4 intervention strategies to address social-emotional learning and anxiety

Schools need to rethink behavior, adopt pre-intervention approaches, keep students in class and use better tech
By: | July 29, 2019
Saint Louis Public Schools has been helping students with anxiety in school through social-emotional learning interventions and by sharing student academic and behavioral data with parents in real-time.

Multitier strategies for identifying and assisting struggling students have continued to evolve since Response-to-Intervention and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports took root in K-12. Here are four ways to help students overcome anxiety in school through social-emotional learning interventions.

1. Rethinking behavior

PBIS guides teachers in changing how they respond to student behavior. Educators must also change how they think about behavior—moving from asking “What’s wrong with this student?” to asking “What happened to this student?”

For example, stress makes it harder for students to concentrate or control their emotional responses. Some factors that can activate stress include:

  • lack of sleep
  • chronic stress at home
  • stress from teachers
  • poor nutrition
  • boredom
  • anxiety

Educators can address elevated stress by:

  • recognizing when a child’s fight-or-flight response is being triggered
  • teaching mindfulness strategies such as deep breathing or focusing on a specific taste or sound for 90 seconds while keeping eyes closed
  • identifying how their own demeanor can play a role in negative interactions with children who are suffering from stress
  • helping students find ways to improve their own behavior rather than punishing students for acting out

Lessons learned: Social-emotional learning interventions

1. Every system drifts. Build maintenance into a rollout plan, and perform regular audits of your intervention system.

2. Intervention systems should not be implemented as stand-alone initiatives, but as part of a well-articulated school philosophy on climate and learning.

3. Teachers working with stressed or traumatized students need training on how to monitor their own emotions and to avoid reacting negatively to student behavior.

4. Strengthen supports for struggling students by improving communication among departments so that school nurses, discipline staff, counselors and teachers aren’t starting from scratch when trying to determine student needs.

2. Pre-intervention strategies

Districts with established intervention programs for identifying struggling students have shifted priorities to intervening before learners run into trouble.

These steps can help educators adopt this approach:

  • Add SEL as a tier one support within your RtI or PBIS framework. Provide SEL, which emphasizes self-awareness and self-management, for all students. Teachers need to promote responsible decision-making to empower students to overcome academic and social challenges.
  • Frame a task in a way that students believe they can achieve it. However, teachers often need—but may not be receiving—coaching in the best ways to galvanize disengaged students who are losing hope.
  • Use SEL to make academic intervention programs more successful in middle school and high school. Struggling students usually experience a dramatic loss in motivation when transitioning to these schools.

3. Keeping students in class

Increasingly sophisticated screening programs simplify how teachers can identify and track struggling students, but that doesn’t mean pulling more kids from class for academic interventions.


Read: Educators attack anxiety in all grades


Experts believe removing students from core classes for extra support creates larger learning gaps. Creating time for all students to receive personalized instruction also allows districts to move away from using labels, such as special needs, which can impact how teachers interact with students and change how learners perceive themselves.

4. Better technology

New technologies that identify students with academic or behavioral challenges can lead to success. Many educators use platforms to track behavioral interventions and to support a positive school culture. Teachers can report positive or negative classroom behaviors with tablets, for example.

Adopting tech that can immediately share detailed data with the community also improves school climate while further engaging and better equipping parents to work with teachers.

Additionally, district leaders should look for systems that can track student interventions year after year. With such a platform, a fourth-grade teacher, for example, can include a successful intervention for a struggling math student so that the student’s fifth-grade teacher can access that information the following year.

Read the original story on how intervention strategies evolve.


Interested in edtech? Keep up with DA's Future of Education Technology Conference®.