Brock researchers report on new support for social-emotional learning

Brock researchers have taken a closer look at a new resource that can help elementary teachers guide students in managing their mental health and well-being now available on online.

Researchers in Brock’s Department of Child and Youth Studies, in partnership with School Mental Health Ontario (SMHO) and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), have issued a report on the new intervention to support social-emotional learning for elementary school students across Ontario.

Assistant Professor Naomi Andrews, along with CHYS graduate students Elizabeth Al-Jbouri and Emma Peddigrew, conducted a lengthy study on the effectiveness of “Faith and Wellness: A Daily Mental Health Resource” and then released their findings over the summer.

“Faith and Wellness” is a collection of practices developed by SMHO and OECTA that can assist teachers in working with their students to manage their mental health and well-being, covering everything from stretching and deep breathing to conflict resolution and empathy.

Andrews says she took on the project because she is “passionate about research that can serve to support children and youth in real-life settings.”

“Social and emotional learning is a process of developing and applying knowledge, skills and attitudes that provide the foundation for our mental health and well-being, helping children and young people develop the intrapersonal and interpersonal skills they need to flourish throughout their life,” she says.

In 2018, as the resource was being developed, Andrews and colleague Debra Pepler from York University conducted a pilot study on its feasibility and effectiveness. Seeing promising results, Andrews extended her collaboration with SMHO and OECTA to develop a larger scale evaluation, ultimately leading to the release of the current report.

She says that her biggest takeaway from the study was the importance of creating an Intervention that is based on research evidence, while also being sensitive to potential challenges of implementation.

“By creating a set of resources that are simple, short, and cost-effective, teachers can more easily implement them into their daily teaching,” Andrews says.

Most importantly, the collection of interventions available in Faith and Wellness seem to work. Andrews notes that her team found evidence of “dosage effects — meaning that the more frequently teachers implemented the practices, the better the outcomes for both students and teachers.”

Andrews says her graduate students played a crucial role in developing the final report by carrying out data collection, inputting and analysis, supervising and training undergraduate volunteer assistants and interpreting and writing up results.

“Because I am new to Brock, when the project started I didn’t have graduate students of my own that I was supervising,” says Andrews. “So I feel very fortunate that Emma and Elizabeth were interested and saw the importance of this project to their own research and training, and also that the collaborative nature of our department enabled them to do this work with me.”

Andrews is also grateful to her community partners at SMHO and OECTA.

“It has been so gratifying to collaborate with a group of women who all bring unique skill sets to the table, but all share a common focus on supporting children and youth’s wellbeing,” she says. “I think that common goal is one of the reasons why the partnership has been so productive and rewarding.”

Andrews believes that especially in light of the current global pandemic, supporting students’ social-emotional learning needs to be a top priority for teachers.

“Students and teachers are doing their best right now during a difficult time, but there is definitely a need to continue thinking about and supporting students’ mental health and wellness,” she says. “This resource provides a large number of practices that can help to do just that.”

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