School of Education Supporting Student, Teacher Flourishing at Eight Local Schools

NDMU Set to Expand Growth Opportunities for Teachers with New Social-Emotional Learning and Flourishing Certificate in 2023
A teacher and student in a classroom

BALTIMORE – Notre Dame of Maryland University’s School of Education is playing a prominent role in addressing mental health challenges at eight schools within the Anne Arundel County Public School system, with faculty members leading Student and Teacher Alliance for Flourishing initiatives through funding provided by the U.S. Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.

School of Education assistant professors Dr. Kristine Larson and Dr. Molly Dunn are providing training and technical support to 16 program advisors from the participating schools. The initiative has expanded to its eight current locations after initially beginning at Broadneck High School, a member of NDMU’s Professional Development Schools Partnership Network, during the 2020-21 COVID-impacted academic year.

“This came about during the early stages of COVID, when it was clear that a lot of people were struggling with their mental health,” Dr. Larson said. “But I believe that people were struggling long before then; the pandemic just served as a way to highlight the struggles around being too busy, feeling overwhelmed and overworked.

“The ideal outcome would be to increase not just the flourishing of students and teachers involved in the initiative,” she continued. “But to also have that lead to an increase in flourishing within the greater surrounding community.”

Flourishing is defined as an individual’s overall well-being through five main components: meaning and purpose, happiness and life satisfaction, physical and mental health, character and virtue, and close social relationships. Dr. Larson and Dr. Dunn, whose work was recently featured in The Baltimore Sun, provide a variety of flourishing practices to the program’s advisors each month, with the advisors then sharing those practices with participating students and teachers at their respective schools.

The faculty members have also brought their training to campus, developing a separate Teacher Alliance for Flourishing for educators enrolled in coursework at Notre Dame.

“The same methods that we are sharing with the advisors in Anne Arundel County, we’re also sharing them with teachers, and especially first-year teachers, from a wide range of counties here on Notre Dame’s campus,” Dr. Dunn said. “We invite them to monthly Zoom meetings for discussion on flourishing practices, and then we organize a retreat at the end of the school year.”

Last year’s inaugural retreat was held in May at the Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center in Marriottsville, Maryland, with a variety of wellness activities conducted in a relaxed environment surrounded by nature.

Teacher Alliance for Flourishing retreat group photo

Notre Dame will soon be providing a new opportunity for teachers to develop their own flourishing techniques and share that knowledge with students. Dr. Larson is spearheading an innovative Social-Emotional Learning & Flourishing post-baccalaureate certificate which will debut during the 2023 spring semester. Through courses in social-emotional learning, trauma-informed practices, positive behavior supports, and culturally responsive teaching, the certificate will prepare teachers to create a learning environment that enhances students’ social and emotional wellbeing.

At a time when research studies show that over 50 percent of teachers are thinking of leaving the profession, Dr. Larson hopes the certificate can play a role in reversing that trend.

“I want teachers to recognize how important they are and how much we need them,” she said. “But I also want them to realize that they can’t do their job unless they are healthy in all aspects, including their mental health, their physical health, and all other aspects of human flourishing. My biggest hope for the certificate is that it will make teachers feel more effective in their practice, which in turn would make them less likely to burn out and more likely to stay in the field.”

Established in 1895, Notre Dame of Maryland University (NDMU) is a private, Catholic institution in Baltimore, Maryland, with the mission to educate leaders to transform the world. Notre Dame has been named one of the best "Regional Universities North" by U.S. News & World Report.

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