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Four Back-to-School Trends On Teachers' Minds

From social emotional learning to family engagement, educators are focused on supporting their students through another uncertain year.

The last school year was a tumultuous one for teachers that proved both their resiliency and their adaptability. As schools begin the 2021-2022 school year across the United States, the threat posed by the Delta variant and debates around masks and the appropriate precautions to keep students and faculty safe are impacting the hopes for a more stable school year. At Common Sense Education, we work with over a million K-12 educators nationwide supporting them with technology and learning. As teachers head back to school, here are four areas they are focused on, and ideas on how we can support them as they continue to navigate a new school year.

Supporting students SEL in the digital world.

Technology is changing the social and emotional learning (SEL) landscape that students navigate every day, including how they express themselves, develop their identity, collaborate with others, and develop meaningful relationships within their communities. The ability to stay connected through the pandemic was a lifeline for many students. According to our research, 53 percent of 14-22 year olds say social media has been "very" important for staying connected to family and friends during the pandemic. Students have been through a lot. In some cases, they've had family members get sick, get hospitalized, or die from COVID-19. In other cases, family members have lost jobs, or are unable to pay rent or the mortgage -- and that's in addition to the stress of home school and being isolated. Teachers want resources to help students through this tough time. Social and emotional learning is essential for helping students manage their emotions, make responsible decisions, and build healthy relationships, and it's also vital for academic success. In August, we launched our new SEL in Digital Life Resource Center to help teachers across the country support their students' social and emotional learning in the digital world, such as how we develop self-awareness, relationships and identity online.

Finding new digital tools and strategies to create the best learning experiences for students.

Distance learning gave teachers a chance to broaden their skill set by learning new digital tools to use to support learning. With the Delta variant surging, teachers are constantly prepared for a possible hybrid or virtual classroom. The tech tools that proved the most effective and successful last year will certainly be used again, and we hope that teachers take their learnings from the past year and continue to incorporate technology to enhance student learning moving forward. Pointing them in the right direction, content like our edtech reviews and top picks help teachers discover the most promising learning resources they can adapt to meet all their students' diverse needs. In our end-of-year educator survey, 86 percent of educators said our reviews have helped them identify a new edtech tool or resource that they've since used in their teaching.

Engaging families in children's tech use for learning

The pandemic has revealed many challenges and inequities related to internet connectivity. First, Common Sense did deep work last year related to closing the digital divide, as we found that one in four students in our country lack adequate internet for learning. Luckily, federal aid bills passed in 2021 will help to close the digital divide and get students and families connected at home.

Second, parent and caregiver engagement in school matters. Last year, when schools shut down, parents and caregivers were forced to get very involved in both their child's learning and with their schools. This is a good thing, as we know the best learning happens in school communities with a strong home-school connection. Teachers and schools are interested in building upon this connection with families around their children's learning and technology use. We will continue to support families by providing useful advice and resources for parents and caregivers to be shared through schools and also through our advice and reviews.

Protecting their students' privacy

As the use of edtech products grows, so do district, school, and teacher concerns around protecting student privacy. Even the best apps and tools need access to certain types of data and information to work properly. In the past year alone, schools have been facing new challenges and privacy risks when it comes to balancing the power of online learning with the requirements of and concerns about online privacy. Our privacy reviews of edtech products are now used by 55% of our teacher community. Like a nutritional label for privacy, this rating system gives schools evaluate the information they need about the privacy of digital tools so they can make the best choices that protect students.

The last year reinforced the importance of schools, teachers, and families to work together to help students thrive. Teachers learned a lot from the last year, and they're using what they've learned to ensure they can leverage tech effectively and support their students' digital well-being. Teachers need our support to make that a reality for students everywhere, and we will continue to advocate for educators' needs in a complex, evolving digital world.

Kelly Mendoza

Kelly Mendoza, Ph.D., is vice president of education programs at Common Sense. She oversees the Digital Citizenship Curriculum and all edtech ratings and reviews at Common Sense Education.