And we haven’t even touched on the soaring mental health crisis. In my sales role for Pearson, I hear incredible tales of educators pouring themselves into supporting their students to help address the challenges they experience in the classroom and beyond. While money doesn’t solve all these crises, it makes a significant difference when schools are able to devote appropriate resources to serve their community.
With 30 years in education, I am no stranger to the budget squeeze schools currently face. In fact, district and leadership operations was my specialty, and I became particularly adept at budgeting through hard times when serving as a superintendent at the height of the recession in 2009 and beyond. The only way to get what we needed was to be hyper-efficient.
Here are some lessons I’ve learned about navigating the funding puzzle, which might help your school as you aim to secure appropriate mental health resources.
1. Collect data to quantify the mental health situation you’re experiencing.
You might be thinking that there aren’t words big enough to aptly describe the crisis many schools are seeing. I’m guessing you’re thinking of words like “crushing” and “monumental.” And I get it. The sheer magnitude of the student mental health crisis, which has yielded surges in depression, anxiety and ADHD, is both alarming and daunting. Then add the fact that there are fewer eyes and ears in the halls, given the massive personnel turnover and staff shortages that have rippled throughout the educational system.
That’s why many schools rely on digital diagnostic screeners to identify students who are struggling so they can put the right resources in place to get those students stabilized and moving forward. Just as adults struggle to focus when stressed about a personal issue, persistent mental health issues make it hard for students to learn. Attending to mental health will improve students' outcomes and strengthen the culture in the classroom, school and district.
2. Get creative with your budget to elevate mental health.
It’s no secret that schools’ budgets are already sliced extremely thin. However, there are a few strategies I have learned over the years that have allowed me to find funds for priorities such as mental health.
First, see if extra dollars have been allocated specifically for social-emotional learning, especially if you live in a state where it’s a funded mandate.
If you have an unfunded mandate, one workaround might be to look into allocating Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding or Title 1 money, which can be used to supplement core instruction. For example, if you are trying to cover the costs of a screener, consider how many special education students you have. If you have 150, you can offset the cost for those 150 through special education dollars, then do the same with title dollars for a different cohort. Little by little, you are closing the gap without significantly impacting your general fund.
3. Deploy the right tools to make efficient, effective evaluations.
There’s no doubt that education is a people-intensive business, which is where digital tools and digital platforms come in to allow educators to work smarter. For example, Pearson’s Behavior Assessment System for Children (BASC-3) can be accessed on the Review360® platform, which allows teachers to deploy screeners quickly and, upon completion, easily retrieve the data that allows them to triage students. You can identify the core group that might need more intensive interventions compared to another cohort that can get what they need in a whole class session.
Results can subsequently be used as benchmarks to compare scores from fall, winter and spring. You can see how kids have improved and re-adjust your groups or ensure new students are in the right place. With digital tools, districts can adapt their interventions to target limited resources more efficiently and quickly and display progress in areas of concern.
4. Utilize external supports, such as Pearson’s robust professional development.
We know what a challenge it can be to enact a professional development approach when you are hamstrung by competing needs. To be effective, a professional development plan must align with your school’s or district’s improvement plan and should include ongoing scaffolding. That’s especially important given the rate at which programs and personnel shift in a typical school district. Anytime you implement a new system or curriculum, it takes three to five years to embed that systemically within a school district.
By displaying a commitment to professional development, you’ll earn your teachers’ buy-in, which will help demonstrate the return on investment to your various stakeholders. A second issue that a solid professional development plan will combat is the loss of institutional knowledge, which we are especially at risk of today given the high rate of teacher turnover.
Time is one of the most precious commodities. That’s why, at Pearson, we want to ensure our offerings can be delivered quickly and completely. I'm really proud of what we've done as a company to make sure our training offerings are both cost effective and time sensitive, which we’ve achieved by drawing on our experience as educators and leveraging the instructive feedback we receive from our colleagues currently working in schools. At the end of the day, we're all educators working for the betterment of students.
For more tools, resources and other information to help you help your students perform at their best in the classroom and beyond, visit Pearson’s Mental Health And Anxiety Resource Center.