Can Supporting Teacher SEL and Well-Being Improve Student Reading Proficiency and Behavior? Exciting New Findings

Mark T. Greenberg

You cannot build a long-term future on short-term thinking!

Teaching is a very rewarding profession, but it can also be stressful and recent events have led to increased awareness of the stresses faced by educators, and the need to provide quality supports to educators.  But a very big question in our field is “can supporting educator well-being and SEL lead to direct changes in student outcomes?”  This is a fundamental question as school leaders and policy-makers often say that if an program for professional development (PD) does not directly improve student outcomes it is not worthwhile.  So, most PD for educator well-being is done without much forethought or planning and honestly is likely to have little or no impact on teachers or students.

The CARE Study in New York City Public Schools
New peer review findings on the CARE Program (Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education)  show that providing CARE PD to elementary school teachers not only improves their teaching/pedagogy, but it also improves teacher’s ratings of student’s academic proficiency. 

A Large and Careful Study
These findings result from a large randomized study in New York City (funded by the US Department of Education) led by Josh Brown at Fordham Univ. and Patricia Jennings at the Univ. of Virginia.  The study randomized 224 teachers in 36 public schools in a high poverty region of New York City (the Bronx and Upper Manhattan). Over 5000 Grade 1-5 students were assessed before teachers received the CARE PD (fall) and afterwards (the following spring). Children’s ethnic and racial background was majority Hispanic and Black (87%). Teachers were ethnically and racially diverse (33% White, 31% Hispanic, 26% African American/Black, 5% Asian, and 5% mixed racial background).

What Are the Findings on Student Outcomes?
This well-controlled study showed that teachers who were randomized to receive the CARE PD had children who showed significant improvements across the school year.  Children in classrooms of CARE teachers had significantly higher posttest scores on
engagement in the classroom (Effect Size/ES = .12), motivation to learn (ES = .07), and reading proficiency (ES = .07) relative to children of teachers in the control condition.

These findings support previously reported findings on CARE in New York City schools showing short-term and long-term improvements in teacher well-being and resiliency, as well as improving the quality of classroom atmosphere and the quality of observed teacher’s pedagogy/teaching. They also support the conceptual predictions of the Prosocial Classroom Model (Jennings and Greenberg, 2009) that improving teachers social and emotional well-being can support student’s social, emotional, and academic outcomes.

What Are the Key Features of CARE?
Drawing on current findings in the field of neuroscience, CARE offers instruction in cognitive and emotion skills that help reduce stress by promoting understanding, recognition and regulation of emotion. It introduces teachers to mindful awareness practices, beginning with short periods of silent reflection and extending to role-playing and other exercises that bring mindful awareness to the challenging situations teachers often encounter.  By practicing these skills, teachers learn to cultivate calmness, awareness, presence, compassion, empathy and ability to listen. Learn more from the voices of teachers.

How is CARE Delivered?
CARE is delivered both Online and Face-to-Face, but face-to-face training is recommended to increase engagement, build community and adapt the training to each school context. When CARE is delivered it requires 3 days spread out over 2 to 3 months during the school year (online and post-training resources provide additional support). 


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