July 8, 2020

Partner Q&A: Why SEL should be mandatory in schools this fall

Q&A with Angela Mackenzie, Director of Library and Digital Literacy at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School

Over the past few months, our team at The Social Institute has spent time every week huddling with students, educators, and our Research Advisory Committee to discuss how best to support students during virtual-learning. We’ve found that SEL classes have been a game-changer for educators to assess their student’s well-being and will continue to be critical as they start classes this fall – whether they are in person or online. 

But what do you do as an educator when you see the need for mental health and well-being education but your SEL classes are either optional or not prioritized in the current class schedule? 

Angela Mackenzie is the Director of Library and Digital Literacy at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in CA, one of TSI’s partner schools and a place where SEL is highly valued. We virtually sat down with her to discuss what she’s learned about having mandatory SEL during remote learning, her school’s plans for fall 2020, and advice for those who hope to implement SEL this fall. 

TSI: How did your school approach advisory and SEL when you shifted to remote learning? 

Angela: Luckily, advisory groupings were already in place and it was built into our schedule. When we went to remote learning we kept the schedule and advisory the same. We were trying to give students that routine and part of that is an advisory meeting once a week minimum.

In virtual learning, advisory ended up being a fun bonding time because the kids just needed a break. They were going to all of their classes, inundated with school work, and they needed to use this time to connect. 

One of the great ideas that I heard about was advisors went on a “hike” together with their students. They would get on Zoom or Facetime and just walk and chat. A lot of advisors got creative with games and trivia and did a great job of keeping it fun and light. But then, of course, built into that was that mental health check-in.

Based on the past few months, what are your top learnings about mental health and wellness? And what are you doubling down on this fall? 

Angela: We learned that the small group environment in advisory is where we were able to identify the students that really needed more of us and needed help. 

I also think it’s good for the students to see that the adults also feel overwhelmed and worried. They can all come together and say, “Ok we’re in this together. It’s not just a kid thing.” 

We’ve redesigned our schedule for the fall and I can happily say that though there may have been some give and take, we did not cut advisory. We instead took time from tutorials and built that into other places. Right now it’s looking like advisory will be at least twice a week. 

What do you hope the daily advisory experience will look like this coming fall? 

Angela: My wish and hope are that it will be mostly mental health. I know this next year is not going to be easy for many many reasons. One is the anxiety and the unknowns, but also the kids aren’t going to be social like they would normally be in school. At St. Margaret’s, the students are going to be in cohorts that stay together all day and they won’t necessarily be with their best friends. I think the most important thing for all of us next year is that mental health needs are met and there is a daily check-in.

Knowing most faculty are feeling fatigued, what message would you tell them about the importance of advisory and SEL this coming fall?  

Angela: The faculty needs this as much as the students do. It can only help us in our teaching, in how we love our students every day, in how we make them feel cared for, and having that connection with just a handful of students on a deeper level is good for our mental health too. It makes us better teachers. 

What would you tell an educator who wants to have mandatory advisory but doesn’t have the support from their leadership team yet? How could they go about advocating for dedicated time for student mental health and wellbeing? 

Angela: Try to find where it is in your organization that your voice can be the most heard. Present it as, “Here is what I’m seeing, here is what I think could help, and here’s why. Can we try something together?” 

Approach it knowing it might not be perfect and look at it as a pilot. We’re design thinking! Here is where we are going to start, our end users are students, let’s try this and get their feedback and take it from there. 

Fitting in mandatory advisory is definitely doable, you just have to recognize where the biggest need is going to be next year. 

To learn more about how #WinAtSocial can fit into your advisory plans for the fall contact us.  


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The Social Institute partners with schools nationwide to empower students, parents, and educators to navigate social-emotional health, social media, and technology positively through comprehensive, gamified lessons that meet students on their level. We have partnered with forward-thinking institutions across the nation, including Ravenscroft School, Gaston Day School, Miss Porter’s School, Gilman School, Woodward Academy, U.S. Olympic athletes, Duke Men’s Basketball, ESPN, and others. For more information, contact us.