Expectations, Engagement, and Knowledge: Education From a Parent’s Viewpoint

Paul Montague, our International Digital Learning and Curriculum Manager, discusses how the knowledge parents have of education has deepened, and how their expectations of their children’s education have altered due to the Covid-19 pandemic impact.

Paul has worked in the education field for 20 years and has significant teaching and learning, digital curriculum, content, assessment, and social-emotional learning and wellbeing experience. His roles have included: Geography Teacher, School Improvement Manager and Advisor, Project Examiner, Government Advisor, Curriculum Development Manager (Pearson), International Consultant for The Middle East (GL Education), and Digital Curriculum and Learning Manager for Edmentum.

In his current role with Edmentum, he partners with, and supports, schools around the world as they introduce a range of Edmentum’s flexible digital curriculum and learning solutions.

Educational provision has been forced to evolve during the Covid-19 pandemic. Schools have adapted and adjusted to the significant challenges of maintaining health and safety, ensuring education continuity, and providing social and emotional learning and wellbeing support. Covid-19 has changed parent’s expectations of education. Parents are now playing an even greater, more active role, in their children’s education. For the first time, many are getting a closer look at what and how their children learn. They are reviewing the quality of the resources, teaching, and lessons that are being delivered and are actively evaluating the quality of provision that is being provided. We know parental engagement is critical. When it is successful it leads to improvements in student wellbeing, learning outcomes and can significantly enhance a school’s reputation. It is now, more important than it has ever been before. This is particularly true in the private international school market where expectations are always higher and competition is more intense.

Teaching at Home

It has been a challenging time for parents, particularly for primary-age children. Amelia, my nine-year-old daughter, and I have responded well to the challenge. It isn’t easy, but it has been wonderful to watch her adjust and adapt to the new normal. She is definitely developing a ‘growth mindset,’ has developed much more ‘student agency,’ and sets goals, plans, and manages her time, effort, and emotions better. She is regulating her own learning, developing effective learning habits, and has developed her own daily routine punctuated by ‘Alexa alarms’, which have replaced the school bell. The bellow of ‘Daaaaaaadd!’ occasionally breaks the calm learning environment when a particular long division question is proving troublesome, a cup of tea is required, or she would like a quick hug combined with some words of encouragement and recognition for the great work she is producing.

Every school’s digital response to the pandemic has been slightly different. I have been very fortunate as, the staff at Amelia’s school, Cyfarthfa Junior School, have adapted brilliantly. With their skill, energy, and enthusiasm, the teachers have continued to engage students in learning as they adapt to new pedagogies, processes, systems, and technologies. Amelia, who is reluctant to ask questions in class, has been able to send private messages to her teacher via Google Classroom and I have been able to communicate with her class teacher freely through email and phone calls. Live lessons have been provided, support sessions are available, and Loom has been used for asynchronous lessons. I work closely with international schools around the world and Edmentum is supporting our partner schools to deliver online, hybrid, blended, and face-to-face teaching and learning to seven million learners. I have watched in awe as bespoke solutions have been adopted and thousands of teachers have adapted and innovated using different combinations of our programs.

Our partner schools confirm that our EdTech solutions such as Exact Path and Courseware, and EducationCity are playing a vital role in supporting parents, engaging learners, and providing adaptive teaching and learning support. Parents have particularly welcomed the asynchronous, often animated, lessons and instruction that are embedded into many of our solutions. They have complimented the synchronous and asynchronous lessons teachers have provided and really reinforced the teaching that has occurred to ensure that learning is taking place.

What do our Partner Schools Think?

Schools that had already integrated EdTech into their teaching and learning provision were at a major advantage when the schools closed, and an immediate transition to distance learning was required. Head of International Primary, Henrietta Jameson at Tenby Schools Penang, is thankful that they were already using EducationCity:“ [We]were in a great position because teachers and learners were already using [EducationCity] as part of their blended learning approach, and it has made a successful transition easier to achieve. We have been…using EducationCity as the support, activity, and assessment solution. It provides students with instant feedback, and students have really responded well to the engaging, gamified material. Our parents benefit because the students are engaged, motivated, and learning independently.”

Zoe Harris, a year 3 teacher at Garden International School in Malaysia, welcomes the fact that EducationCity “is so easy for the children to access themselves…, so it does take that pressure off the parents a little bit as they don’t have to be there all the time. The material is engaging, and they immediately receive the feedback they need to improve learning. Parents and students can also access scores themselves, which means they can see progress easily.”

Our schools were quick to realize that parental collaboration was going to be critical to successful online learning. Our brilliant Implementation Team responded quickly and ran parental workshops for schools around the world that included Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Facebook Live sessions. These have been exceptionally well received as Aya Gamal, Head of Preschool, Foundation and Primary, in the Kipling School confirms “I can’t thank you enough! Workshops were very beneficial/ informative, you were great and you have helped us tremendously in clearly showing parents what EducationCity has to offer. Thank you.” The team have delivered parental workshops, and all schools involved report excellent levels of engagement, usage, completion, and skills mastery in these schools.

Liwa International School for Girls in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, recognized the importance of parental engagement. The senior leadership team created videos to help parents, most of whom are Arabic-speaking, understand Exact Path (which is now being used by 2.8 million students around the world) and guide them on how it links with MAP assessment preparation. At parents’ evenings, the school makes sure the Edmentum video is on a loop, so when parents enter the room, they can see Exact Path and its benefits. Shakila Mohammed, Assistant Principal (K-5), confirms that the parents have been “very impressed with Exact Path. It is easy for the students to use, has engaging content, is standards-aligned, and they can immediately see the progress that is being made.”

Peter Meltzer, the director of Surat Thani International School in Thailand, confirms how Exact Path has helped them solve one of the main issues of remote teaching “measuring the amount of learning that is taking place. Exact Path allows us to see how they’re moving through their learning paths, and we can immediately see when they are struggling and jump on a Microsoft Teams call to support them. This has really impressed our parents as they can see that their children are continuing to improve their level of attainment and are making progress.”

One of the most challenging aspects of remote learning has been adapting to the seemingly endless variety of different platforms and EdTech tools that schools are using. My daughter currently has eight different usernames and logins! Alex Turner, Digital Learning Leader at Garden International School in Malaysia, has welcomed the recent updates to EducationCity, which mean it now “integrates with Google and having single sign-on” [means] we have been using it more and more.” The iPad integration is really important to them because ‘every student from years three to nine brings an iPad into school, or has one at home to support home schooling.’ For them, “EducationCity is the perfect fit.”

MaryAnn Przekurat, the Director of the American School of Nouakchott, in Mauritania, explains howusing Edmentum’s digital curriculum, mentoring and training support meant that overnight they transitioned from face to face to online learning in the middle of an inspection. “It was seamless, it really did save us, and it’s moved us so far ahead of all of the schools in town. Our parents say that if we were back in the USA, our kids would be online, but they would not be getting this. They cannot believe they’re in this small country and they’re getting a better experience than if they were in their school back in the US.”

Many schools are actively reducing and consolidating the range of platforms they use. I’m delighted to say that our solutions are thriving. They are underpinned by learning science and pedagogy, contain brilliantly designed, often animated, resources and provide additional teaching and tutorial opportunities whilst also providing real-time formative feedback to teachers and learners.

Schools that are using our solutions have been overwhelmed by the positive parental feedback they have received. Utilizing the full capability of our solutions to identify and close learning gaps, support catch-up lessons, on-grade-level teaching, and extension activities, all within one easy-to-use and engaging platform, has proved to be a real winning formula for teachers, parents and the schools. Parental engagement is positive, the learning is personalised and the school reputations have been enhanced.

Parental engagement and expectation remain critical. Parents are more knowledgeable from this experience and may expect more flexible teaching and learning models to develop in the future. During his TEDGlobal 2012 discussion, Andreas Schleicher, the OECD Director for the Directorate of Education and Skill, reminded us that “Education is not a place; it’s an activity.” This can mean, with the right partnerships in place, education, theoretically, can be delivered anytime, anywhere. We are perfectly placed to support the development of schools in the future. Our exciting partnerships have already demonstrated how we can build personal solutions, around individual students, so that they can maximize their potential.

What lessons have we learned, and what will, could, and should schools look like in the future? How will parents expect them to evolve and what will parents demand of future schools? Dr. Abdulla Al Karam, Director-General of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority in Dubai, as reported in the The National News, sees an opportunity for a significant evolution in the way education is provided. He predicts that “parents will increasingly seek out tailored learning experiences to benefit their child’s particular strengths” and believes there could, in the future, “be as many models of education as there are pupils with a possibility that children could attend several schools at the same time as a shift to remote learning helps usher in a new flexible era of teaching and learning.”

Our online school, EdOptions Academy, already partners with schools to offer a wider choice of subjects to students and provide credit recovery and advanced placement courses. Many students are, therefore, already attending more than one school to access a greater range of courses and improved schedule flexibility. Our online, on-demand, 24/7 tutors are already working with schools and students to ensure learning is accelerated. Our partner, BASE Education, helps us to support the whole learner by providing social-emotional learning and wellbeing courses. Parental engagement will be even more critical in the future. They have always wanted their children to be happy and to fulfill their potential. Their collaboration during online learning has been essential. Now, they are more knowledgeable about learning and will be more demanding, and have even greater expectations.

Our solutions are award-winning and perfect for blended, hybrid, distance, and face-to-face teaching and learning. They are being used by governments, large school groups, and individual schools to accelerate learning, recover credit, improve attainment and growth.

Play-Based Learning: Here’s Why It Should Be a Part of Every Classroom

Renowned psychologist and child development theorist Jean Piaget was quoted as saying “Our real problem is – what is the goal of education? Are we forming children that are only capable of learning what is already known? Or should we try developing creative and innovative minds, capable of discovery from the preschool age on, throughout life?”

Of course, Piaget didn’t have to consider standardized assessment—and he would be at odds with those officials who prioritize high test results and good grades as the primary goals of education. Instead, Piaget would advocate for helping students understand learning as a lifelong process of discovery and joy.

We see the signature of early childhood experience literally in people’s bodies. This study from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child shows that positive early experiences lead to longer life expectancy, better overall health, and improved ability to manage stress. Plus, long-term social-emotional capabilities are more robust when children have a chance to learn through play; form deep relationships; and when their developing brains are given the chance to grow in a nurturing, language-rich, and relatively unhurried environment.

This is something that as teachers, we understand, but often find it difficult to implement given the restraints and restrictions of the modern classroom. But, it’s critical to address this disconnect directly in order to make progress. So, let’s talk about why students need play and how we can bring it into our own classrooms.

What is a Play-Based Approach to Learning?

Play is the defining feature of human development: the impulse is hardwired into us and can’t be suppressed. It’s crucial that we recognize that while the play impulse is one thing, understanding the nuts and bolts of actually playing is not always so natural, and may require careful cultivation.

That’s why a play-based approach involves both child-initiated and teacher-supported learning. The teacher encourages children’s learning and inquiry through interactions that aim to stretch their thinking to higher levels. There are other foundational thinkers who have built from Piaget’s theories that support this. Educators like Montessori and Stanley Greenspan have recognized that the way to teach a child is through their own interests and have developed fixed strategies to do so.

For example, while children are playing with blocks, a teacher can pose questions that encourage problem solving, prediction, and hypothesizing. The teacher can also bring the child’s awareness towards mathematics, science, and literacy concepts. How tall can this get? How many blocks do you need? These straightforward questions elevate the simple stacking of blocks to the application of learning. Through play like this, children can develop social and cognitive skills, mature emotionally, and gain the self-confidence required to engage in new experiences and environments.

Understanding the Benefits of Play

When children engage in real‐life and imaginary activities, play can challenge children’s thinking. 

Children learn best through first-hand experiences. Play motivates, stimulates, and supports children in their development of skills, concepts, language acquisition, communication skills, and concentration. During play, children use all of their senses, must convey their thoughts and emotions, explore their environment, and connect what they already know with new knowledge, skills, and attitudes. 

It is in the context of play that children test out new knowledge and theories. They reenact experiences to solidify understanding. And it is here where children first learn and express symbolic thought, a necessary precursor to literacy. Play is the earliest form of storytelling. And, it is how children learn how to negotiate with peers, problem-solve, and improvise.

It is in play that basic social skills—like sharing and taking turns—are learned and practiced. Children also bring their own language, customs, and culture into play. As an added benefit, they learn about their peers’ in the process.

Involvement in play stimulates a child’s drive for exploration and discovery. This motivates the child to gain mastery over their environment, promoting focus and concentration. It also enables the child to engage in the flexible and higher-level thinking processes deemed essential for the 21st-century learner. These include inquiry processes of problem-solving, analyzing, evaluating, applying knowledge, and creativity.

Finally, play supports positive attitudes toward learning. These include imagination, curiosity, enthusiasm, and persistence. The type of learning processes and skills fostered in play cannot be replicated through traditional rote learning, where the emphasis is on remembering facts.

Play-Based Learning and Executive Function

Children are naturally motivated to play. A play-based program builds on this motivation, using it as a context for learning. In this framework, children can explore, experiment, discover, and solve problems in imaginative and playful ways. They also expand their executive function skills by practicing their ability to retain information—like where a particular animal was in the spread of memory cards and what color card they have and need to win in UNO.

When students play games that involve strategy, they have an opportunity to make plans, and then to adjust those plans in response to what happens during gameplay. This engages other critical executive function skills like inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, and working memory. Examples include battleship, checkers, noughts and crosses, or hide-and-seek. These games teach children to develop a plan and adjust quickly in response to the other player.

Teachers can provide opportunities for students to build their executive function skills through meaningful social interactions and fun games—including activities as common as checkers, Simon Says, and I Spy. Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child offers lots of great ideas for children of different ages.

The Value of Active Learning

Play-based learning is an important way to develop active learning. Active learning means using your brain in lots of ways. When children play, they explore the world—and build on their understanding of the natural and social environments around them.

On the physical level, kids work on both gross and fine motor development through play. Students working in a play-based classroom explore spatial relationships and hone these important motor capabilities. In fact, it is before the age of 7 years—traditionally known as “pre-academic” age—when children desperately need to have a multitude of whole-body sensory experiences daily in order to develop strong bodies and minds. This is best done outside where the senses can be fully engaged, and children are challenged by the uneven and unpredictable, ever-changing terrain—but a well-equipped, thoughtfully set-up classroom can be just as effective.

Developing Soft Skills Through Cooperative Play

Children build language skills while developing content knowledge. Plus, cooperative experiences provide children the opportunity to cultivate social skills, competencies, and a disposition to learn.

Play also builds self-esteem. Children are most receptive to learning during play and exploration and are generally willing to persist in order to learn something new or solve a problem. The experience of successfully working through something new or challenging helps kids gain the self-confidence required to engage in new experiences and environments.   

And a big winner in play is social development. Interpersonal skills like listening, negotiating, and compromising are challenging for children. Through play, children get to practice social and language skills, think creatively, and gather information about the world through their senses. Think about the games that students come up with on their own—they are creative, often intricate, and their “rules” always have to be negotiated.

Games and Gamification

Some educators regard the time kids spend socializing with their friends while gaming online as the salvation during the COVID-19 pandemic, or in any scenario where a child might experience barriers to in-person socialization. In addition to the social connections, there is an increased understanding that video games can actually improve kids’ remote learning.  As educators, we know that using student’s passions to engage them in learning is critical and kids love games. If it’s done correctly, gaming and gamification of games can engage both intrinsic (pleasure and fulfillment) and extrinsic (recognition and rewards) motivation. 

How Can Teachers Encourage Play-Based Learning?

Teachers help enhance play-based learning by creating environments in which rich play experiences are available. The act of being a teacher is recognizing the goals of education, understanding how learning works, and figuring out how to apply all this to each student, one at a time. Teaching children how to learn is a strong basis for every grade level.

It is pretty clear that students learn through play. Some use play to explore their world, others to gain language, and the list goes on. In fact, we have also seen that it is a natural impulse—like getting hungry, or crying when upset. Try to find ways to increase the time spent on play in your class. Whether you create centers for dramatic play, bring in costume boxes, explore problem-solving with board games, or design your own multiplication board game. Use what is part of a child’s fabric to enhance instruction and learning.

Five Brain-Based Learning Approaches to Improve Learning, Retention, and Focus

What is brain-based learning?

According to The Glossary of Education Reform, the definition of brain-based learning ”refers to teaching methods, lesson designs, and school programs that are based on the latest scientific research about how the brain learns, including such factors as cognitive development—how students learn differently as they age, grow, and mature socially, emotionally, and cognitively.”

A key element of brain-based learning is that educational strategies are based on findings from neuroscience research. Of course, each student is different in the way that they learn, so it’s important to use different brain-based learning strategies in your teaching practice to appeal to a wide variety of learners and their needs.

Easy tips for implementing brain-based learning into the classroom

The International Journal of Innovative Research & Studies lays out a great set of brain-based learning strategies to implement into the classroom to improve your students’ performance and increase their chances of success. Here are five strategies to get you started:

1. Create a positive atmosphere from the beginning

Normally, students must feel physically and emotionally safe in the classroom for real learning to take place. By creating a positive classroom environment where students feel supported and encouraged, you’ll enable your students to learn the best.

Welcoming your students into the classroom each day creates a positive learning environment from the start. A study published by Sage Journals —comprising 203 students in 10 classrooms—found that greeting students at the door sets a positive tone and can increase student engagement and reduce disruptive behavior. Spending a few moments welcoming students promotes a sense of belonging, giving them the social and emotional support that encourages them to feel invested in their learning.

2. Establish “turn and talk” time

When students talk about concepts they’ve learned, they’re more likely to retain the information. Implementing “turn and talk” time into your lessons can help students process and retain what they’ve just read, discuss ideas before sharing them with the class, and clarify problems they may have had while completing homework. This strategy can be implemented as a warm-up activity, during class discussions, or as a closing activity towards the end of the school day. Watch the video below to see how one middle school science teacher uses “turn and talk” time to help his students discuss their ideas.

By letting your students discuss their ideas, you’re giving them a chance to describe what they’ve learned in their own words and helping them explain their thoughts to their classmates. The Teacher Toolkit has great resources on this practice to help you get started. Utilizing the raise hand feature in most video conferencing platforms to make this more organized if you’re teaching virtually.

3. Incorporate visual elements

Many people are visual learners who absorb and recall information best by seeing. You probably already have posters and visuals in your classroom or in your background if you are teaching remotely, but are they helping your learners? These eight strategies from TeachThought are designed to help you optimize the visuals in your classroom to appeal to your students.

In a virtual setting, providing additional context to lessons with visual elements, such as breaking up your slides with a GIF that calls students’ attention back during a class or finding a quick video of the science concepts you are discussing, are simple ways to hold student interest remotely. Changing out your remote learning video tool background to align with the theme of your lesson or wearing a silly hat or decorative necktie are other fun ways to incorporate visual elements into your teaching. Check out these fun virtual backgrounds from We Are Teachers.

4. Break learning into chunks

Chunking, or breaking down difficult or large pieces of text or information into smaller pieces, has been proven to help students identify keywords and phrases, paraphrase, and understand the text in their own words. By breaking down a large piece of text into more manageable pieces, students are able to better understand and comprehend the material.

Chunking can also be used to break down pieces of your instruction into smaller, manageable pieces. Work through lengthy instructions step by step with your students to help them understand each piece of what is being asked of them.

5. Do some physical activity

Brain breaks are a great way to get your students up and moving, and they have been shown to increase brain activity. You’re probably already familiar with how fidgety your students can get when sitting at their desks for long periods, so incorporating some movement into the day can help. Luckily, brain breaks are easy to implement in any classroom setting, and they require almost no setup.

We Are Teachers have created a list of some great brain break activities to try, most of which can be done virtually.

How Can Educators Help Students Cope with Anxiety?

Creating a calm classroom environment that is conducive to learning is essential for any teacher. And, while mental health awareness is on the rise across the globe, it can be challenging to identify students who might be struggling with mental health disorders such as anxiety. It’s important to understand how anxiety can manifest itself in different individuals and to develop classroom procedures that are supportive and effective for helping students who struggle with it, whether they have been diagnosed or not. Here we explore what anxiety can look like in your students and examine some strategies that can help.

What are the Signs of Anxiety in Children?

Across the world, we are becoming more aware that anxiety in children is rising. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 10-20% of children and adolescents experience mental health conditions worldwide. Globally, anxiety is the sixth leading cause of illness and disability for those aged 10-14 years. Whilst this statistic is distressing, the good news is that mental health awareness is firmly on the rise and more prevalent than ever in classrooms across the world.

Anxiety is more than just a temporary fear—it is a constant state of worry or nervousness for some students. While the signs of anxiety look different for everyone, here are a few common symptoms of anxiety, taken from the charity Mind:

  • Feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax
  • Having a sense of dread, or fearing the worst
  • Feeling light-headed or dizzy
  • Feeling restless or unable to sit still
  • Headaches, backache or other aches and pains
  • Sweating or hot flushes
  • Sleep problems
  • Nausea

Anxiety can also impact a student’s educational performance, and result in issues such as:

  • High absenteeism rates
  • Difficulty processing and retrieving information
  • Lack of sleep
  • Disruptive behavior in class
  • Fractured relationships with peers and teachers
  • Irregular homework completion and classroom participation
  • Complaints of physical ailments

It is important to keep in mind that different factors may be at play when examining a student’s mental health. According to the charity Young Minds, the following circumstances are an example of what can make some children and young people feel more anxious:

  • Experiencing lots of change in a short space of time, such as moving house or school
  • Having responsibilities that are beyond their age and development, for example caring for other people in their family
  • Being around someone who is very anxious, such as a parent
  • Struggling at school, including feeling overwhelmed by work, tests or peer groups
  • Experiencing family stress around things like housing, money, and debt
  • Going through distressing or traumatic experiences in which they do not feel safe, such as being bullied

Strategies to Help Combat Anxiety in the Classroom

Schools can often be a stressor and exacerbate anxiety in some students. As we have touched upon, while the root cause of a student’s anxiety might stem from something outside the classroom, there are ways to help mitigate situations in the classroom that might cause a student to feel anxious. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Implement mindfulness practices

When a student is beginning to feel overwhelmed with anxiety, leading deep breathing and mindfulness exercises is a quick way to slow down one’s breathing and any racing thoughts. Deep breathing’s physical effect on one’s body can help a student in distress feel calmer in a matter of minutes. These deep breathing exercises from Coping Skills for Kids are a great resource to get you started. If you’re looking for an app to use, Headspace has a section dedicated for children, so that you can lead group meditation sessions in the classroom or virtually!

  1. Offer extra time on homework or tests

If time limits on homework or exams cause anxiety in your classroom, consider offering extra time for completion or alternate methods of turning in work. For example, if a student becomes anxious about the amount they must write, consider allowing that student to complete the work by typing or delivering it in an oral format.

  1. Is class participation causing anxiety? Consider a few alternatives

Speaking in front of a group of peers can be anxiety-inducing for some students. Try offering a few alternatives to classroom discussions like turning around and sharing answers with a partner instead of the whole class or using whiteboards or notecards to hold up answers instead of saying them out loud. These strategies will help make your next classroom discussion less nerve-racking for all involved.

  1. Provide cool-down spaces in the classroom or “cool-down passes” for a quick break

The sights and sounds of a classroom can quickly become overwhelming for someone struggling with anxiety. Offer a space in the classroom or a “cool-down pass” so that a student can step outside if they feel they need to. When a student is experiencing anxiety, their mind is probably racing, and often, a quick moment to cool down and relax can be the key to managing anxiety. It’s also important to let your students know that it is completely OK for them to take advantage of these spaces or passes. Anything you can to emphasize that students shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed of experiencing anxiety, and normalizing anxiety is key.

  1. Work in partnership with parents and the school counselor to consider other adjustments

If a student’s anxiety is becoming a major problem in the classroom, consider working with your school’s guidance counselor and the student’s parents to put together a plan of other adjustments. Sharing information and problem-solving with all parties is an important part of making sure that you can help put together a comprehensive strategy that supports a student’s anxiety. This list from Psycom is a great resource to help brainstorm accommodations for an anxious student.

5 Books to Read Aloud to Support Social-Emotional Learning

Now more than ever, social-emotional learning (SEL) plays a critical role in children’s long-term wellbeing and academic success. According to CASEL (the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), an effective SEL framework incorporates five key competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

Teachers have the powerful opportunity to kickstart children’s social-emotional learning through early education. Fortunately, you can introduce SEL concepts through simple, daily activities which you may have already incorporated into your virtual or in-person instructional time – like reading aloud in the classroom.

Below, we’ve curated a list of books aligned to the five key components of an SEL framework. In no time, you can begin to equip your early learners with lifelong tools that will help them to build confidence and empower their success in the classroom and beyond.


Self-awareness is the ability to understand your own inner world. This involves your feelings, thoughts, and values, and how they impact behavior and choices.

The Way I Feel by Janan Cain (ages 2-8)

This book helps children name their feelings by connecting words to relatable emotions and inviting the reader to talk about those experiences. A key message of this book is that it’s okay to feel what you feel; emotions come and go, and they are neither good nor bad.


Self-management is the ability to effectively regulate your actions and emotions. This includes skills like managing stressful situations, setting and achieving goals, and persevering through challenges.

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires (ages 3-7)

This book conveys to children that it’s okay to make mistakes. It also explores how children can acknowledge and respond to emotions like anger and frustration when things may not go as they expected.

Social Awareness

Social awareness is the ability to understand other perspectives, offer compassion, and empathize with individuals from different backgrounds or cultures. It also relates to an understanding of social norms, social systems, and appropriate behaviors. 

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold (ages 4-8)

In this book, a diverse group of children go through a day at school, where each student is welcomed, supported, and celebrated for the unique aspects of who they are.

Relationship Skills

Relationship skills allow children to create and sustain healthy, rewarding relationships with individuals of all backgrounds. Specific skills include the ability to listen and communicate effectively, cooperate and share with others, resolve conflict, stand up for others, and offer or ask for help when needed.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson (ages 5-8)

This book teaches children about interacting and forming friendships with others by embracing an open, accepting, kind, and inclusive mindset. It also helps children build a healthier narrative around feelings such as not fitting in, as well as reframe negative perceptions of peers who seem “different.”

Responsible Decision-Making

Responsible decision-making involves the ability to anticipate consequences, make sound judgements, and evaluate the impact of your behavior on yourself and others.

Franklin Wants a Pet by Paulette Bourgeois (ages 3-8)

Franklin has always wanted a pet, but his parents worry if he’s able to take care of one. In this book, we follow Franklin as he thoughtfully picks which type of animal to adopt and conveys to his parents that he’s capable of looking after it.

Using Classroom Culture, Test-Taking Skills, and Mindfulness to Overcome Test Season Stress

Testing season comes and goes every school year, and each year, it brings a mixture of emotions and challenges for both educators and students. This year is no different. In fact, it is actually providing some never-before-seen stressors centered around the uncertainty currently looming over testing season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To help you calm fraught nerves and ensure that students are successful with high-stakes exams, we’ve put together our favorite tips on cultivating a productive classroom environment, teaching effective test-taking strategies, and leveraging mindfulness as your test-prep secret weapon.

Set the Tone for Testing Success

Your students are always playing “follow the leader,” even when they don’t realize it. As an educator, you spend a lot of time with your class, and students will naturally look to you as a model for behavior. If you let stress get the best of you during standardized testing season, there’s a good chance your students will mirror that stress. Here are four ways to make your classroom (whether that’s virtual or in-person) a low-stress environment.

1. Build trust

Every educator knows that relationships are at the core of teaching and learning. By focusing on those close relationships with your students throughout the school year, you’ll build up trust that can make the testing season a much smoother time of year. Ensure that students are clear on classroom expectations, and avoid surprising them with unexpected quizzes or assignments. When students know they can count on you and can go to you with problems, those are the first steps toward a positive classroom environment.

2. Admit that test stress can be a problem

Test anxiety (especially this year!) is a real thing, and it’s OK to talk about it with your students. Ask students how they’re feeling about upcoming exams, and acknowledge it. Bear in mind that test anxiety won’t look the same in any two students, so make sure that you’re familiar with all the symptoms. Keep an eye out for physical or behavioral signs, and take the time to understand the sources of different students’ stress. It’s also beneficial to make it a priority to communicate with classroom families, caregivers, and other school staff about test anxiety and the impact it has on student performance during standardized testing. The more support you can offer students, the better their exams will go.

3. Keep things in perspective

In the grand scheme of things, no single test is going to define students’ academic careers or have that significant of an impact on their future. After all, it’s just one test. As an adult with years of life experience, chances are you can grasp this reality more easily than your students. So, make it a priority to share this perspective with your students regularly, and offer plenty of gentle reminders that no test defines how smart, successful, or worthy they are. It may also be helpful to acknowledge how proud students should feel that they have continued to make progress during an incredibly challenging school year, unlike one anyone has experienced before.

4. Maintain positivity

A little positive thinking can go a long way. Instead of focusing on all the material that still needs to be reviewed (or how tough this school year has been), remind your students that you believe in their abilities and encourage them to apply their best effort. As test days approach, keep the mood light in your classroom by infusing fun into review exercises, celebrating students’ hard work, and making time to ask students about life outside of school.

Focus on Effective Test-Taking Strategies

Test-taking is, without a doubt, a skill that can be learned. And by treating it as such in your classroom, you can help students overcome self-doubt and do their best when the testing day arrives. Make time in your test-prep schedule to focus on these test-taking strategies in addition to standard content review.

  • Work with students to build a personal study schedule
  • Familiarize students with the format of the test, including technology-enhanced items they may encounter
  • Help students break down complicated questions or problems into discrete tasks
  • Introduce mnemonic devices as a way to help students remember terms and concepts
  • Coach students to read each question entirely before answering
  • Focus on time management, and encourage students to skip over questions they don’t understand and return to them at the end of the test as time allows

Take Inspiration from Mindfulness Approaches

Undoubtably, this is not the first time you’ve heard about the value of mindfulness when it comes to managing stress. Simple strategies, both while you’re preparing for tests with students in the classroom and when students are actually taking their exams, can go a long way toward ensuring that students are able to fully demonstrate their knowledge. Here are six of our favorite mindfulness strategies to start with.

1. Create a “calm down spot”

Designate a quiet corner in your classroom where students can go when they need to take a few moments to calm their anxiety. Make sure that your “calm down spot” has comfy seating, and stock it with sensory items like fidget spinners, stress balls, and headphones for calming music. You can also hang up posters with breathing exercises or keep a stack of reflection sheets for students to journal about their feelings. If your students are learning virtually from home, suggest to them and their families that they make their own “calm down spot” where they can go if they need a moment.

2. Show students how to breathe mindfully

Focusing on breathing is so simple and effective. Teach students some basic mindful breathing exercises that they can use anytime, anywhere (including during tests!) to help them calm down and be more present. Even having students simply place a hand on their stomach to observe how it expands and contracts with their breath can have a significant calming effect.

3. Lead guided meditations

Guided meditation can be a great tool to help students calm down and focus on the task at hand. Try leading your students in a simple, short (5-10 minute) guided meditation to kick off test review sessions—you can even incorporate some visualizations of what success on their upcoming test will feel like.

4. Encourage mindful coloring

Not every moment of the school day needs to be dedicated to intentional review and test preparation. Coloring, especially using mandalas and other pattern sheets, can be a great way to give students a mental break, decrease anxiety, and improve focus.

5. Come up with a mantra

We all have a continuous stream of self-talk, and that inner monologue can have a huge effect on stress levels. Working with your students to come up with a classwide or personal mantra to use during their test can be a great approach to help students manage their thoughts, maintain that critical positive attitude, and stay focused.

6. Motivate students to move

Humans aren’t designed for endless hours of sitting at desks—so is it any surprise that students tend to get anxious and fidgety in the classroom? Try incorporating movement into your classroom routine when preparing for tests to give students a much-needed break.