This year, the first day of school looked very different for the tens of millions of students returning to class. But through unprecedented change and the stress that’s come with it, educators and students have led with resilience, reminding us that learning starts with connection, community, and well-being. As defined by the Committee for Children, social-emotional learning (SEL), or what happens when we’re developing self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills, is vital for success in school, work, and every other facet of our lives.

“Learning is both a social and emotional process and school is an emotional roller coaster… Right now, parents, educators, and students are emotionally out of balance. We are seeing unprecedented levels of anxiety, stress, and…Click To Tweet

In Marc Brackett’s book, Permission to Feel, he describes how and why emotions matter for:

  • Attention, memory, and learning
  • The quality of our decision-making
  • Our relationships and social interactions
  • Physical and mental health
  • Performance and creativity

Technology can play a key part in enabling SEL at scale and supporting the crucial functions that impact school, work, and life. Today we’re announcing two Microsoft Teams features and a OneNote feature designed for emotional literacy and transparency, plus a virtual learning opportunity with Goldie Hawn’s MindUp organization.

New SEL features for Microsoft Education

1. New Praise Badges in Microsoft Teams recognize moments of SEL growth

Teams is the hub for learning, engagement, and collaboration, with built-in tools to tailor learning to student needs. Today, more than 230,000 education institutions use Teams for remote and hybrid learning.

Now those tools include SEL-specific Praise Badges. Educators can use Praise Badges to recognize student social skills, grow emotional vocabulary, and give valuable recognition to the daily wins in their students’ learning.

Praise Badges are based on the Big Five model, a well-known SEL framework recently used by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in their global assessment program. Educators can use these badges to recognize specific skills that contribute to the Big Five personality traits. These skills reflect the entire domain of social-emotional skills, and are intentionally chosen to be:

  • Predictive of success in a wide range of important life outcomes and events
  • Appropriate for 10- to 15-year-olds
  • Comparable and relevant across different cultures, languages, and social and school contexts
  • Relevant for the future

The badges were developed through a human-centered design approach that brought teachers and students directly into the product development process, ensuring that we create useful and authentic tools that will aide in their existing classroom practices.

Praise Badges are available now in chats and class team channels, with the new SEL-specific badges expected in late September. Once available, you can ask your IT admin to enable them, giving educators and students at your school all-new ways to meaningfully connect and grow together in Teams.

2. New SEL sticker pack for OneNote creates an emotion-driven feedback mechanism

Bring SEL to life in OneNote and OneNote Class Notebooks with the SEL Sticker pack, also developed through a human-centered design process and built around the Big Five framework.

The sticker pack, which recognizes the same 12 skills shown in the SEL Praise Badges, can be used alongside other features in OneNote Class Notebook, like audio and video recording, inking, and typed notes, as an additional feedback method to help students learn.

3. New Reflect tool in Microsoft Teams makes emotional check-ins a daily routine

Using Teams means collaborating—a skill of its own that requires self-regulation and self-awareness. The Reflect messaging extension in Teams helps educators connect with their students and implement SEL into the daily class flow—discussions, assignments, projects, and more—through quick check-in questions and polls.

These check-ins are a simple way to guide students to reflect on and identify how they’re feeling, helping them lead with self-awareness as they participate in collaborative environments like Teams.

Support for Reflect:

Emotional expression: The long-term impact

The opportunities created by Praise Badges, SEL stickers, and Reflect check-ins for students to grow their emotional vocabulary are more than just literacy lessons. Brackett cites the need to develop a rich emotional vocabulary and the power that it can bring.

Brackett also cites the need to develop a rich emotional vocabulary in describing how we and others are feeling.

“Critical to SEL is the cultivation of a rich emotion vocabulary,” shared Brackett. “Without the words, children’s needs can’t be met. Language also is a pathway to regulating emotions.”

Developing emotional vocabulary that enables students to express their needs and self-regulate has a long-term impact, and not just in the school context. In 30 to 40 percent of the fastest-growing occupations, technical, cognitive, and SEL skills are considered of value when evaluating job candidates—and 58 percent of employers report that current graduates aren’t delivering in the SEL area. SEL is a key future-ready skill of its own, with a place in school curricula.

Educators prioritize SEL

Educators have always known that SEL is critical for well-being, but they’re low on time, resources, and support needed to implement more SEL in curriculum. In a survey conducted by Microsoft and The Economist on emotion and cognition, 40 percent of educators say they would prioritize these skills if they had more time.

Educators aren’t the only ones expressing the need for greater SEL practice in schools. In a separate research study by Microsoft and The Economist entitled “Preparing the Class of 2030,” in which both students and teachers participated, 50 percent of teachers said they provided adequate feedback around social-emotional skills—but only 30 percent of students agreed.

The SEL journey continues

  • Turn-in celebrations: Joy is a natural part of completing and turning in assignments, but Teams for Education takes it one step further. When students turn in an assignment, they get to experience our animated turn-in celebrations. While we’re always committed to helping students achieve, we also believe in celebrating effort, heart, and every little step along the learning journey. Turn-in celebrations let students know that their efforts are seen—and that joy is just as important as hard work when it comes to learning. See how turn-in celebrations work.
  • MindUP and Microsoft collaboration: In addition to the SEL-driven solutions in Microsoft Education products, we’ve also developed an exciting new virtual learning opportunity in collaboration with Goldie Hawn’s MindUP organization. Designed for educators and parents, each session will offer tips and strategies to best prepare our children and youth for going back to school and making their mental health and well-being the priority.

"Nothing is more important right now than to provide all children with knowledge and tools they need to manage stress, regulate emotions and face challenges of the 21st century with optimism, resilience and compassion," Goldie Hawn,…Click To Tweet

  • SELinEdu: Microsoft supports the work of the SELinEdu online community, which has grown to over 7,000 educators. We’re also a founding committee member of the Karanga Global SEL Alliance through our partnership with Salzburg Global Seminar. With the critical importance of SEL in schools, Microsoft Education is honored to be a part of this growing community working to support the well-being of students and educators.

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