Starting conversations on social and emotional learning with parents and teachers is critical for building family engagement – Brookings Institution

Posted: June 7, 2022 at 1:33 am

Build back better and build back equal have become familiar slogans used to capture a global commitment to redressing educational inequities and system failures brought to center stage during the COVID-19 pandemic. These slogans are also a way for decisionmakers, educators, and communities to verbalize how and why our education systems are not adequately and inclusively serving all students and families. The Akanksha Foundation, a civil society organization based in Mumbai that works with government schools, is using build back better to create momentum for promoting the social and emotional learning (SEL) and well-being of students.

Akanksha is building this momentum through fostering intentional conversations between families and teachers on how to ensure that schools are not just preparing children academically, but also promoting SEL alongside civics education and work readiness skills development. In research conducted in collaboration with the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at Brookings, Akanksha discovered that parents and teachers have different beliefs and perceptions about the purpose of school. Rather than viewing these differences as a hurdle to building back better, Akanksha is using this as an opportunity to start critical dialogues on SEL and build synergy between schools and families.

According to a study on multidimensional povertywhich measures health, education, and standard of livingroughly a quarter of Indians are living in multidimensional poverty. As in other parts of the world, the pandemic has increased food insecurity, lack of sufficient medical services, poverty, unemployment, and interruptions in school in Indiaall of which negatively impact students well-being. Akanksha is using a building back better approach to acknowledge students experiences with multidimensional poverty, and to bring communities together to address learning gaps and the social and emotional needs of children and their families.

Established in 1991 as a group of student volunteers, Akanksha is now a professional institution and network of over 700 educators, staff, and volunteers. They are on a mission to provide equitable and quality educational opportunities to over 10,000 marginalized children in 27 government K-10 schools in the cities of Mumbai, Pune, and Nagpur. Akankshas teaching and learning approach focuses on the holistic physical and mental development of students and draws on Emory Universitys Social, Emotional and Ethical Learning curriculum. Akanksha is using this curriculum alongside teacher professional development activities, family engagement strategies, and systems change efforts to build a culture of well-being in schools.

Holding intentional conversations with parents and teachers is a step toward building greater alignment and collaboration between families and schools on the importance of SEL. According to one teacher leader from a Mumbai school, Children studying in our schools often come from households and communities where they experience trauma, be it physical or mental, regularly. SEL plays a key role here in giving them a platform to talk about and learn healthy mechanisms to cope with this trauma. Additionally, a healthy and balanced mind also strengthens their academic abilities. Integrating SEL with academic development is shown to foster educational success.

As a member of the Family Engagement in Education Network (FEEN), Akanksha knows that family engagement is critical to transforming education systems to better serve children, families, and educators. Started by CUE, the FEEN is a peer-learning network made up of over 50 member teams representing government jurisdictions, educator and parent associations, and civil society organizations from 12 countries around the world. In addition to being active in the FEEN, Akanksha has been using the Conversation Starter Tools to capture the perspectives of teachers, parents, and students on the purpose of education and their level of trust and alignment, along with other measures. They are using the findings to inform conversations between families and schools that lead to evidence-based strategies to increase family engagement. The tools include checklists for contextualizing the survey language and design, as well as guidance on how to analyze and use data to inform conversations. The tools are part of Collaborating to transform and improve education systems: A playbook for family-school engagement and are currently being revised and internationally validated in collaboration with the FEEN.

Between December 2021 and January 2022, Akanksha surveyed 323 parents and 109 educators (teachers, school leadership, counselors, and administrators) in government schools in Mumbai and Pune. The findings from these surveys showed that parents and teachers are on different pages when it comes to the purpose of school, and that greater trust and alignment are needed. Parents emphasized academic learning as the main purpose of school, whereas teachers prioritized SEL. Over half of teachers (54 percent) believed SEL was the main purpose of school compared to those who saw civics education (19 percent) and an economic purpose (20 percent)or gaining work readiness skillsas the priority. Only a small percentage of teachers (7 percent) saw academics as the main purpose of education.

On the other hand, most parents (42 percent) believed that academic preparation was the main purpose of school, followed by civics education (21 percent) and SEL (21 percent). Less than a quarter (16 percent) saw the main purpose of school as economic. This trend held true for parents across gender and age of their child (kindergarten through secondary school). However, parents with lower education levels prioritized academics to a greater extent than parents with higher education levels. This is likely because academic and work skills are seen as increasing social mobility, especially among groups who are historically marginalized by class, caste, or urban or rural residence.

Teachers rightly perceived that parents prioritized academic preparation as one of the main purposes of education. However, parents believed that teachers also prioritized academics over other purposes, which was not the case. As one school leader in Mumbai stated, Parents may not be aware of the schools role in childrens SEL development in the same way they see schools as leading students academic preparation. This perception gap is shown in Figure 1 below, where there is a notably larger difference in perceptions on academics and SEL as the main purpose of school.

Surveying parents and teachers is just the first step in understanding their values and beliefs on education and utilizing evidence to spark conversations. Akanksha will use their survey findings toward three key actions to increase family engagement and promote systems transformation in their partner schools.

In order to build back better, parents and families must have spaces where they can discuss their different perspectives on education with teachers and school leaders. Data is critical to informing these conversations. Intentional and data-informed discussions can lead to greater trust, as well as meaningful collaboration. Akanksha is still trying to develop its approach for increasing family engagement, but these conversations are an important step to working more inclusively and intentionally with parents.

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Starting conversations on social and emotional learning with parents and teachers is critical for building family engagement - Brookings Institution

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