Making social-emotional education accessible for everyone
Emotions in the Classroom
Emotions play an important role in the classroom. They have a big impact on learning and classroom culture, and they can tell teachers a lot about how their students are doing. Today, research in emotional health and mental wellbeing is placing a lot of emphasis on the education young people receive around their feelings. We hear this a lot with increased talk about social-emotional learning, or SEL.
Successful SEL is proven to increase academic achievement, lower behavioral issues, and improve long-term mental and physical health (you can imagine for both students and teachers).
Yet, emotions in the classroom, just like in life, are complicated and introducing SEL programs is a big ask when teachers are already working overtime to support children in reading, math, science, and the arts. Many schools struggle to successfully incorporate SEL programs successfully (or at all) due to lack of time, money, teacher training, and other resources. At YouHue we asked, is there a way to make SEL more accessible and effective for all schools?
YouHue began in 2015 as part of a research project to help advance SEL education worldwide by integrating the psychology of emotions, child development, education, and healthy technology design. We are a growing team of psychologists, researchers, educators, and technologists based in New York City, London, and Dubai. Our app is currently used in pilot classrooms in several countries including the US, UK, and UAE.
To better understand the challenges and barriers that prevent successful S.E.L. education and mental wellbeing support, we spoke with teachers and educators from all over the world.
These are the five things we heard over and over again:
I don’t know where to start with SEL.
I don’t feel prepared to teach SEL (lack of training, lack of time, lack of resources).
My students are not as engaged as I’d like them to be in SEL instruction, and they have trouble turning it into real behavior change.
I have trouble understanding the very different needs of each of my students, academically and personally. Plus, I am worried about crossing the line between educator and therapist.
I have trouble making sense of the data I collect, including the data from SEL activities.
How YouHue Helps
To help teachers meet the challenges they face in SEL education, we designed an app to help children identify their emotions and put into words how they are feeling. The exercise helps students build better self-control, communication, empathy, and problem-solving skills. The app also helps teachers, parents, and educators get a better understanding of the emotional issues occurring in classrooms, so they can be solved more easily and effectively.
At YouHue, we don’t believe technology is a silver bullet, but we do believe the right technology tools can serve as assistants to expand the abilities of educators. YouHue was created by integrating the insights, observations, and experiences of educators with the forefront of psychological research and healthy technology design.
Our team designs with the psychological health of teachers and students in mind so that our technology tools become like pieces of an Iron Man suit for amazing educators. We like this analogy because we believe that when designed the right way, technology doesn’t replace teachers or remove their human touch. Instead, it enhances teachers’ powers and helps them become the superheroes we ask them to be each day.
In this case, we designed a technology that could be easily and effectively used in any classroom at low monetary, time, and resource cost. It would also help teachers engage a generation of students that has grown up with cutting-edge tech as standard, and enable teachers to use data to make education more effective.
Using the medium of the app could also guarantee a standard of quality use independent of the individual capabilities of each teacher. Whether students have a teacher who is an SEL expert or novice, our technology is easy enough to use that every teacher can implement the program well. With a standard of program quality, we can better assure improved outcomes and real world behavior change.
Why We Focus on Self-Expression
Healthy self-expression is a critical social-emotional skill and a useful part of classroom culture. The immediate benefits of self-expression in the classroom are the soothing effects of venting, obtaining support and help, bonding, and gaining clarification on causes, effects, and meaning of events and feelings. These are all valuable for students in the classroom setting, and often missing.
In the longer-term, self-expression serves as an exercise that facilitates the learning of many other social-emotional skills. For a detailed look at how the YouHue exercise works and how practicing healthy, guided self-expression leads to growth of skills like emotional intelligence, confident communication, self-control, empathy, and problem solving skills read, Asking Students, “How are you feeling?”
Self-expression also helps the sharer inform important others (like teachers and parents) of needs, feelings, goals, triggers, and what is important to them. It is here that technology proves even more advantageous to our teachers because tech can help our teachers make sense of that information.
A student’s YouHue Journal is the collection of all the self-expressions (we call them ‘mood logs’) she has created on YouHue. Each log records the emotion, the student’s description of why she is feeling that way, and the date and time.
Each teacher has a collective journal for her classroom, including the logs of all students. We give our teachers a private, secure dashboard, accessible via the web on which designated school administrators, counsellors, or teachers could access a live analysis of their students’ data. On this, they can see trends and insights in the emotions of their classroom and individual students.
We use analysis of trends in students’ emotions based on a keyword/key-phrase analysis and based on time. By seeing which keywords and key phrases are used with different emotion types, we can discover causes. By identifying at which time students felt certain ways, we can more precisely understand how classroom events impact their emotions. Student information is only stored on YouHue if the student's parent or guardian has given permission. Our team uses top technologies and methods to ensure the security of student and teacher data. See here for more Frequently Asked Questions.
Teachers are able use these insights–about how students learn, how they can be reached and supported, what resources they need–to modify coursework, classroom environments, teaching styles, and so on. For example, when a large portion of one classroom reports confusion in science, their teacher is alerted to the issue and is able to review the area of difficulty.
YouHue empowers students to effectively communicate learning difficulties or to indicate what motivates them. Instead of having to sift through this kind of data alone, we use our technology to help teachers make sense of a class full of informative emotions. YouHue is a tool that helps students communicate better with their teachers, and vice versa, so that learning and classroom culture can improve. This occurs during in the moment use of the app (read more about this here), as well as via the teacher dashboard.
The School Pilots
After our period of controlled testing, we opened up our program to in-school pilots in September of 2016. For the 2016-2017 school year YouHue was used in classrooms K-12, including both general education and special needs classrooms. Our teachers reported improvements in student behavior, communication of needs and feelings, self-control, and quality of student-teacher relationship. Both teachers and students find that the app was easy to use, easy to integrate into classroom life, and required a very small amount of time to be effective.
Appropriate self-expression and communication of needs became a more regular part of classroom life, not only through the app, but also in real life. Teachers got to know their students better. Their relationships improved and strengthened because communication was easier. This facilitated learning because students felt more understood and cared for. Teachers were able to empathize with their students’ individual circumstances, whether from the perspective of their experiences in learning, on the playground, or at home.
We helped our schools analyze the data collected from their students performance of the exercise, and we provided education to our teachers on how those analyses could be helpful in their classroom, to individual students, or to the school or curriculum at large.
For some of our students with special needs and identified mental health issues, the app served as an important source of information for not only teachers, but also parents and healthcare workers. Through the data collected in the app, we are able to learn more about a particular student’s triggers, passions, talents, and areas in which they struggle or thrive.
To learn more about our schools, you can read some of our case studies.
As we enter the 2017-2018 academic year, we are hard at work to prepare to connect even more teachers and students with SEL education. We are expanding our team to support more schools, and growing our app to include more comprehensive exercises for different student needs. Our app is currently iOS (Apple devices) only, but will soon be available on Android and Web. Our focus is also on growing our toolkit of SEL resources. The toolkit includes information for teachers and parents, lesson plans, and community support.
Lesson plans include those created by other specialists in SEL, in addition to our own lesson plans, which we create when existing resources are not currently available or are not up-to-date enough to be optimally useful to our teachers and students. These lesson plans can also be used by students who are not currently using the YouHue app, as well as those who are.
Our priority as a research and technology company is to share knowledge, make knowledge more easily usable in the classroom, and make it easier for teachers and students to engage in social and emotional education. We are guided by the insights from veteran educators, researchers in psychology and child development, experts at the forefront of healthy technology design, and, of course, we are guided by the needs of our students.
We never stop learning and are always up on the newest research, techniques, challenges, and successes. All of this is synthesized into the programs we provide. We love helping our teachers help their students, and this is what allows us to become better and better everyday. Our favorite question is, “How are you, and how can we help?”