As December rolls around, many educators have one thing on their minds: winter break. Yet they’re also looking ahead to the new year and a chance to reset, with the calendar change offering a welcome opportunity for self-reflection and goal setting.
While some of the challenges from 2022 will continue, several positive developments and opportunities will provide educators with the chance to make their schools more welcoming and affirming in 2023.
Let’s look at where we are now — and what are likely to be the key mental health priorities for schools and districts in 2023.
What had educators’ attention in 2022?
The repercussions of the pandemic have been astounding and while there have been hurdles, some constructive advances emerged. Consider how much more adept educators now are with technology and how it continues to enhance the classroom.
In another positive development, attending to students’ and educators’ mental health is now at the forefront of the national conversation. For example, the Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act reauthorizes programs that focus on mental and behavioral health through 2027. Decisive action has been taken at the national level to address this pervasive concern in two other key areas:
- The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended screening for anxiety in children ages 8 and older and for depression in children ages 12 and up. “This will help ensure that students who have needs are identified in order to receive the care they need,” says Dr. Daniella Maglione, a certified school psychologist and Senior Assessment Consultant with Pearson. With extended screening, youth and their families are more apt to identify areas of need in order to access effective resources and support.
- A new dialing code (988) for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline was announced, a powerful step toward transforming the nation’s crisis care system. Youth suicide rates were rising before the pandemic and suicide was the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24. The tragedy is even more acute in underserved populations; the rates for young adults are generally higher in BIPOC populations and among LGBTQ youth.
Key mental health priorities for K-12 educators in 2023
A new calendar year offers a fresh slate and the chance to implement new programs and initiatives. Here are three priorities that will support a more inclusive and positive school environment in the new year.
1. Addressing educator burnout
Teachers are stretched to their limits. School and district leadership must step in to help support these frontline workers. Dr. Maglione praises schools that have dedicated a slice of their pandemic-relief funds to improving break spaces, such as updating teacher break rooms to create spaces for teachers to relax and recharge.
But don’t just guess what would be effective for your staff, she urges. Instead, ask staff what they think might alleviate the stress and burnout they feel at work and consider possible solutions that can be implemented, she suggests. Another tactic for minimizing stress is giving staff the tools and skills to help them handle the challenging situations presented by students and families.
Dr. Maglione acknowledges the problem requires more than triage with existing resources. “The industry as a whole must work with colleges and universities to help build a pipeline of young, well trained and eager professionals who can bring fresh energy and ideas to help address the mental health needs of students given the critical shortage of such professionals in the field,” she said.
2. Promoting social emotional learning
Resilience is a trait that can be learned and practiced and social emotional learning (SEL) plays a key role in developing that ability. The benefits can’t be overstated, Dr. Maglione says. “Focusing on SEL can help schools save money by reducing suspension and dropout rates, not to mention contributing to a more inclusive environment and increasing academic engagement,” she explains. “I could go on forever about the benefits of academic enablers.”
She emphasizes that schools can’t rely on a school psychologist, social worker or mental health counselor to single-handedly teach those skills. “This needs to be embedded in the curriculum and infused into day-to-day classroom activities,” she says, acknowledging that schools also need to be wary of burdening teachers with another enormous task. “It’s another professional development challenge to find ways to make these lessons less intimidating and more teacher-friendly and engaging to students.”
The need for SEL skills, such as learning to set goals and approach challenges positively, is something families support, finds a report from The Fordham Institute. “Social emotional learning is a cost-effective intervention that can help decrease problematic behaviors and promote a better school environment for the future,” Dr. Maglione says.
3. Incorporating universal screening
While teachers are the first line of defense in identifying students who would benefit from additional support, universal screening can be an ally in that quest.
“There’s always error in human judgment and the universal screeners that Pearson offers take the pressure off teachers and staff with tools that students and parents themselves can complete,” Dr. Maglione says. She advocates for using a universal screening program that allows students to disclose their feelings and needs. Universal screening also helps promote equity, which leads to better outcomes for underserved populations.
Yet no matter how robust the screening is, Dr. Maglione recognizes it is only the first step in the process. Schools and districts need a plan in place for how they’re going to help students once their needs are identified. She suggests collaborating with community agencies to foster additional resources. “We can’t expect schools to handle it all,” she says.
Expand your mental health supports in 2023
The concept of “it takes a village” is particularly apt in K-12 education today. Dr. Maglione agrees, emphasizing that assessments that can be delivered via digital platforms can play a critical role in giving educators the time and support to properly screen large numbers of students — a critical first step to connecting them with the resources they need to thrive, learn and grow.
“It’s impossible to take care of someone else's mental health when you can't take care of your own,” Dr. Maglione says. “That’s the ‘why’ behind our goal of finding ways to support our schools, families and teachers.”
Looking for resources to help your school or district improve student and educator mental health in 2023? Contact Pearson to learn how our assessment tools can help.
Learn more at PearsonAssessments.com/MentalHealth.