Creative (and Practical) Ways Educators Are Tackling Social-Emotional Learning

7 min read

| By Gale Staff |

The pandemic has disrupted most, if not all, aspects of our lives. This rings especially true for educators who have continued working to overcome the challenges and disruptions prompted by COVID-19.

The 2020-21 school year has been anything but normal. Students, families, and staff members alike are dealing with new stressors, anxieties, and trauma, and social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies are becoming more relevant than ever.

With the importance of SEL in mind, we reached out to teachers and other education experts to learn how they’re tackling SEL during this unusual school year.

SEL: What Is It, and How Does It Help Students?

SEL is the process through which children and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

While SEL is always relevant, it’s become increasingly important as the pandemic has progressed. According to the Learning Policy Institute, “The pandemic has further illuminated the need for SEL to care for ourselves, our students, and their families. […] Now more than ever, we must call upon our empathy, resilience, relationship building, and collective resolve as we innovate and rebuild our education systems.”

Educators and stakeholders agree—and share why SEL is such an important piece of the education puzzle:

“It’s not traditional to think about higher education as a place where trauma can be resolved, outside of the counselor’s office. Usually, we think of education as a source of overwhelm in and of itself. But trauma, particularly trauma that stems from structural inequality, the current circumstances of the pandemic and racialized oppression has a profound impact upon faculty’s ability to teach and students’ ability to learn.”
– Anita Chari, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Political Science at The University of Oregon and Co-founder of Embodying Your Curriculum

“Students and teachers are exhausted from staring at their screens all day. Many don’t recognize how draining it can be mentally to sit in front of a computer screen for 8+ hours per day.”
– Imani Francies, 5th Grade Science Teacher and Writer at QuickQuote

“As the days are progressing, educators and students are becoming more stressed and anxious. Most students are finding it hard to comply with the requirements because it usually requires a stable internet connection, and this often leads to worrying constantly about where they would be getting the money to buy an internet-ready gadget and stable source of internet connection.”
– Lewis Keegan, Owner/Operator at SkillScouter

“COVID-19 has derailed the landscape of education in the U.S. The education system is under tremendous pressure to provide quality education for all. It is in the backdrop that we try to understand the social-emotional well-being of both teachers and students.”
– Allen Koh, CEO at Cardinal Education

5 Educator-Approved SEL Tips

We’ve established that SEL is important—but how are educators applying it? Educators shared tried-and-true tips for the 2020-21 school year:

Tip 1: Relationships First.

“While educators have demands to meet, and none of us want students to fall behind academically, it’s important to put the relationship before academic tasks. Kids are stressed, and stressed-out brains don’t learn very well. The stronger the relationship is between child and educator—focusing first on their social and emotional well-being—the easier it is to get students caught up on the work. Collaboration between educators, support staff, and parents is key. School psychologists can be the linchpins in coordinating support for struggling students, and they can help teachers find innovative (and effective) ways to make sure kids feel connected, engaged, and supported.”
Dr. Rebecca Branstetter, School Psychologist, Speaker, and Author of upcoming book, The Thriving School Psychologist

Tip 2: Mindful Movement.

“I like to incorporate mindful movement, like dance and yoga, and meditation at the start of class and throughout the rest of the virtual school day. This is a positive daily ritual because it gives a person time to center themselves before they carry out the day. Dance and yoga are great ways to get students’ minds ready to learn, and it even motivates them to exercise for virtual physical education (P.E.) and other electives.”
– Imani Francies, 5th Grade Science Teacher and Writer at QuickQuote

Tip 3: Reconnection & Relationships.

“At the outset of the 2020-2021 school year, the message from the district office was for the staff to focus on two important items: reconnection and relationships. We wanted staff to work on reestablishing those integral relationships with students. Our entire school community wore the same shirt on the first day of school which touted the message, ‘You Got This and We Got You,’ to let our students know we have their backs—it was extremely unifying. We also formed a partnership with the #SameHere Schools program to further support our staff and community. The organization kicked off the year with a training for our teachers about trauma informed care and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which we will build upon as the year progresses.”
– Jillian Makris, Director of Student Services at Sayville Public Schools, New York

Tip 4: Keeping It Real.

“I try to find ways to keep the connection between my students as real as possible. Creating more opportunities for everyone to smile, laugh, joke, or dance is a daily practice of mine. I also make sure to acknowledge all birthdays and get the entire class to participate in singing ‘Happy Birthday.’ It’s also important that I provide different modes of engagement for my students beyond the screen. This includes finding ways to be playful with them and providing fun ways for us to interact.”
– Benwar Shepard, Lead Instructor at Dept. of Sound, California

Tip 5: Reinvent Activities.

“I’m looking for every opportunity to get kids working together and, perhaps even more importantly, to have fun while learning. One of the tools I used in the classroom that’s transitioned well to remote learning is Unruly Splats, a STEM learning tool that combines coding with active play. During ‘normal’ times, the kids learn to code programmable devices we have at school that light up and make sounds when stomped on to play a variety of games. During COVID, we’re still playing with Unruly Splats, just virtually in an app. We’re getting creative with it!”
– Deb Dixon, Library Media Specialist (Pre-K–8th grade) at Winter Hill Community Innovation School, Massachusetts

SEL That’s Relevant and Accessible

While a focus of SEL is to build resilience and address trauma, it’s also about building healthy habits and coping mechanisms that students can use when life gets tough. Whether a student is learning in the classroom, at home, or a mix of both, SEL is relevant—so it should also be accessible—that’s why Gale continues to partner with the Cameron K. Gallagher (CKG) Foundation.

Together, we provide students with trusted mental health and wellness resources—including topics like yoga and meditation—on a digital platform that they can access anywhere, anytime.

By investing in SEL, you’re providing additional support to students during a time when they need it most. Give it a try! Your students will thank you.

Enjoy this blog? Check out Gale’s Everyday SEL Student Tips for more.

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