When we meet with education leaders, a common goal is helping children build social-emotional skills that will set them up for success in school and life. Emotional intelligence isn’t just a key ingredient in our ability to respond to change and crisis; it’s also crucial for reducing bullying and risky behaviors, working with others, overcoming obstacles, and setting and achieving goals.
With COVID-19 causing disruption of our daily routines and widespread school closures, developing effective ways to assess students’ mental health and programs to address their needs is more important than ever. Education Week shared new research that shows “anxiety and depression…[has] affected more than 1 in 4 adolescents” since the beginning of the pandemic. They also found that Black, Latinx, low-income, and LGBTQ students “were also significantly more likely to report experiencing more problems in the wake of the pandemic.”
This means that decisions made around supporting student mental health have to take a diverse range of perspectives into account and not just apply a one-size-fits-all approach. Ensuring that your district has an accurate and agile picture of all your students’ needs is vital to their well-being and success.
Determining what your students need and what will resonate with them can be a challenge. Trends change quickly in schools, and children and adolescents—especially from marginalized groups—can find it challenging to advocate for their needs in a public setting.
Traditional feedback methods don’t make it easy to get to their honest thoughts. Surveys offer a choice of pre-populated answers selected by adults, and special interests and the loudest parents often dominate town halls. Focus groups can gather more detailed feedback but won’t accurately capture all the perspectives of an entire district’s students.
Kids need a safe space to share in, one that assures them anonymity, allows them access to each other’s thoughts, and provides a platform where their peers can rate their ideas without bias. An Exchange is a perfect way to explore the topic of mental health with students to get meaningful feedback and relevant results.
With the right open-ended questions, you can get your students thinking critically about the supports they need to get the most value from their time in school. By asking an open-ended question like, “What are some ways we can support safety and wellness for you and other students in your school?” administrators can discover the policies that students are finding most effective and the areas where their efforts are lacking.
Allowing students to weigh in on the decisions made on their behalf means that the district’s actions will have more support and be easier to implement. Students will feel heard, and leaders will get a prioritized list of their students’ needs.