Student Well-being is Key to Student Learning
With an unprecedented school year getting underway, what conditions need to be in place to optimize student learning and other positive outcomes?
That question is on the minds of many, so it was how we kicked off last week’s panel discussion of the science of learning and development (SOLD) as part of our webinar series examining the Principles for Recovery & Renewal. The answer kept coming back to relationships, identity, belonging, and agency: “Every young person needs one caring adult who checks in with them every day.”
TOP, left to right: Eugene Pinkard, Director, Practice & Leadership, Aspen Institute Education & Society Program; Sonja Santelises, Chief Executive Officer, Baltimore City Public Schools. BOTTOM, left to right: Monique Chism, Vice President, Policy, Practice, and Systems Change, AIR; Clay Anderson, Rising Senior, Doherty High School
We were fortunate to have distinguished AIR researcher Dr. Monique Chism provide the underpinnings of more than 20-years of research on brain development and what it takes to thrive. Rising high school senior Clay Anderson put that evidence in real-life terms of student wellness and what he has experienced in a program for aspiring teachers. And Baltimore City Schools CEO Dr. Sonja Santelises provided tangible examples of this work before and during the pandemic.
Our panelists agreed that the necessary conditions can be created, even in these uncertain times: “All children can learn and thrive.” They also agreed the work is more critical than ever. Key takeaways and resources:
- The brain is malleable and environment matters. So, while adverse experiences can impede learning, the right school climate and deep trusting relationships help the brain “reboot” and thrive. School climate and relationships can be improved.
- Identity, agency, and well-being are important to the brain, and therefore to students. This points the work toward equity and intentional deconstruction of systemized prejudices and combatting a culture of low expectations.
- This year, and ultimately the permanent establishment of positive conditions for learning, require us to rethink instruction, school schedules, the messaging we use, and the role of schools, communities and nonprofit partners to provide wraparound services and integrated supports.
The Work Is Already Underway
Schools are re-opening and re-starting, students are re-entering a system with vastly different (and in some cases traumatic) life experiences from when they left in the spring. With that in mind, here are some promising practice to learn from:
- Colorado Education Initiative Strategic Reopening Collaborative: Addressing inequities and creating connections.
- Baltimore City Public School’s BMore Me Curriculum: Bringing identity and cultural proficiency into the conversation.
- American Institute of Research: Building positive conditions for learning at home.
- Public Impact’s teacher and leader models: Creating an opportunity culture.
- Youth Activism Project: Engaging youth voice and advocacy.
- CASEL: Including SEL practices in reopening protocols.
- Council of Chief State School Officers: Considerations for Wellbeing and Connection.
- Mindset Scholars Network: Supporting student motivation.