As teachers and students approach another year of adjusting to a “new normal” school leaders and administration search for ways to improve student morale and motivation on and off campus.

School leaders and teachers had predicted a disruption in student learning as all students learn in different ways. The effects of prolonged remote learning have led to rising rates of depression and anxiety in students, particularly students of color.

There is no doubt the effects this pandemic has had on our students across the country and beyond. What is sometimes forgotten is the positive impact this has had on our students’ skill set. Students have picked up viable life skills throughout this pandemic, learning how to quickly adjust to virtual learning in a short amount of time. Students have also learned self-autonomy, and time management as they tackled how to meet assignment deadlines independently, how to balance work, sports, social relationships with friends, as well as meet graduation requirements.

When students get a sense of who they are and what they want to become in the future, they feel inspired to get there and naturally become interested in taking those first steps in the planning process. Students need to know how education is meaningful and directly affects their future. It is essential for students at any grade level to have motivational lessons that make those real-world connections applicable to their future. When students understand the direct connection education has on their desired career goals, they inevitably take an interest in investing their focus towards their education.

This connection was lost to some students- resulting in less than successful outcomes. Many felt overwhelmed, depressed, disconnected and a lack of motivation, so they gave up. So how do we change this? Let us start by strengthening student engagement and implementing regular mental health check ins through meaningful dialogue and accessible lessons taught in the classroom or at home through a user-friendly virtual platform.

Let’s celebrate these achievements by taking this commitment to learning to the next step by implementing lessons that will help them towards career planning and goal setting.

The Benefits of Early Career Planning

Recent studies have shown high school students tend to drop out or leave school early, mainly because they have trouble relating to the educational curriculum, that are sometimes deficient in making those real-world connections that is often the source to spark their emotional appeal. If students cannot relate to the lessons being taught, they are more likely to be disengaged. It is imperative to influence various levels of career interests in educational lessons early on to keep students engaged and motivated to continue their education.

The essential connection between school and future possibilities must be implemented as early as elementary school. Students exposed to career exploration at an early age have a higher self-esteem, increase in hope, despite challenging and everchanging times, a solid foundation to set achievable, measurable, and time-bound goals to keep them driven throughout their academic journey.

Supporting Social and Emotional Wellness of Students

It is important students feel safe in their learning environment enough to ask for help. Educators should incorporate 5-to-10-minute brain breaks to discuss their feelings or concerns about current events and or career interests and inspirations. Scientists have reported throughout their research that sleep deprivation leads to lower alertness and concentration. Sleep helps learning and memory, therefore helping students to keep new information. According to the CDC, students ages 6-12 should get an average of 9 to 12 hours of sleep at night, and teenagers ages 13-18 should get at least 8 hours of sleep per night-to help stay focused, improve concentration as well as improve academic performance.

Attitude is everything! Teachers should inspire their students to think positively, which can be particularly challenging during these very uncertain times. Educators should remain vigilant of verbal and non-verbal cues from students to better understand and assess how each individual student is feeling and coping through the effects of COVID-19. Uplifting students’ spirits with a positive activity or Socratic Seminar on aspiring career topics, can instigate thoughtful discussion  that incorporates whole class participation and doing so, can help to avoid unwanted feelings of disconnect and disengagement.

Social and Emotional Learning Programs Improve Academic Outcomes

School-based social-emotional and character development programs can influence academic-related outcomes. Students who actively take part in these programs tend to show significant improvement in learning gains and growth in academic motivation. As a result, notably less absenteeism has been reported among students from low-income families, as well as a substantial improvement in reading and math scores on statewide performance assessments.

Research statistics have shown programs that support students’ development in effective communication, negotiating conflicts, practicing empathy while understanding their own skills and abilities, managing their emotions and behavior and other social and emotional skills can lead to better academic outcomes.