The Importance of SEL During Distance Learning

Guest blog by Mary Costa, PE teacher from Martha Reid Leadership Academy in Mansfield ISD.

The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about a disease and the unknown can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Coping with stress will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger. As more schools and districts continue to be affected by the coronavirus global pandemic, solution providers have stepped up by rolling out free teaching resources and education services that promote online learning, offer advice, improve communications and even provide nourishment.

In the midst of a challenging situation, it’s critical to make time and space for social-emotional supports for learners. Simply put, social-emotional skills are the foundation for overall well-being. Kids and teens need to feel safe, respected, loved, and valued. They need to have strong coping skills to work their emotional challenges and they need to improve cognitive flexibility to deal with the changes that are happening, so many being outside of their control. Obviously, the need to use our social and emotional skills becomes even more important.  While your focus is probably on academics—making sure students continue to read, write and do the math—there are ways in which you can continue building a supportive learning community and helping students to use their social and emotional skills when they are at home.

Whether you are a classroom teacher, school counselor, social worker, or parent, the list below includes specific strategies and ideas to help support all learners during this distance learning experience. The activities will continue your SEL work as you prepare for distance learning:

1.     Share an encouraging morning message to your students. Students may feel isolated during this time. Let them know that you are thinking of them and supporting them from afar. If technology is available, you can create a video, record a voicemail or send a text message.

2.     Whenever possible, encourage students to post questions and/or comments about the materials they are working on at home, and share your answers. Again, the idea is to keep the communication open, even if you and your students are not together in school.

3.     It’s easy to say that literature is a great way to integrate SEL into the day. Pretty much any book or short story targets a variety of social-emotional skills like kindness, empathy, perspective-taking, and more. It’s important to note that picture books aren’t just for little kids. Many older kids love a good read aloud, too! Record a video of you reading a text (making sure the author gives permission for this first) and send to your students. You could even do a live read aloud with some video chat tools, like Zoom or Teams.

4.     More than ever, now is a great time to get kids journaling daily. Not only is writing in a journal a calming and mindful activity, but it’s also a great way to help kids share thoughts and feelings. Even more, you can use journaling as a specific way to target social-emotional skills. Each day you can assign a journal topic for kids to write about. For example, you might have them list out some positive thoughts and then writing in a journal about how positive thoughts can be helpful. Another simple strategy is to encourage kids to journal about their thoughts and feelings each day. Not only will this help them in the moment, but we are living through historic times, so it will be meaningful to them in the future.

5.     Consider the different needs of students and families when making response plans and connect them to necessary resources. This includes ensuring that  plans will fully meet the needs of students and families who are homeless or in transitional living situations, may not have easy access to computers or internet, receive free or reduced price meals through school, or rely on support services at their schools.

6.     Post SEL prompts for students to answer before they start their home school day. If students will be using technology, ask them to share their answer on the school’s learning platform. If not, have students write it down on a notebook. For example:

·       What is something you are looking forward to today?

·       What is one goal that you have for yourself?

·       What are some skills that will help you stay focused today?

·       Share something funny that recently happened.

When physical distancing is deemed necessary, social and emotional connectedness is even more critical.  When it comes to student engagement and learning, relationships online matter as much as, if not more than, in person.

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