The conversation about student mental health is escalating as experts declare that kids' mental health is at crisis levels. Tamara Fyke is a social-emotional learning (SEL) expert and the founder of Love In a Big World. In this episode, you'll hear from Tamara as she shares the work she's doing to support student mental health in schools across America through SEL programs and curriculum. She also talks about the important role families play, plus offers invaluable tips for parents, caregivers, and teachers about how they can talk with kids about social media usage and help them become responsible digital citizens.
Learn more about Tamara Fyke and the educator resources available from Love in a Big World at: https://loveinabigworld.org
You're listening to the Voices in Education Podcast powered by Securly, where we hear from new voices and explore new ideas about how we can reimagine education to support whole student success. Education is at an inflection point. As we grapple with complex challenges like funding and enrollment, as well as diversity, equity, and safety, we also have an opportunity, an opportunity to reimagine education. Now more than ever we know the importance that students’ overall wellbeing plays in their success. They need to feel supported and safe and connected to be able to engage in their learning and achieve to their full potential. Join your host, Casey Agena, a former teacher turned instructional coach and technologist as he interviews inspirational educators, school leaders, wellness professionals, and more to amplify their voices. You'll learn about the innovative work they're doing to support students safety, engagement and overall wellness. And who knows, you may even spark a new idea of your own. Ready to reimagine education? Let's go.
I'm your host Casey Agena, and in today's episode, I'm excited to be talking with Tamara Fyke. She hails from Nashville, Tennessee, and her work through her company, Love In A Big World, in providing curricular and professional learning opportunities for K-12 schools, districts, and organizations to support social-emotional learning and student mental health has been growing over the past two years. Listen in as Tamara and I talk about the work that she's done, the work that is so important in her neighborhood and her communities and the impact that she's making in families lives. Tamara, I want to start off by unpacking that movement around social-emotional learning. Why is it such a big deal right now?
That's a great question, Casey. And thank you for having me today. So in October of 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Children's Hospital Network all issued a joint statement that said we are having a mental health crisis for our children. And that's the first time that I know of that has ever happened. What they cited for establishing this national emergency for our kids is the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing struggle with racial justice, and then all of the trends that they were seeing prior to 2020.
On December 7, 2021, the surgeon general of the United States joined that conversation and said, yes, we do have a state of emergency in mental health for our kids. And a lot of that again is related to the pandemic, the struggle for racial justice, and then the trends we were seeing prior to 2020. The conversation has escalated because of our current social conditions. However, kids' mental health has always been important. Social and emotional learning is how educators address mental health within the classroom, within the school buildings. And it's something that educators have been about forever, really. I mean, it's just been part and parcel of what it means to be a teacher.
Right. And how has this landscape of knowing that there are impacts to not only students in the classroom, as they're returning and teachers that are with them, the parents that are nurturing them at home… how has that impacted your work, particularly your work with Love In A Big World, and your approach to social-emotional learning? How are you working with students in schools, and how is that similar to what you've done before and possibly going to be different moving forward?
That's another good question. So I've been doing the work of social emotional learning since 1996, really coming out of the positive youth development movement at that time and the character education movement. And so the terminology of social and emotional learning is something that really started to gain ground in the 2000s. I mean, I would even say kind of the later 2000s. And it's only been within the last three to five years that it's become the buzzword that it is today, where it's not just something that people in education are talking about, but even people in boardrooms are now clued into this idea of SEL. So the work that we did in the early days was really based heavily in community and really focused on urban neighborhoods and then working in conjunction with the corresponding schools, where the students from the neighborhood were attending.
Over the years, we've broadened the work to include assembly programs and curriculum and professional development for teachers. And that's still a large piece of what we do. We've been involved in research projects. I mean the whole gamut. Now we're really focusing on how we can integrate the family into the child's experience and how can we look more broadly at mental health and wellness for children? How can that happen through technology, how can that happen through providing community, places and spaces for families to come together and learn together? How can we meet families at home with positive activities that they can engage in with their kiddos?
Because it's the same thing that I talk about with teachers, I would say the same thing to parents. So many times we adults don't think we're equipped to address our kids mental health, because we're not a professional social worker, or psychologist, or psychiatrist, but one of the best defenses against anxiety, depression, or suicide is positive relationship. And who else to do that better than mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, the adults who are caring and present in a child's everyday life. And so providing the tools and resources that these adults need on a daily basis and empowering them, letting them know you've got this and we're here to help is what we're really about.
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And now back to the interview. I'm keying in on a couple of words that you shared with us. One, social as part of social-emotional learning, so social, community, and I'm thinking about activities. And from the time that you started this great work till now, the idea of social communities and activities and where they happen, particularly with our adolescence, doesn't necessarily happen out on the playground or on the play fields, but it happens in the cloud, in these digital social spaces and with the number of followers people have, and the activities that we see folks both positively and at times negatively participate in, but it's still a community where students are seeking some sort of connection. What role does that play in terms of the social-emotional health or digital health of our young ones, and how does that impact their own idea of who they are and where they stand? And I'm sure that definitely plays a role with the work that you do.
It does. It does. I've been following the impact of social media on adolescents for about the last 10 or 11 years. And interestingly, whenever I lead a professional development session for educators, they will unequivocally say that social media has the biggest impact on their students. What's happening on Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram finds its way into the classroom, or as my own children, I'm a mom of three older kids who are very well versed in social media world. My youngest son, who's turning 16, he talks about how that beef that happened online makes its way into the classroom and it causes a lot of disruption. So that's where I advocate for parents and teachers not to be necessarily joining TikTok or Snapchat with their kiddos, but for them to have the conversations about what does it mean to have this identity online and how does that online identity impact your real world identity and to see the connection of the two that, that question of identity is also about what you believe, what do you stand for?
What activities will you engage in? How do you want to be known? What are you bringing to this world positive or negative? Right. I believe wholeheartedly that it behooves us as the caring adults in kids' lives to get them to put down the phone and have a conversation and say, do you realize that if you post a picture of yourself holding a weapon, or you start talking smack about this, like that follows you, not just now or into the school building, but it can follow you to your future employment. It can follow you to your future college that you're applying for.
Like, there's a lot. I hear a lot of my peers today. They'll talk about how it's a good thing that all that social media stuff wasn't around when we were in school. Because could you imagine what trouble we would've gotten in? But kids just, they don't think about it. They're documenting every single moment. And in some ways, unfortunately they don't get off the hook. You know what I mean? Like it's like, you don't get the excuse of, well, I'm just being a kid. And so you make a slip up that slip up could land you in juvie.
Even if you don't understand the consequences. Like I heard a story recently of high school boys taking a picture of a special needs student using the bathroom. You get caught with a nude photo, I mean, that's a felony, but they don't think about it that way. So that's where it comes back to having the conversations with what does kindness look like? Treating others the way you want to be treated. Would you want somebody taking a photo of you in the bathroom? Well, then don't do that to somebody else. And so I think we have to break it down. We have to break down those actions and those interactions to values. Who are we? What do we believe? And how do we want to show up in this world?
I love the fact that you look at that nuclear family and those concentric circles around family as the impetus for driving the persona of who we want to show out there to others, but even inwardly, how do we feel about ourselves being presented to others? What do we want to be presented? How do we want people to look us? And parents and guardians and grandparents and aunts and uncles, who are those adults around that can help shape that? And you gave some really great I think, tips not only in addressing the student, but what can the adults around those students actually do? So I want to thank you so much for joining us today with just a little bit of that information around social-emotional learning, the communities that help shape the students, the families that are so important to us. And we'll have all the information and resources that Tamara has provided us for all of you. And particularly through her work in her company, Love In A Big World for you all. Tamara, thank you so much for your time. Thank you all for joining us on another episode of Voices in Education.
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