No one who is alive today has ever lived through what we are currently living through! But even more impactful - no one alive today has ever lived through a nationwide school closure.
The COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented disruption to academic learning. Our students are now in the high risk category of profound learning loss! But not only do they have major gaps in their academic learning - their social emotional learning skills have also been impacted!
“Even with prevalent support for teaching social-emotional learning and a growing understanding of how deeply intertwined skills like building healthy peer relationships and responsible decision making are with academic success, there are big challenges when it comes to the reality of teaching SEL on a grand scale when times are normal.” ~EducationWeek, 2020
These times are anything, but normal, though. And as a result, Social Emotional Learning, or SEL, needs to continue to be taught, whether we are teaching in person or from our computers.
And teachers know this - they are actively learning and working to build their own knowledge of SEL and how to teach and support it in our new classrooms.
Social media has been flooded with ways to re-imagine teaching in a COVID world. From bitmoji classrooms to personalized student calm down tools, we have so many options for teaching at our fingertips. But as a result, there can't be many of us that are not overwhelmed right now. But being overwhelmed impacts teacher self care, and if teachers are not emotionally healthy, their students will suffer.
So what do teachers need to do?
The following is a list of the key takeaway needs from the most recent research on SEL:
#1 Make Research-Based Decisions
Research, based on the science of learning, gives us the tool to make expert decisions for our students’ futures. The purpose of educational research is to develop new knowledge about the teaching and learning of students to improve our educational practices. So why would we re-invent the wheel?
Check out EducationWeek’s online summit of experts and CASEL for a list of evidence-based SEL practices for re-opening!
#2 Use a Team Approach
There are many teams within our school buildings. Every school building has a student team, a staff team, and a community team. Within each of those teams, there are even smaller teams.
It’s important, then, to get the input of all of these stakeholders. What are teachers feeling? What are teachers needing? How are students feeling? What are our students needing? Are our families having all of their needs met? We need to know this input to guide our decision-making process.
And another team that schools should have is a re-opening team. We can’t all be the experts in everything, but we are all experts in something! So as we begin to identify our community needs, we can also call upon our experts to support those needs. For instance, if our teachers are asking for a concrete protocol to follow when they have identified a student as emotionally at-risk, then call in your school psychologists and counselors to meet that need!
#3 Check Community Emotions
By now we all know the importance of emotional check-ins in our classrooms, right? They help to give us a pulse on the classroom and identify the emotional well-being of each individual student. Oftentimes, in schools, we sit in our morning meetings and share how we are feeling, but how do we do this when we are not in the classroom?
Use surveys or meetings to check-in on the emotional pulse of the school community, and this includes students, staff, and families. These emotional check-ins will allow schools to be able to identify those needs that we discussed in our second step.
#4 Approach SEL Curricula Organically
Continually checking the emotional pulse of the community helps us to make decisions and adjust accordingly as community emotions fluctuate. What this means, then, is that we can take an organic approach to our SEL curriculum.
SEL instruction and supports can be tailored to meet the needs of the community based upon the ebb and flow of our own individualized communities. The practices that we choose to implement, then, will be responsive to the community’s needs
#5 Explicitly Integrate SEL
‘Time on learning’ is a popular phrase in education. We have lost a lot of time on learning this year. So do we even have time to address SEL?
Make time! SEL is a must.
Schools should continue to teach core SEL skills. This instruction should be explicit in its teaching of what social and emotional skills look and feel like in action. However, research has shown that when we embed SEL instruction into our academic content areas, it can be more effective than pull-out programs. Therefore, core skills can be linked to our content area learning standards.
We can further support students’ SEL skills by embedding SEL practices into our daily routines (even if you are not in person, we can still have a Google Meet morning meeting!) and by addressing students’ SEL needs through personalized learning as well. Remember how we have our thumb on our community’s pulse? Well, this is another reason why we do that! Through check-ins, we can support our students’ evolving needs with SEL lessons that are additional to our core curriculums (i.e. coping skills for remote learning, mask wearing anxiety, anti-racism, etc.). By taking this organic approach to our SEL instruction, we can be proactive in both our instruction and supports.
#6 Offer Continuous Training
Teachers are amazing. That is my biggest takeaway from this school year.
Teachers inspired a nation by what they were able to accomplish in a time of crisis. Although the immensity of the task was unprecedented, teachers transformed living breathing classrooms into a productive remote learning environments. And this happened in a matter of moments!
That seemed impossible! And yet teachers found a way to make it happen.
But now that we have more than 10 minutes to plan, schools should support these amazing beings! Teachers are going to need both initial and ongoing professional development for SEL curricula.
As our students’ needs evolve, our expertise is going to need to as well! Support our teachers to support our students!
#7 Progress Monitor Emotions
We progress monitor the impact of our academic instruction so why don’t we do this with SEL?
Emotions change. One minute we are happily driving, belting out our favorite tune as it blasts through our speakers, and the next minute, that happiness can crash into anger as another driver cuts you off. A moment later, you feel relieved because you realized had you not been paying attention, that moment could have ended in a crash.
Schools should create a continual feedback loop. So don’t just implement #3 by surveying the community once; keep doing it!
During this past year, we have seen our lives completely shift in a matter of days and weeks, and with that, our emotions changed as well. Stay vigilant and keep your thumb on this pulse to be proactive.
We can’t do it all. Begin by identifying standards and priorities. Then, align those with a few best practice strategies to support your students’ success. Students do not need you to be the teacher who tries all the new trendy strategies; they just need you!
By: Miss Rae