Using data insight platforms to improve SEL strategies
A platform that both tracks the delivery of SEL interventions and brings them together with other data into one whole-child view can add a measure of simplicity to educators’ lives
Although structured social-emotional learning (SEL) has been around since the mid-90s, schools’ focus on SEL has skyrocketed following the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on education. As remote learning exacerbated feelings of isolation and uncertainty, and behavioral and mental health issues emerged, many educators shifted away from attainment goals to helping students cope and connect in an environment that suddenly lacked regular social interactions, academic expectations and daily structure. SEL then became a foundational piece of the return to in-person learning and, by many accounts, remains an integral part of student needs a year into post-shut down recovery.
According to a report from Tyton Partners and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), district spending on SEL programming between the 2019–20 and 2020–21 academic years grew from $530 million to $765 million. SEL also received a $160 million funding boost in the FY2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act earlier this year. Educators are investing in SEL on an individual level, too. Based on data from DonorsChoose, reports indicate that donation requests for supplies that help students develop SEL skills and improve mental health have almost doubled since 2020.
While SEL and mental health initiatives are different, when delivered as part of a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS), SEL can play a significant role in promoting responsive relationships, emotionally safe environments and skills development that improve or mitigate mental health issues. In fact, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states that SEL screening instruments can be used to both help standardize the identification of anxiety concerns and help facilitate early intervention.
As more districts integrate SEL into their curricula and expand SEL practices into their secondary schools, the collection and management of such data play an essential role in measuring student progress and program efficacy. That’s especially important because, as the Tyton Partners/CASEL report notes, quality in the SEL marketplace may not keep pace with demand. And overarchingly, an easily navigable student data insights platform gives educators more time to focus on how they’re incorporating SEL in their classrooms.
Visualizing data improves SEL strategies
SEL should not exist in a vacuum. It serves as a component of MTSS. Your data platform should allow educators to not only track and record SEL elements alongside academic performance, attendance, and behavior, but to also to visualize them side-by-side within a single report. Each of these factors individually and collectively will influence students’ social and emotional well-being. A complete portrait of a student, instead of a corner of the picture, gives educators the context they need to assign or adjust learning and supports across all areas of a student’s life.
Next, your platform should allow educators to drill into the details, preferably in one place, given the vast array of available SEL tools. Some tools may be free, while others come at a cost or as part of a larger assessment suite. A data insights platform flexible enough to gather information from all your SEL tools via integration, file upload or manual score entry broadens context while saving educators valuable time.
Finally, consider whether a platform can track and assign interventions in ways that fit your specific MTSS and SEL needs. Features like a centralized intervention bank that can be tailor-made for every school, the option to individually or mass assign interventions, and the ability to split interventions and progress monitoring assessments by tier collectively build efficiency through a common language of practice. Together, these measures of student growth can provide other insights including the time students may be spending in different interventions, and the growth each intervention may yield provides leaders an easy overview of program effectiveness and return on investment.
SEL data can elevate student and family perspectives
At its core, SEL is intended to help students develop and practice empathy, perspective, self-reflection and active listening to build connections with others. By teaching those competencies, SEL affirms students’ identities, strengths, values, lived experiences, and culture. Thoughtful programming and meaningful assessments, combined with a flexible data platform such as Proliftic, allows educators to monitor and compare the development of these so-called “soft skills.” Visual representations of student progress also give educators an engaging way to start conversations with students, parents and the community to make SEL programming more impactful.
When educators and students examine student SEL data together, it helps to strengthen educator-student relationships while continuing to build SEL skills including collaboration, self-efficacy and goal setting. School leaders, teachers and the SEL materials and data themselves may have “blind spots.” Therefore, including students, their families, as well as community-based organization leaders in selection of SEL programming, may help diminish the blind spots and lead to improved strategies that more fully reflect the lived experiences of students and families while furthering the educators’ and leaders’ personal SEL journeys.
Giving educators back their time
Remote learning brought both educational system shortcomings and strengths into the forefront including the long list of responsibilities that educators regularly take on. While surveys show that most educators believe there’s a great need for SEL in the classroom, and many have always provided it without an official framework, building out a formal SEL program, screening and progress monitoring require training and support. A platform that can both track the delivery of SEL interventions and bring them together with other data into one whole-child view can add a measure of simplicity to educators’ lives, especially as educators report higher rates of stress and burnout.
Before investing in a data insights vendor, organization leaders should ask themselves the following questions:
- Is the system flexible enough to handle a variety of data sources?
- Are we going to be treated like a transaction or partner in the relationship?
- Are the people who work for the vendor experts in their field who can guide us through the process?
- Will the implementation include remote or in-person training and materials?
- How much of our own human resource capital will we need to support the system once it’s up and running?
As SEL makes its way into more schools, data is crucial to refine the programming and interventions that work best for students. A data insights platform should be part of any SEL framework to guide decision-making, report on impact and give educators more time to model the SEL they’re teaching in their classrooms.