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Prioritizing People: Investing in Student and Teacher Mental Health

August 12, 2021

A new report from FuelEd and Teach Plus looks at the pathways to strengthen mental health and social and emotional supports in schools

Washington, D.C.- The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the mental health and the social and emotional well-being of students who have experienced increased anxiety, stress, and loneliness. Teachers were as affected, experiencing burnout, job-related stress, and depression. As schools prepare for a new academic year, educators are making clear that reversing these negative mental health outcomes must be a high priority. To provide school, district, and state leaders with teacher-driven recommendations on using the resources from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund to address the pressing mental health challenges, FuelEd and Teach Plus today jointly released a new report, Prioritizing People: Purposeful investments to better support student and teacher mental health.

“The hardships of this pandemic brought forth the persistent mental health challenges that plague our system, affecting both students and educators. We hope that school and policy leaders will take urgent action to adopt the recommendations in this report, including attending to the social and emotional well-being of students and teachers, expanding mental health supports in schools, and strengthening the relationships students need to be well and to thrive in their learning,” said Roberto J. Rodríguez, Teach Plus President and CEO.  

Prioritizing People is based on a survey of 509 teachers from 29 states and the District of Columbia. For the report, the researchers organized the findings and the recommendations within the mental health framework of regulation (staying in or returning to a state of feeling safe and calm when stressed); reflection (noticing, naming, and understanding one’s own emotions, sensations, thoughts, values, needs, and experiences); and relationships (foundation to both well-being and resilience). In addition to the priorities identified by teachers for addressing student and teacher mental health, the report includes a brief questionnaire educators, schools, and districts can tailor to identify local needs.

“I am nervous that schools and districts across the country will use this once-in-a-generation funding opportunity to invest in interventions that don’t get to the heart of the matter. If the goal of this funding is to address the impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools across the nation, then our investments must be informed by both teacher voice and the science of trauma and attachment. The educators that nurture and care for our students have a lot of wisdom about what they need—so let's listen well so that we can spend well,” said Dr. Kelley Munger, FuelEd Partner and Impact Evaluator.

Findings

Teachers in the survey underscored that an investment in mental health and in strengthening the social and emotional support in schools is a top priority. As one teacher in the study said, “Without purposeful design and intentionality, the mental health needs of students and teachers will continue to be ignored. That, I am afraid, will create a true mental health crisis in our schools and communities.”

Finding 1. Teachers believe that schools can do more to support the mental health and well-being of students and teachers, with 60 percent saying that not enough is being done to support students and an overwhelming 72 percent saying that not enough is being done to support teachers.

Finding 2. Teachers say that student mental health can be improved with more school-based professional therapeutic resources, experiences, and staff; for students to have access to mental health programming, materials, and learning opportunities; and for more opportunities for students to have non-academic experiences and activities.

Finding 3. To support their own mental health, teachers are asking for more mental health training and resources; access to on-site therapeutic resources; and more time to both fulfill their professional responsibilities and to focus explicitly on their own mental health.

Finding 4. Collectively, teachers feel that their schools can do more to support regulation, reflection, and relationships, three pathways to support positive mental health outcomes. 
The teachers in the survey emphasized that they and their colleagues, who are closest to students, have a clear sense of the types of support they need to address mental health concerns—especially since the COVID-19 stressors only added to the inequities and challenges across the system that have long led to poor mental health outcomes. The teachers want to ensure that educational leaders hear and intentionally consider the voices and perspectives of a diverse group of teachers, students, and caregivers, and that these are inclusive of race, ethnicity, role, geography, and other demographics. As one teacher in the survey put it, “I think the best advice I have to offer is to LISTEN to what people are telling you they need. If teachers are saying they need greater support, giving them donuts for breakfast does not adequately meet that need. Listen to teachers and be proactive in response.”

Recommendations

Recommendation 1. Authentically engage, include, and listen to teachers when considering how to serve the mental health needs of educators and students.

Recommendation 2. Promote initiatives and practices that support and strengthen regulation, reflection, and relationships for students and teachers alike. 

Recommendation 3. Normalize mental health supports and resources by promoting them, subsidizing them, and embedding them in schools and school systems.

“It will take dedicated leaders to listen and make room for teachers to bring forth solutions that will benefit their students, working together to make schools and classrooms places where students and teachers flourish socially and emotionally. Teach Plus looks forward to working with all of our partners on making this report’s recommendations a reality,” said Rodriguez.

About FuelEd
FuelEd is a non-profit organization whose mission is to grow emotionally intelligent educators who build relationship-driven schools. We partner with schools to develop educators' interpersonal skills, self-awareness, and emotional well-being so that every educator can build secure relationships that provide the conditions for optimal learning and development. Our vision is a world where educator training and support—and the very definition of an educator—is reimagined to prioritize educators' emotional intelligence, emotional health, and interpersonal skills. fueledschools.org 

About Teach Plus
The mission of Teach Plus is to empower excellent, experienced, and diverse teachers to take leadership over key policy and practice issues that advance equity, opportunity, and student success. In pursuing this mission, Teach Plus is guided by the Student Opportunity Mandate​: All students should have the opportunity to achieve their potential in an education system defined by its commitment to equity, its responsiveness to individual needs, and its ability to prepare students for postsecondary success. teachplus.org