Technology has become increasingly important to every level of education, and its value to social-emotional learning, or SEL, is no exception. Just as digital tools provide educators with innovative and flexible ways to reinforce learning in core academic subjects, they can be used to more effectively teach the social-emotional and life skills that students need to thrive in the classroom and beyond.
An essential part of my role as vice president of product for Committee for Children, an industry leader in SEL, is to keep a close eye on trends in education technology. After spending more than 25 years in edtech, I know how crucial it is for educators to understand how to leverage technology to support SEL in practical, meaningful ways.
Here are four of the latest SEL edtech trends that districts and schools can use this year to support the social-emotional well-being of students and staff, enhance students’ engagement with SEL content, and improve family communications.
Trend 1: On-Demand Professional Development
Professional development (PD) that strengthens educator well-being is a crucial and sometimes overlooked part of SEL for students. With teacher turnover rates on the rise, sustained, meaningful investments in the mental wellness of educators should be a top priority for school and district leaders. Professional learning that’s rooted in SEL can help by giving staff tools to manage stress, build trust, and increase resilience.
Higher levels of educator well-being also benefit students. Research shows that teachers with strong social-emotional skills have better relationships with students, enhanced instructional quality, and improved classroom climate.
However, the last thing teachers need is more work on their plates. I’ve seen time and again how leaders can help create buy-in by choosing a program that works for teachers’ busy schedules. It’s increasingly important that teachers can access PD online and on demand. This way, they can engage in learning on their own, and in their own time, rather than at costly, all-day conferences.
Districts nationwide are providing ongoing education for staff, with an increased focus on skill development and flexible learning. The incremental nature of on-demand PD gives teachers take-aways they can use immediately while allowing for consistent practice and growth throughout the year. This presents them with the ability and opportunity to infuse SEL throughout the school day and across disciplines to support students’ development.
Trend 2: Bite-Sized, Social Family Communications
Communication with families has always been essential for schools and districts, but in the last few years, I’ve seen an increased demand for bite-sized, highly focused messages. Gone are the days of the three-page newsletter—there’s just no time! Families are already inundated with communications from schools, their own work, and everything in between.
Educators are finding that fun video- and audio-based communications are an effective way to share information. Whether they take the form of TikTok-style videos, texts, or app-based messages, to-the-point digital communications are a great way to keep families engaged in their children’s social-emotional learning.
When communications are more accessible, they can also be more equitable. In-person meetings or long Zoom calls require time, equipment, and other resources that families may not have. Language can be another barrier to family communication (the National Education Association estimates that by 2025, one of four children in U.S. classrooms will be English-language learner students), but some messaging tools include translation features to help everyone in the school community stay connected.
Trend 3: Gamified SEL
It’s no secret that video and online games are a huge part of many children’s lives. Transferring students’ enthusiasm for digital games to the classroom is a great way to keep them motivated and engaged—and enhance their social-emotional development. A research-based approach to gamified SEL gives students the opportunity to practice and strengthen social-emotional skills in fun, interactive, low-stakes ways.
Introducing gaming into the classroom is also a way to observe and develop the social-emotional skills kids may have already started to learn in their personal gaming at home, such as working with others and making decisions as a team. Research has shown that popular games like Minecraft can be used in the classroom to foster social connectedness and collaboration and support learning across subject areas.
Trend 4: Digital Check-Ins and Pulse Surveys
It’s valuable for educators to be able to get quick and meaningful feedback about the social-emotional climate in schools and classrooms. Simple tech tools like digital word clouds, polls, and gamified quizzes are a great way to take a “pulse check” on how students and educators are feeling in the moment.
Over time, this data may show trends in moods, behaviors, and performance. For example, feedback might reveal that students are less engaged on the first day after a long break, more enthusiastic on Thursdays, or sleepier in the first week of daylight savings. Teachers can use these insights to adapt their approach and set students up for success.
Additionally, digital SEL programs may include tracking tools, data reports, and self-assessments that capture in-the-moment information about individual and classroom progress. When leaders are more informed about the well-being and performance of their students and staff, they can better support SEL implementation and strengthen school climate.
More Technology, More Possibilities for SEL
As the volume and variety of technology that’s available to educators continues to expand, so do the possibilities for how these tools can be applied in the classroom. Throughout my career, I’ve seen edtech evolve in its ability to give teachers more options for efficient, flexible, and responsive instruction.
When applied to SEL, these tools can also help you strengthen staff and educator well-being, reinforce students’ social-emotional development, engage and connect families, and gather insights to support learning. By leveraging a few of these latest tech trends, you can create opportunities for serious enhancements to the social-emotional well-being of everyone in your school communities.
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