School Districts’ Most Pressing Social-Emotional Learning Needs

Managing Editor
Market Brief SEL Special Report

District leaders quickly came to recognize the need to address students’ myriad social-emotional learning challenges during the chaos of the COVID era, almost from the time in-person classes were halted in the spring.

A newly published EdWeek Market Brief special report sheds light on the specific social-emotional learning needs districts face during the ongoing upheaval—and the help they want from the private sector.

The report includes a nationally representative survey of 700 district administrators and school principals. One of the questions put to them was: “In which areas do you believe you will need support from SEL programs/product providers as your school district moves to reopen?”

The biggest district needs squarely reflect the COVID era: 60 percent of those surveyed said that creating a positive learning environment amid social-distancing is a priority.

The second-largest number of district and school officials, 57 percent, said easing the concerns of parents and families is a top need.

That finding also reinforces the needs of the moment. Because many school districts have been forced or chosen to conduct learning remotely, parents have become de-facto at-home teachers’ aides, shadowing their children during lessons and trying to keep them focused.

The nationally representative survey was conducted in July. The full report is available to EdWeek Market Brief members.

Other areas where district and school leaders said they’d needed SEL support during reopening are supporting students with mental health challenges (55 percent), creating safe opportunities for students to interact with each other (53 percent), and engaging students amid a reliance on online learning (51 percent).

The special report delves into a variety of other questions about the expectations that districts are setting for the SEL programs and products offered by companies:

  • What are the specific qualities and features that district and school leaders want delivered within SEL products and programs?
  • To what extent are districts purchasing SEL resources developed by external vendors, as opposed to developing those resources in-house?
  • How much are districts anticipating spending on SEL over the next year—and what are the key sources of funding they’re tapping to do so?
  • How are districts conducting up-front assessments of students’ social-emotional learning needs?
  • Which district and school decision-makers have the greatest influence on buying SEL products and services?
  • What kinds of professional development, and PD delivery methods, are most needed by teachers?
  • Where do K-12 officials believe SEL should be embedded in the curriculum, and where are they doing it now?

Ryan Voegtlin, the director of student services in the Anne Arundel school district in Maryland, who spoke to EdWeek Market Brief for the report, said that the pandemic has lent new urgency to finding creative and targeted ways to help students.

Students and teachers feel squeezed not only by the pressures heaped on them by COVID, but by the social unrest felt in communities across the country.

“Our question has been, how do we transition them back into schools and make them feel safe?,” Voegtlin said. “How do you create a positive learning environment when everyone’s wearing masks and social distancing?”

EdWeek Market Brief will be delving into social-emotional learning topics during a panel at next month’s EdWeek Market Brief Summit, a virtual event that will feature district officials, business leaders, and policy experts from across the country.

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