How to Support Student Health and Wellness through Professional Development Programs

  • January 26, 2017
FitToLearn2016 079 Web Blog

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), each state must describe their professional development plan, including how the state will ensure that low-income students and students of color are equitably taught by qualified teachers. As part of our work to support states in this effort, we’re highlighting specific sections of the law.

Title II of ESSA focuses on how states use federal funding to provide professional development. Access to professional development has been expanded under ESSA to include all teachers, as well as administrators and other staff. This expansion of eligibility, along with a broadening of acceptable programs, allows for professional development of all staff to include health and wellness-related issues.

Why is it important?

Professional development programs provide an excellent opportunity to ensure that teachers and staff understand how to integrate health and wellness into their interactions with students, but such programs vary widely from state to state in the way that they address student health issues. As the adults who spend the most waking hours with children during the week, it is important that all school personnel are equipped to look out for the health and safety of their students. A recent study showed elementary school teachers are already spending more than an hour a day addressing student health issues.

It’s also important to support workplace wellness. Positive working environments are important for teacher retention and teacher productivity. There is a direct link between the well-being of teachers and the educational outcomes of their students. According to a report from Pennsylvania State University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “elementary school teachers who have greater stress and show more symptoms of depression create classroom environments that are less conducive to learning, which leads to poor academic performance among students.”

Effects of teacher stress range from lower scores on math tests, to more behavior problems and lower levels of social adjustment and student engagement. High stress and poor working environments push many teachers out of the profession. Turnover is most likely to occur in poorly performing schools. This contributes to a long-term destabilization of low-income neighborhood schools. This cycle deepens existing inequities in the school system.

What does the law say?

ESSA provides funding to states for professional development. States are allowed to use those funds for efforts such as:

  • Reforming teacher, principal or other school leader certification programs
  • Helping local education agencies with the design and implementation of teacher, principal or other school leader evaluation and support systems
  • Recruiting and retaining teachers, principals or other school leaders;
  • Inducting new teachers, principals and other school leaders
  • Creating and implementing coaching and mentoring programs
  • Providing training for all school personnel on topics including preventing and recognizing child sexual abuse and the appropriate use of all student data
  • Creating opportunities for teachers, principals, other school leaders, paraprofessionals and early childhood education staff to jointly address the transition to elementary school

Local education agencies may also apply for funding to reduce class sizes to evidence-based levels, use data to improve student achievement and engage families and partners to coordinate community services. They may also seek funds to train school personnel in topics such as:

  • Identifying and supporting students affected by trauma or at risk of mental illness
  • Appropriately linking students to community services
  • Forming partnerships between school-based mental health programs and public and private organizations
  • Addressing issues in the school climate that can create barriers to learning, including safety, peer interaction, drug and alcohol abuse and chronic absenteeism
  • Preventing and recognizing child sexual abuse

States and local education agencies that receive these funds must publish an annual report that talks about the activities and outcomes of the grant.

Additionally, ESSA allows states and districts to use Title II funds to conduct and publicly report on an assessment of educator and staff support and working conditions. This assessment would be developed through engagement with teachers, leaders, parents, students and the community.

What can schools do?

Talk to your state education agency and get a copy of the state draft plan and look through it. Some questions to ask include:

  • Does the plan including working with colleges and universities in the state to develop and implement standards for pre-service training around children’s health and development?
  • Does the plan require local education agencies to include how they will support student health and wellness in their applications for professional development funding?
  • Does the plan establish state level supports to ensure local education agencies have access to the resources and guidance necessary to implement evidence-based strategies to support student health?
  • Does the plan include partnering with organizations to provide professional development related to health and wellness?

Professional development and staff health and wellness are important—though often overlooked—factors in providing healthy school environments. The new education law provides several opportunities to improve in this areas. Check out the State ESSA Plans to Support Student Health and Wellness: A Framework for Action developed by Healthy Schools Campaign and Alliance for a Healthier Generation for a comprehensive guide to development of state ESSA plans, including professional development.