The Atlanta Public School system recognizes the importance of social-emotional development, not just for students but for teachers and staff. However, its whole approach to developing programs for educators that build self-management and relationship skills is rare. Very few districts employ strategies to assist those who lead classrooms.
A new policy brief from the Southern Education Foundation notes the tremendous pressures being felt by teachers—particularly in urban districts—as well as their impacts on learning. It has offered some recommendations that may guide district leaders and policymakers still coping with further stressors from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Titled Teacher Stress and Burnout: The High Cost of Low Social and Emotional Development, it presents the profession as one of the worst for “physical health, psychological well-being, and job satisfaction” that can be much more difficult for younger teachers and those in underserved schools who are tasked with burdens such as disorganization, student hardships and meeting high test standards. The report highlights that nearly a third of teachers are chronically absent and many more apt to leave Title I schools than their colleagues in other districts, which then impacts outcomes for students.
Short of policy change, the Foundation says teachers must be afforded the chance to understand how they can alleviate those stresses and thrive.
“If we want our schools to be optimal learning environments, we need to provide teachers with the opportunity to build their own social and emotional skills,” said report author Sabrina Jones, a former fourth-grade teacher in Miami-Dade Public Schools and the Southern Education Foundation’s 2021 Leadership for Educational Equity Fellow. “Teachers can then use these skills to manage their own emotions, co-regulate their students’ stress, and contribute to creating a healthier school climate.”
5 SEL considerations for districts
The report showcases the five components of SEL building from the nonprofit Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)—self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills and decision-making—that can help to foster “a productive learning environment.” The brief provides a few examples of success from three southern districts, including Atlanta, Palm Beach County, Fla., and Tulsa, Okla. Palm Beach County in fact has worked with CASEL on training for educators that include self-paced modules. Tulsa offers an SEL 101 course for principals and teachers.
The goal of any SEL program is to keep teachers emotionally physically healthy and lessen the tensions in classrooms that often lead to an increase in poor behavior and a decrease in test scores among students.
In addition to the work being done by those districts, the Southern Education Foundation offers five ideas to district leaders and states on boosting SEL for instructors and staff:
- Passionate, new teachers need as much, if not more, support than their colleagues. Help them get the skills they need to thrive early and remain in their jobs.
- Be wary of monetary attendance incentives for teachers. They might not provide the payoff you think; instead, they force teachers to work while fatigued and stressed, leading to burnout and resignations.
- Don’t assume you have a pulse on the mental health and well-being of teachers. Take surveys or try other forms of feedback that highlight areas of stress and ways to alleviate it.
- At a minimum, 20% of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds must be utilized by districts to employ SEL interventions that mitigate lost instruction time. Consider how teacher development could be factored into those strategies. ESSER funds also could be used to find solutions that help combat teacher shortages.
- Any teacher prep programs should include SEL training (most don’t), as well as the potential for them to be “cross-listed with departments of psychology, which often have available courses that may be adapted to an educational context.”