“Technology is as destructive or constructive as the people who use it. So, if teachers, educators, and parents use technology with clear purpose, and model constructive behaviours, I believe it can have a positive impact on education.”
Nana Gulic spent a decade of working with government, schools, and teachers to help create a learning environment that supports children’s social-emotional needs as well as their educational needs. Now through SEed (Social and Emotional Education), an ed-tech start-up that empowers non-profits like schools, Nana implements character and leadership development programmes that help learners increase self-confidence, motivation, physical and mental health and build positive relationships with their parents and peers.
According to a report by UNESCO and the International Academy of Education, “Social-emotional learning, or SEL, is sometimes called ‘the missing piece’, because it represents a part of education that links academic knowledge with a specific set of skills important to success in schools, families, communities, workplaces and life in general.”
“By combining my B.A. in Child and Youth Care and M.A. in Social Justice and Equity Studies, I am able to identify innovative ways to empower my students in the classroom, and help them become active participants in their own lives and homes,” says Nana.
Using tech for parent & learner counselling during the pandemic
The critical role that psychosocial support plays in the learning environment was highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. A report noted that it would not be enough for schools to simply reopen their doors after COVID-19. Students will need tailored and sustained support to help them readjust and catch-up after the pandemic. Teachers are being encouraged to incorporate remedial education approaches and social-emotional learning into their pedagogy.
This is exactly what Nana is doing in her school. After initiating online social and emotional learning workshops for students and their parents during the pandemic, she continues to host them now that schools have reopened.
“One of the biggest benefits of online counselling is that we can have group discussions, but then we can turn our microphones on mute, and have private internal chats between family members. You can’t do this in an in-person group setting. And there were some amazing things that came out of those private moments. Some major breakthroughs between parents and their kids.”
Technology can create a space for struggling learners to communicate
Teachers and child and youth workers can use digital tools to support the socio-emotional development of learners both inside and outside the classroom. “Technology doesn’t replace a good teacher or counsellor. It just adds an extra layer, it’s an extra tool that we can use to communicate with our learners.”
One of Nana’s roles is to help struggling students develop the skills they need to talk about, and deal with various challenges in their lives, like the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education, “Many students felt lonelier, a vast majority, missed contact with their classmates, many were worried about how the disruption impacted their learning and will affect their future education.”
To help her learners process their experience of the COVID-19 lockdowns, she invited them to build their ‘ideal post-COVID world’ in Minecraft. Four 10-year-old learners from Canada and four from Croatia were tasked with working together to create a digital space that met all of their wants and needs.
“They might not have been able to verbally express how much they missed social interaction, but their Minecraft world clearly showed this,” says Nana. “It included a flying van to travel with family and friends, a portal that allows you to travel wherever you want, an amusement park, and a school cafeteria with lots of space to have fun and spend time with friends.”
Polls, YouTube, and instant messaging to develop ‘social and emotional literacy’
According to a report on social and emotional learning in education systems, the main purpose of ‘emotional literacy’ – a skill that involves being able to name and understand one’s own emotions and the emotions of others – is to improve relationships and facilitate more cooperative functioning between individuals, within communities and throughout society as a whole.
In the classroom, students are often afraid to reveal how they really feel in case they are ridiculed. So Nana uses an app to allow learners to respond to a digital poll anonymously. When the poll shows that “everyone” feels nervous on their first day of school, or over 90% of the respondents have anxiety about exams, it helps learners feel less vulnerable.
Nana has also created a fictional YouTube character called Dolly Ghostsmith who enlists the help of the students to track down four escaped ghosts called "Denialy", "Doubty", "Worry Anne", and "Fearan". The ghosts help Nana’s elementary school learners develop their social and emotional literacy by identifying their unique characteristics.
Research shows that by implementing SEL in schools, students can begin to recognise and manage emotions, develop caring and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions and handle challenging situations.
When it comes to encouraging learners to share their struggles, Nana has even turned to texting.
“Over the years, I’ve found that some students would rather communicate by typing than by talking. I really struggled to get through to them until I offered the option to text rather than to chat in person. Some of the learners even use a second language to express themselves emotionally.”
Using apps to give students with learning difficulties more independence
There are also several tools which Nana uses to help those with learning difficulties integrate into the classroom. For those with dyslexia, she uses text-to-voice apps and transcription apps which give learners who struggle to read and write more freedom to work independently.
For those with attention difficulties, Nana uses digital cognitive training apps together with in-person therapy sessions. One of her favourite tools is Lumosity which features games that are scientifically designed to help improve memory, processing speed, and problem-solving skills.
“Technology is such a natural environment for kids. It is a place where their voices can be heard, and where they can meet with other students around the world and engage with them.”
“In the future, I hope that we can all work together to build a teacher-led collaborative and empowering environment that focuses on sustainability, equity and social justice.”
Learn more about the #TeachersTransform campaign as part of the Transforming Education Summit.
Photo credit: Nana Gulic