs of vulnerable populations:
- This story about the I Promise School (IPS) — a public school in Akron, OH, funded by basketball star Lebron James — explains how data on student performance is collected via an app.
- New training for school leadership, staff and educators in Madison County Elementary — a public school in Alabama — led to 70% of students showing profess in terms of social-emotional health.
Another interesting insight: educators cited resistance from colleagues, leadership and parents as the top challenge / source of frustration when it comes to ingreating SEL into academics.
Theme #2: Build Character and Skills: how practictioners are helping learners build social, emotional and academic skills that prepare them for the future
When educators were asked about the most effective ways to help their students build SEL skills, a clear theme of student voice — and the importance of “putting students in the driver’s seat” — was evident in their responses.
At Intrinsic Schools in Chicago, a new system of student-led conferences was piloted to increase student engagement and self-management. Although no impact was seen inititally, when the school began to link test score goals to college admission requirements and SEL assessments (allowing students to reflect on their growth in non-academic areas), a spike in engagement and attainable goal-setting was seen. Students became more active participants in their own learning.
At the Westgate Community School in Colorado, a lack of resources/staffing to accommodate a high number of students in need of counseling and support led to the creation of a peer mentor program. The initiatie opened up capacity for counselors to serve the students in most need, but also improved school culture. Students built positive connections across grade levels while simultaneously improving listening and communication skills,
Theme #3: Evidence of Growth: how practitioners are gathering, analyzing and using evidence to improve outcomes for students)
EdSurge’s surveying of educators throughout this two-year project found that very few felt they had good strategies for measuring the success of whole child approaches — and many felt anxious when asked how they intended to measure the effectiveness of the changes they were hoping to make. Educators often cited that the task of gathering, analyzing and using evidence was overwhelming, and that they have very little time to look at evidence.
In profiling schools and educators, EdSurge saw that evidence-informed changes can be massive, but successful efforts are typically preceded by a more limited pilot with changes made in response to data gathered from early adopters.
One example of this phased-rollout strategy comes from the Dallas Independent School District, where administrators used evidence from a pilot to inform its rollout of personalized learning initiatives to more schools across the district. Their initial pilot uncovered many challenges — for instance, older students had issues adapting to the n ew technology used in the personalized learning initiatives. This led to changes throughout the district, including a more incremental technology rollout process and a personalized learning rubric to be used by all stakeholders.
Theme #4: From Research to Practice: how practitioners are leveraging reseaerch, data and evidence to help students learn more effectively)
Surveys responses that were collected as part this project uncovered an surprising datapoint: when asked to rank a list of resources they wish they had when addressing challenges, educators ranked “access to research on teaching” as the second-to-last resource.
Instead, educators cited the need for resources within their school community that can have an immediate need on their teaching practice. Research reinforces this: educators are more likely to discover new approaches from trusted resources, professional development, and colleagues — not scholarly research.
It’s clear, then, that scholarly research is not typically designed to serve individuals who work in preK-12 classrooms. Language in empirical research papers be inaccessible and educators struggle to extract actionable takeaways. In order to better support practitioners and become a more helpful resource for educators, researchers must push themselves to focus on research-practice integration when embarking on studies in the field of social-emotional learning.