New technology connects students and teachers on a social and emotional level

Posted at 4:43 PM, Oct 23, 2020

More than 230,000 institutions around the world now have free access to a new tech tool that focuses on social and emotional learning during a time when people need human connection more than ever.

Like most teachers around the country, Rory Yakubov did not get the type of "back to school" that she was hoping for.

“You have to go with the flow, really, if you’re going to stay on top of things right now,” Yakubov said. “Having a mindset where I’m going to have everything perfect is not going to happen. I’m OK - I’m getting OK with that.”

Yakubov says her New Jersey district started the school year remotely, which meant the high school math teacher had to figure out how to connect with her students virtually.

“It would be so nice if I could walk around the classroom with my students, engage them, check in, have conversations about how they’re doing also have personal conversations with my students,” Yakubov said.

Yakubov and her district use Microsoft Teams. She teaches algebra 1 and geometry through the platform, and says she's really looking forward to some new features within Teams. She views it as another tool in her toolbox.

Microsoft's education director Mark Sparvell says the roll out includes "praise badges," which are cute, colorful and eye-catching stickers for teachers to "hand out" to their students.

“What these tools do is they provide an avenue even when we’re between glass to allow young people to be seen, heard and know they matter,” says Sparvell.

Things like reflections and emotional check-ins are also new, and they come at a time when students everywhere are more stressed and anxious than ever.

“How is a student feeling, how is my class feeling, how is my school feeling, how is my district feeling,” Sparvell said.

Years of research and development led them to this point, says Sparvell. The new tools are based off of science to help youth development. He says these sorts of social and emotional connections are critical for every student.

“They’re tied directly to academic outcomes, to positive life outcomes, to mental health and physical health and they’re tied to potential to be employed and remain employed in the future,” Sparvell said.

Yakubov says she hopes it'll force her high schoolers to engage, as teens often have a tendency to withdraw.

“I am here for them,” Yakubov said. “I want them to succeed and it’s really tough. I would be able to go over to that student who’s super quiet and nudge them and have a quiet conversation and I can’t do that now and I don’t even know who those students are yet and I’ve been teaching five weeks.”

She also says, for those teachers how are struggling to help students succeed, this is one way to help guide everyone along, in what may just be their toughest year.