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4 Lessons for Teachers About Social-Emotional Wellness in Simone Biles’ Olympic Experience

4 lessons for teachers about social emotional wellness in simone biles olympic
Biles

Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from a series of Olympics competitions last month care for her mental health was surprising and transformative. The move, especially by an Olympic athlete who is considered one of the greatest the world has ever seen, was more influential and inspiring than any athletic feat thus far.

The gymnast’s withdrawal from the competition emphasizes the importance of holistic self care and should inspire us to think about how we can practice taking care of our own selves and supporting those around us — our children, our colleagues, and our family members — to do the same. When we’re feeling unwell, it’s hard to be the best version of ourselves. The “twisties” can take many different forms and the connection between mental health, social emotional wellness, and performance is real. (Biles, after not participating in the vault, uneven bars and floor exercise, as well as the all-around event, later re-entered the competition and won a Bronze medal on the balance beam.)

By withdrawing, Simone Biles has shown courage and vulnerability. She has prioritized her own wellbeing over the fame and glory of being crowned Olympic champion. Coming off of Naomi Osaka’s decision to pull out of the French Open in May for similar reasons, there’s an opportunity to follow these athletes’ leads to prioritize their own wellbeing as inspiration for your students to do the same.

Here are four ways we can encourage students to follow Biles’ and Osaka’s leadership and cultivate the skills in themselves that will strengthen their own social-emotional wellness.

Explore Expectations

Invite students to write out an expectation that is weighing on them from their family, school, or society. Then have them come up with a gentler expectation they choose to place on themselves.

Ask students to reflect on whether the expectation that is weighing on them came from themselves or from someone else. By thinking about how we can replace this external expectation with a kinder one, we’re being gentler on ourselves and the pressure we hold.

Care Fully

Generate ideas for self and community care. Students explore ways they can care for themselves and their community and how that might feel by expressing this through movement.

Students can do a movement to represent a self-care step they would like to take (like taking deep breaths) and a frozen statue in their bodies for how that self-care step makes them feel. Then, invite students to make a movement for a community care step they can take (like picking up trash at a park or speaking out about unfairness) and a frozen statue in their bodies for how that might make folks in their community feel. Debrief with students and reflect on what they can do to take care of themselves and their community.

Follow the Follower

Understand the importance of both leading and following. Invite students to form a circle and have them try to move their hands at the same time and in the same way as everyone else. Without speaking, the group should choose one student to be the leader and follow that student. The group then lets the leadership pass to a second person and follows the second leader. Last, have everyone be a leader.

Debrief with students and reflect on what it felt like to lead and to follow. Discuss how they can take the lead in their school and support someone today who is taking the lead.

The Leader Shop

Recognize when to step up and when to step back. Invite students to practice 3 energizing movements that could help them prepare to take a bigger role in a group, like jumping jacks or a Shake Off. Then have them practice 3 calming movements that could help them prepare to let others lead, like pressing their thumb and pointer fingers together in a triangle and breathing, or standing quietly in mountain pose.

Students then reflect on when they might need to step up versus step back while working or collaborating in a group. Discuss how we can make a space where everyone can be authentic and real, and in order to do this, we need to know when to step up and take a bigger role, and when to step back and let others take the lead.

Leveraging the celebrity appeal of the Olympics and Simone Biles and understanding her strong, inspiring decision can be an authentic way to explore and apply social-emotional wellness in the classroom. When we can process and reflect on our feelings and connect them to current events, we give students an opportunity to see social emotional skills in real life application.

Photo: Simone Biles prepares to start her performance on the balance beam during the artistic gymnastics women’s apparatus final at the 2020 Summer Olympics on Aug. 3. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)


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The Most Essential Features Districts Want in Social-Emotional Learning Products

the most essential features districts want in social emotional learning products
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EdWeek Market Brief surveyed district officials on which features of SEL products and programs are most important to them.

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Florida District Seeks Mental Health Services; Washington State System Pursuing Online Tutoring Supports

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Mental health services, speech therapy services, online tutoring support. A Florida district is looking to invest in mental health services for students and families, and a Texas district is looking to acquire speech therapy services. Further, a district in Everett, Wash., plans to buy online tutoring support.

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What Post-Pandemic Social Emotional Learning Looks Like in One Major District

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During the nationwide pivot to remote learning, teachers and administrators in the Metro Nashville Public School District in Nashville, Tenn., were forced to put social emotional learning on the backburner. Their most urgent challenge was getting students who were forced into remote learning to log in and engage in school.

Now, many districts, including Metro Nashville,…

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Inside One Education Company’s Efforts to Organize a Product Around Learning Recovery

inside one education companys efforts to organize a product around learning recovery
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is one of many companies across the K-12 market that has sought to create products to help districts address academic remediation for students who have fallen behind during COVID.

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How One Company Adapted Its PD for COVID and Beyond: A Case Study

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Achieve3000’s efforts during the pandemic offer a window into how education businesses have sought to overhaul support for teachers to suit virtual environments.

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What State and Local Ed Tech Directors Worry About as Schools Return to In-Person Learning

what state and local ed tech directors worry about as schools return to in person learning
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The new executive director of the organization representing the state’s ed tech directors says teachers will need myriad forms of support as their schools return more fully to face-to-face instruction.

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The Ed Tech So Valuable That It Will Outlive the Pandemic

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An EdWeek Market Brief survey asked district leaders what kinds of ed-tech they will continue using after the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Inside the Florida K-12 Market: District Priorities and Pain Points

inside the florida k 12 market district priorities and pain points
EdWeek Market Brief, Florida Special Re

Many states have taken a cautious approach to reopening schools for in-person instruction during the pandemic. Florida was much more ambitious.

The vast majority of school districts across the nation’s third most populous state were required by the state’s department of education to offer an in-person learning option at the beginning of the academic year. That meant the state’s 67 main, county-based districts were tasked with finding a way to serve not only families who wanted face-to-face instruction, but also those who chose online instruction at home.

As such, Florida’s experiences offer a preview of what an increasing number of school districts around the country are now going through, as they transition into more fully in-person and hybrid instructional models. A new special report, available exclusively to EdWeek Market Brief members, provides education companies and other organizations keen on working in Florida with an in-depth look at the biggest needs that the state’s 67 school districts face, as they continue to straddle the brick-and-mortar and online learning worlds.

Through our reporting and analysis, readers will learn about Florida school systems’ hunger for academic interventions and other strategies to address learning loss, and their need to bolster the well-being of students whose emotional states have been made fragile by the upheaval of COVID-19.

Readers will get districts’ perspectives on the massive scale of their device purchasing over the past year, and prevailing worries about lackluster internet connectivity in students’ homes. And they will learn about the pressure Florida districts face to implement new state academic standards — and to scaffold myriad instructional materials, assessments, and professional development for teachers on top of those standards.

This special report is the final installment in a three-part series on state markets that have enormous importance for companies in the K-12 market. The first two reports focused on Texas and California. This report, like the others, includes original research drawn from surveys of Florida K-12 officials. But the heart of the analysis is interviews EdWeek Market Brief’s editorial team conducted with key district administrators, including superintendents and their top deputies, curriculum directors, finance officials, and others.

Student Engagement, Standards, and Remediation

The Florida report includes perspectives of district officials like Robert Bixler, the associate superintendent for curriculum and digital learning in the Orange County school system, based in Orlando.

Bixler explains how his district began turning its attention to students’ anticipated learning loss as early as last summer, offering targeted academic programs and focusing on students thought to be most vulnerable, particularly in elementary grades.

Since then, the 212,000-student district has been exploring strategies for remediation that can be delivered in a variety of in-person and online settings.

“You are always concerned about the kids who are most at risk and what they’re missing in school,” Bixler said. “We’re all trying to find ways to meet their needs–with intervention, tutoring, all those things.”

Among the other insights offered in the report:

  • Survey data collected from Florida K-12 officials about their top academic priorities over the next year – which include both instructional and non-academic needs.
  • Perspective on the key factors that will drive Florida district officials’ decisions on selection and purchasing of curriculum and other academic resources to align with new state academic standards.
  • Details on the current blend of in-person vs. remote instruction in Florida districts, and their plans for offering summer instruction focused on learning loss.
  • The results of in-depth interviews with district officials from across the state about their biggest needs from vendors, the state policies shaping their work, how they plan to spend federal funding.

Another major school system highlighted in the report, the Palm Beach County district, is – like many in Florida — trying to navigate two different worlds, with about 50 percent of its students taking classes in person, and remainder working remotely.

Teachers have found “unbelievable and inspiring” ways to help students and encourage them to think creatively in online settings, particularly through technology, said Deputy Superintendent and Chief of Schools Keith Oswald.

But the 193,000-student district needs more innovation and flexibility from education companies, to keep students locked in no matter what their learning environment.

“Engagement has been our number-one priority,” he said. Every day the district looks for “little things that can enhance how [tech] is used in this environment,” and vendors who can “enhance what students do in a distance learning space.”

EdWeek Market Brief members can access the report here.

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Teachers Should Not Carry the Weight of Education Alone

teachers should not carry the weight of education alone
SEL

Last spring, no one knew how much chaos the pandemic would impose on our lives, or how long the pain would last. The weeks have stretched into months as COVID-19 continues to spread in many parts of the country. The return to “school” in the forms of in-person classes, virtual coursework, and pandemic pods has proven no less chaotic than the abrupt transition to virtual learning we experienced last spring.  

Unfortunately, very few of the conversations around school reopenings have been about students and what is best for our children, or the families struggling with job loss, illness, or food insecurity unable to meet all of their children’s needs when school buildings are closed. The closures of school buildings are at the core of many challenges families are experiencing that have to do with more than just learning — a clear sign that our schools play a critical social service function for students.

Schools have long provided several social services for students—everything from mental health and nutrition to career guidance. When schools offer these types of wraparound services, students’ achievement rates improve. Conversely, when schools fail to provide comprehensive support, educators are overextended, leading to high burnout rates. 

We have relied too heavily on teachers and schools to provide these various services our children require without providing adequate resources and budget to do so. The stress the pandemic has put on school systems has exposed how untenable this model is, physically, emotionally, and financially for everyone involved. 

Schools Need to Help Teachers Support Student Well-Being

COVID-19 has given us a chance to rethink how many of these essential services, including education, mental health, and nutrition, schools should carry alone.

We now have an opportunity to reimagine what our schools can provide for children. We can do so by tapping into a broader range of community resources to share responsibility. Low-income and special needs children are at the most risk of suffering consequences for a lifetime, as many school districts cannot sustain the temporary relief models used last spring. The ongoing, multifaceted crisis many districts face from COVID-19 continues to threaten the emotional and physical well-being of our most vulnerable children.

In May, a survey reported on by The Conversation found that one of the most stressful aspects of teachers’ jobs during the pandemic is addressing the needs of vulnerable students. The report also cited that teachers need more support from parents and administrators. So what can we do to help?

Here are three immediate steps we can take to expand the help and support we extend to our teachers and students.

  1. Schools must prioritize children who have been impacted the most this fall. School boards, administrators, educators, and community organizations can work together to spread the responsibility of childcare and other essential services across different platforms and services. State and federal agencies, local companies, and nonprofit organizations can all step in to provide additional support, funding, and relief. Pandemic pods have been an example of an immediate solution, and some nonprofits have stepped-up to provide equity in this model for every student, including homeless students. For example, Nevada has created the Southern Nevada Urban Micro Academy to provide micro-schooling options for those who cannot afford pandemic pods.

     

  2. Rather than scrambling to support students properly during times of crisis, school districts can coordinate with parents and community partners to proactively provide educators with the budgets and resources they need. For instance, in Minnesota, Belle Plaines Public School District supplemented its mental health support for students by partnering with a community-based intensive therapeutic services center for teenagers. School districts and communities across the country should look to models like this when coming up with their own plans to increase support for students this school year. 
  3. Perhaps the most urgent service we can offer students and teachers right now is social emotional learning. Policymakers, local governments, school boards and districts need to allocate within their budgets so that  schools can implement SEL programs for PreK-12 classes as well as teacher training to implement those programs. Educators ought to offer all students the time and space to process their emotions and build the skills required to persevere through challenges, like the pandemic. To that end, carving out time for SEL in their daily schedules (online and in person), providing reliable resources to both teachers and families, and empowering teachers to put relationships first are important steps to take. Durham Public Schools in North Carolina has been solely virtual for the first 9 weeks of school, and have dedicated Wednesdays to social emotional learning. They call them Wellness Wednesdays, and there is no instruction on those days, just social emotional learning. This is a district-wide commitment to making time for SEL when students and teachers need it most.

We cannot expect educators to manage and support students’ mental health and other needs when their own have been overlooked. As we try to adapt to all of the new challenges of remote or hybrid learning, we ought to be intentional in how we provide both children and teachers resources designed to support them. That’s why we must see districts partner with community organizations, parent associations, and more. 

For most of us, COVID-19 has represented a significant and ongoing disruption in our lives. But we continue to move forward, and our educational system can, too. We have a chance to work with a new generation of parents, educators, and community leaders that has been forever altered by the pandemic — to rethink how to help juggle all the priorities surrounding education and build something better.

We must find creative solutions and work together to build a solid foundation upon which we can layer a series of wraparound services for children that can be implemented immediately and expanded upon over time. By doing so, we can design our educational system in such a way that it can weather a global pandemic while still meeting the long-term needs of students, families, and teachers.

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