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Most educators know that student well-being is important, but how can teachers ensure they are fostering a comfortable, healthy and happy learning environment that supports well-being?
Tara Linney, education technology specialist and ISTE U instructor, recommends embedding well-being into multiple areas of practice as a way to reinforce the message that student well-being matters all year long.
“For students to learn, they need to know that they belong in a learning environment. They must know that the people who are there to teach them, care about them,” Linney says.
This is the focus of Linney's two-hour, self-paced ISTE U short course Supporting Student Well-Being. The goal is to help teachers leverage technology to form meaningful connections with students and families, and to identify strategies that address students' social and emotional well-being.
1. Social-emotional learning
The course offers ways to embed social-emotional learning into the way teachers start lessons, transition between activities and set expectations so that students are mentally ready to learn.
For example, rather than jumping right into the lesson, Linney suggests teachers first take a “pulse check” to see how everyone is doing. The idea is to recognize that students have lives outside of school and this can be a source of distraction. Planning regular check-ins through the course of the day is also helpful.
Linney suggests that teachers make sure students are following along and understand material before moving on to new content.
“It's similar to swimming laps in a pool. You don't just have your head under water the whole time. You come up for air once in a while,” Linney says.
Incorporating the use of music or sound to signal transitions between activities is another way to help students comfortably focus on something new. Auditory reminders are especially helpful in elementary classes to prepare students for a switch from one subject to another, she says.
“It's kind of like jumping into the deep end when you say, 'OK. Now we are going to do math.' But if you start to incorporate the use of music or sound into your routine, over time, when the students hear that sound, they will start to learn, 'Ok. We are moving on to something new.'”
2. Communication with students and family
Open house and parent-teacher conferences are how teachers typically connect with families, but there are other opportunities that can help build rapport. Linney suggests that teachers contact families at the beginning of the school year to get things off to a good start. Opening up discussions with parents before studies begin can help teachers get to know their incoming learners and it can give teachers a sense for what parents observe about their children at home.
Understanding that a phone call with each parent isn't always feasible, Linney suggests teachers consider other options, such sending out a survey with questions about students' strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments and aspirations. The goal is to facilitate introductions, gather parents’ thoughts, concerns and expectations, and learn how a teacher might better support their children.
“Rather than saying, 'It's December and your student is failing,' you set up that relationship with the family to let them know that you are looking after their child's best interests. You can still say it's December and your student is failing, but it is going to land differently if back in August you set up that relationship,” Linney says.
This year's Summer Learning Academy includes modules that focus on the types of questions to ask parents. It also takes a closer look at a variety of tech tools teachers can use to open lines of communication, including tools that many schools already have.
3. Student collaboration is key
Linney says that student well-being hinges on the ability to connect. “When students are exposed to different people at a young age, it creates a more connected and accepting human being as they get older because they have seen different types of people from different walks of life,” Linney says.
Collaboration in a guided environment serves as a place for students to safely learn how to work in teams, learn about the world they live in and learn how to foster healthy relationships.
This is where Linney says empathy and digital citizenship intersect. The goal is to empower students to have positive connections with one another, and teachers can lead the process. With the appropriate tools, teachers have the potential to turn the world into one big classroom.
“There are tools like Belouga, which allow you to get in touch with other classes from around the world so you can meet people who have different accents, who speak different languages, who look different, and who believe in things that are different,” Linney says.
Belouga is one of many web-based platforms designed to connect classes. Linney's course introduces a few others, but also gives participants an opportunity to share information about the actual tools they use. This highlights why becoming a connected teacher is so important.
4. Connecting with peers and professional learning communities
When teachers face a problem with practice, it can feel as though they are alone. The reality is that many others have experienced the same problem and they're are often happy to share an innovative solution. Linney's course provides an opportunity to make those connections.
In the last module, there is an opportunity to learn more about professional learning networks and the platforms where they can be found. Clubhouse, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and ISTE Connects are a few examples.
During the course, participants have an opportunity to connect with each other and they are encouraged to do so. The course provides a place to share social media and contact information to get the ball rolling.
Paul Wurster is an education writer and technical editor based in Oregon. This is an updated version of an article that first published on June 30, 2021.