Interest in school mental health and social-emotional learning has increased in the past years, and is especially pronounced now while students are navigating new learning environments during the global pandemic.
The novel Coronavirus, school violence (school shootings, bullying), popular television programs that focus on school mental health issues (e.g., “13 Reasons Why”), and concerns about inequality in school discipline across students of different races, ethnicities, or with disabilities make effective school-based, mental and emotional health interventions a priority. Yet, it is not clear that the research base supporting effective school mental health intervention is making its way to informing everyday school practice.
Maybe some of that is due to the fact that there is no easy toolkit for implementing social-emotional learning (SEL) in schools, which Marc Brackett and Diana Divecha argue in this article from EdWeek. But even if there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for SEL, there are certainly steps districts and schools can take to start addressing students’ social-emotional behavior (SEB) needs within their existing tiered support systems.
How to Implement SEB into MTSS
I try to meet with educators and administrators any chance I get, because I always learn something in my conversations with those who have their boots on the ground. One of the things I have learned is that there can be a disconnect between the intent to provide effective social-emotional learning and school mental health interventions and the implementation of the effective approaches.
For example, I met not long ago with a superintendent who told me that it was a district goal to implement “Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) for behavior and emotional needs” of the students. When I asked about what strategies the superintendent planned to use, the response was “MTSS.”
After a bit of a back and forth, it was clear that there was a misunderstanding about MTSS. This particular superintendent was thinking MTSS was the intervention, rather than the framework within which interventions are situated. After some further discussion it was clear that there were many good strategies embedded within the schools that could be situated along the tiers of a MTSS approach, but that the school district had not yet organized them in this way.
Once we identified the framework was only as good as the supports embedded within it – universal interventions applied to all students, targeted interventions for students at risk, and indicated interventions for students identified as having educational or behavioral challenges -- the conversation was able to move forward.
This example illustrates the importance of having a plan in place prior to rolling out an initiative to promote school mental health and social-emotional learning within a school or district. Once a district starts to create a plan, there are additional needs that arise:
- How will the interventions be appropriately delegated to students across different tiers of intervention
- How will progress be monitored once the interventions are delegated?
- How will a school professional decide if the intervention should be continued, discontinued or modified?
1. Establish a school-wide screening planSchools that are not routinely screening for social and emotional concerns miss an opportunity to provide an overall assessment of students’ social and emotional health within the school. The is one example of an evidence-based school-wide screener. The screening is helpful for identifying students in need of additional support, as well as potential “hot spots” that can receive additional intervention (e.g., second grade students).
2. Monitor progressMonitoring progress of interventions is critical. Indeed, educators are like people in other sectors in that they often discontinue intervention too early – either before the intervention has had a chance to work, or prior to an intervention promoting fluent skill development. Progress monitoring helps the team review and analyze progress so that data-based decisions can be emphasized. s are an example of an evidence-based, effective approach to monitoring the progress of a student across an important functional domain (e.g., academic engagement, disruptive behavior). In addition, routine screening implemented consistently over time with measures such as the SAEBRS can also be thought as a mechanism for progress monitoring as it will help identify school successes, such as reductions in students needing more intensive intervention, once universal interventions are implemented with fidelity.
3. Use the data collectedAll too often, considerable effort goes into planning for data collection and generating data, but then those data are not used by the key stakeholders. School problem-solving teams should think about what they most want to know, ensure the assessment plan addresses these key areas, and then routinely review and respond to the data being collected. Although this suggestion necessarily requires more school personnel time and effort, in the long run it should pay off with greater efficiency of implementation.
4. Provide Training and support mechanisms for school staffWe conducted a small survey of general education teachers and special education teachers where we asked them to interpret a progress monitoring graph. The results illustrated that special education teachers were readily able to interpret the graph, but general education teachers had more difficulty readily inferring what the graph was trying to convey. This survey demonstrated that the type of data generated by a progress monitoring approach may be unfamiliar to some educators, and training procedures should be put in place to ensure that the information is interpreted effectively.
5. Involve Parents
Assessment has long been embedded in schools – weekly spelling tests, report card grades for academics, merit rolls – and parents are used to these methods for providing feedback. As schools move toward a focus on also promoting social and emotional skill development, the more frequent screening and progress monitoring approaches considerably improve upon quarterly report card ratings of social/character development. To the extent that screening results and progress monitoring assessments can be shared with parents, schools can foster home-school partnerships that promote students’ social and emotional development.
The FastBridge system is currently the only system to include screening and progress monitoring measures for SEB skills along with assessments in reading and math. Learn more about how FastBridge assessments can give you a better picture of the whole child. Know not only what skills a student is struggling with, but why they’re struggling. Contact us to demo the system.