Adolescent mental health has been recognized as a national crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in 5 American children ages 3 through 17 (about 15 million) have a diagnosable mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder in a given year. Yet only 20 percent of these children are ever diagnosed and receive treatment; 80 percent (about 12 million) aren't receiving any kind of treatment or support.
In an era where students broadcast themselves and their thoughts through social media, it is easy to overlook the anxiety they may face in sharing concerns or asking for help. This is not lost among K-12 educators. Even the most empathetic educators often find that they have trouble connecting with students and getting them to open up about their feelings.
It is a challenge, observed by savvy educators, that is in some ways exacerbated as communications among students move online, along with bad behaviors like bullying and isolation. But in an ironic twist, the very same technologies that make engaging today’s students a challenge can actually make it easier for students to ask for help or share their more authentic selves - opening the door to social and emotional development and transparency.
Research now confirms that people use anonymous search engines like Google to help divulge and navigate many of their personal problems, instead of turning to a friend or family member. This demonstrates that online tools to support social and emotional learning (SEL) can, likewise, be used to overcome some of the structural barriers in face-to-face implementation of SEL. Due to the anonymous and private nature of this modality, students are more apt to disclose personal information.
Because technology enables private communication, it can help to engage students trapped in an often-silent struggle. Online, they’re willing to come out of the shadows and participate in a more open forum for discussion with teachers, administrators, and even peers.
A number of districts in the country are using the BASE Education online platform to support their successful and innovative SEL solutions. These initiatives enhance group settings such as classrooms, trust circles and community-building exercises. By mitigating the need for public disclosure (which may present as a prohibitive factor to successful classroom-based SEL), students may participate within their comfort zone. Beyond group approaches, independently-led learning also has its merits in personalizing the emotional growth process with students.
Teachers are learning that students often experience a degree of safety behind the screen that may otherwise not present itself in the analog world. Non-native English-speaking students are also using technology to overcome language barriers that might suppress their willingness to ask for help.
Based on interaction with the BASE Education platform that utilizes anonymous or private submission technology, teachers and student surveys provide favorable reviews.
- 81% of students surveyed report that our online efforts have enabled them to open up about difficult issues
- 88% of students said they told the truth using the system even when it wasn’t easy
- 94% of teachers said they saw an increase in academic performance, as well as classroom behavior
In many cases, online tools help supplement the work that districts are already doing. Anonymous or private engagement and online platforms are not a replacement or substitute for human interactions in SEL, but instead work hand-in-hand with the direct in-person scaffolds and support. Using both approaches helps capture all possible students who may need help and provide appropriate preventative and intervention strategies through a deeper lens. By allowing students to process their own feelings and internalize the content independently, there is a greater sense of ownership for their personal growth. When students are cared for in an autonomous, yet supportive manner, they connect deeply.
Helping today’s students grapple with an increasingly complex world requires a multi-faceted approach. This includes ensuring that educators have all available tools to empower and guide their students with confidence. When supportive adults are confident and equipped, the students trust the process. It is through these connective opportunities that growth and education occur in unison.
About the Author
Misty Blackmon’s professional education journey began over 16 years ago and has allowed her to participate in learning opportunities – as a teacher, mentor, curriculum facilitator, college professor, and professional development/implementation consultant – for public, charter, online, alternative, private, and Christian schools nationwide.
Misty is currently a National Education Consultant for Odysseyware, 21st Century Online Learning Solution.
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Engage with one of Odysseyware’s experts today, on addressing the implementation of your well-rounded education and social emotion learning initiatives in your district through the use of Odysseyware’s Online Learning and BASE Education. Odysseyware can help you establish instructional plans that benefit students, teachers, and administrators and make sure you’re on the right path for executing your SEL goals.