As schools continue to grapple with reopening this year, there’s a singular opportunity to reimagine foundational learning with a social-emotional learning (SEL) lens.
Newsela and Panorama Education recently collaborated to host a webinar focused on the opportunity to prioritize SEL in the midst of upheaval brought about by COVID-19—all while educators face an unprecedented back-to-school season where questions around school reopenings abide.
Below is a summary of the conversation, as well as actionable strategies to consider.
The current situation for educators and SEL
Educators are working tirelessly to meet student needs virtually and often with an inconsistent schedule. They’re also dealing with the aftermath from the spring, when they suddenly lost the ability to meet in-person with students with whom they had already built relationships.
"In talking with districts, it’s clear that there are a number of stressors that need to be addressed in a way that normalizes the stress versus makes people feel bad about it. Transparency and vulnerability helps our communities not feel alone and be more receptive to what SEL has to offer." – Arin Johnson, Newsela
At the same time, students are dealing with the pandemic. As a response to these needs, schools need to adopt SEL as a Tier 1 Support—meaning that SEL instruction is offered for all students and teachers, baked into core classroom instruction. Schools can facilitate this by focusing on relationships, routines, and resilience.
Building culture in remote learning
To build culture during remote learning, schools must begin with teachers. Leaders can support teachers in acclimating to their new environment, which then better equips them to aid in the adjustment process for students.
Teachers can leverage proven ways to begin the year and apply known best practices. Classroom decorations, student name tags, and other important details can become part of a virtual environment or modified in-person classroom. But educators can also lean into the new dynamics of hybrid learning environments by both leveraging the expertise of their digitally native students as well as modeling authenticity and vulnerability.
"Instead of looking back to see what was, we need to embrace this opportunity for change." – Melanie Daniel, Supervisor of Student Services at Stafford County Public Schools
During instruction, teachers can invite students to establish procedures and tools used daily. For example, students can demonstrate new social media tools and explain possible classroom uses. Teachers can also establish rapport by modeling sharing of feelings about the current situation, which consequently opens lines of communication between the class.
Integrating SEL without it being "yet another thing"
Integrating SEL into daily lessons through intentional conversation is essential. As students interact with one another throughout the day and consume academic content, teachers can intentionally model SEL through language and word choice to show how discussions relate to social-emotional wellbeing.
When teachers provide opportunities for students to process feelings, it normalizes addressing emotional wellbeing during core instruction, whether it’s through the instructional content itself or through additional supports or student surveys.
Building adult capacity for SEL
As Arin Johnson, Content Solution Architect at Newsela, put it: “Educators are superheroes. But being a superhero is exhausting!”
Teachers are no less affected by all of the current stressors. This means that Tier 1 SEL must begin by addressing the needs of teachers. District leaders can, and should, prioritize understanding how teachers and staff are feeling, what resources they need to support their own wellbeing, and what professional development they require to build their capacity for SEL.
As teachers integrate SEL into instruction, leaders can lend additional support by providing resources needed to have important conversations about current events and history. Instructional content and supports can do double-duty as teachers work to make meaning of challenging events alongside students. These discussions are a powerful way to address SEL competencies within a typical class.
"We have to build capacity in all the individuals who’ve chosen education as a profession, not just teachers. Think about your HR department; your equity teams; central office administrators; all of the caring adults who are coming into contacts with students or families. If we can help them feel valued, heard and understood, they’re better able to model it for others." – Melanie Daniel, Supervisor of Student Services at Stafford County Public Schools