On October 19, 2021, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Dr. Miguel A. Cardona released a new report for educators, schools, and districts to help promote the mental health and social and emotional well-being of students. Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral and Mental Health identifies seven key challenges to providing school- or program-based mental health support across early childhood, K–12 schools, and higher education settings, along with seven corresponding recommendations to increase the capacity of schools to meet the social, emotional and behavioral health needs of students.
Challenge 1: Rising Mental Health Needs and Disparities Among Children and Student Groups Recommendation: Prioritize Wellness for Every Child, Student, Educator, and Provider
The report emphasizes wellness programming for children, students, and staff including stress reduction, mental and physical wellness routines such as yoga, mindfulness activities, meditation, and any additional calming routines to improve self-regulation. One recommended solution is to build routines within the daily schedule for social time, self-care, and program or school-wide calming strategies. Additionally, identify specific ways to promote wellness and reduce stress among staff.
Inner Explorer’s audio-guided programming for grades PK-12 brings a series of 5-10 minute daily mindfulness practices to students, educators, and families. Our Mindfulness-Based Social Emotional Learning (MBSEL) program is the foundation on which all other mental and physical wellness routines can be built.
Challenge 2: Perceived Stigma is a Barrier to Access Recommendation: Enhance Mental Health Literacy and Reduce Stigma and Other Barriers to Access
School and program staff can set a tone about the acceptance and importance of mental health by demonstrating an understanding and appreciation for mental health equal to caring for physical health. Schools need to recognize and respond to signs and symptoms of social, emotional, and behavioral needs.
Just like brushing teeth every day promotes dental health, a daily mindfulness practice promotes mental health. Inner Explorer helps communities build a mindfulness habit by linking students, teachers, and families to a shared daily experience; when all members of the community are informed about mindfulness and practice together, it reduces stigma and promotes a safe, inclusive environment.
Challenge 3: Ineffective Implementation of Practices Recommendation: Implement a Continuum of Evidence-Based Prevention Practices
Implement a continuum of evidence-based prevention practices within a Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) framework where students can access programs and strategies universally (Tier 1), in small groups (Tier 2), or individually (Tier 3), with an emphasis on primary prevention practices at Tier 1. Specifically, the report encourages that “schools and programs may use their data to identify universal needs and adopt a Tier 1 mindfulness-based practice to teach resilience and other coping skills to students…” (24)
There are now more than 7,000 studies that prove the efficacy of the world-renowned Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program on which Inner Explorer is formatted. Our MBSEL scaled programming supports educators and students at all three levels of the MTSS pyramid.
Challenge 4: Fragmented Delivery System Recommendation: Establish an Integrated Framework of Educational, Social, Emotional, and Behavioral-Health Support for All
Create a positive school culture where the learning and social environments feel safe and supportive, and the education system responds to the needs of its students. This includes professional development for educators around social, emotional, and behavioral programs and strategies so that everyone feels confident and clear about their roles in an interconnected education-mental health system.
MBSEL helps to transform school and district culture by creating a mindful learning community for educators, students, and families with common language and practices. Inner Explorer offers age-appropriate mindfulness practices for students and features to support educators, school staff, and families in the unique challenges that they face. Read more here.
Challenge 5: Policy and Funding Gaps Recommendation: Leverage Policy and Funding
Through the pandemic recovery funds provided through ESSER, school districts have new resources to expand social, emotional, and behavioral programs that promote mental health and well-being, as well as offer educators professional development training.
Inner Explorer has identified the major aspects of ESSER funding, otherwise known as COVID-Relief Education Funds, that can be used by school districts for MBSEL programs and professional development training. Also, see Frequently Asked Questions for more information on the use of ESSER funds.
Challenge 6: Gaps in Professional Development and Support Recommendation: Enhance Workforce Capacity
Focus on improving school climate and implementing wellness programming for all three tiers of an MTSS. Expand or clarify functions of the existing school, program, and district staff to provide mental health support. Provide professional development training so that educators and faculty can effectively implement evidence-based practices throughout the school setting and further strengthen educators’ mental health knowledge and capacity.
Recent studies have shown that mindfulness-based interventions have an overall positive impact on the mental health and well-being of educators.
A daily mindfulness practice reduces stress and increases resiliency, creating classroom environments where educators are better prepared to teach and students are ready to learn. Inner Explorer was the subject of three randomized controlled trials (RCTs) where teachers reported experiencing less stress and secondary trauma (43% reduction) and indicated fewer behavior issues in the classroom (60% reduction).
Challenge 7: Lack of Access to Usable Data to Guide Implementation Decisions Recommendation: Use Data for Decision Making to Promote Equitable Implementation and Outcomes
Regularly collecting, analyzing, and acting on data is critical to supporting the mental health needs of students and educators. Schools should measure, monitor, and evaluate the effectiveness of implementing mental health programs and whether they are achieving the desired outcomes.
Inner Explorer uses an Engagement Score System (E-Score) to evaluate usage of the program. The E-Score allows the Inner Explorer team to guide school districts by monitoring multiple variables: active usage, recency of usage, consistency of practice, and percentage of active schools. The use of this comprehensive score makes it easy to evaluate month-to-month trends. The effectiveness of Inner Explorer's programs has been documented through several randomized controlled trials as well as qualitative case studies.
“There is a unique opportunity to reconceptualize the role of schools and programs in creating nurturing environments for students, families, and educators to address the mental health needs and overall well-being of children and students.”
(U.S. Department of Education, Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral, and Mental Health Needs, 34)