Students Need Support More Than Ever

How COVID-19 Impacted Social-Emotional Learning

Embracing Social-Emotional Learning proves to be a challenge in some areas. However, due to the pandemic, children and teens of all ages missed out on critical social interaction and social skills practice. There’s no doubt that the pervasive pandemic-related stress has wreaked havoc on our students and their social-emotional functioning. Those familiar with trauma-informed practice know that chronic stress, or trauma, can present as ADHD-like symptoms. This impacts a student’s functioning both inside and outside the classroom.

At Social Bridges, we work with schools throughout the country. In Kentucky, Texas, Arizona, and Florida, we hear concerns about students having “rusty” social skills in this post-pandemic era.  Educators report many of their students have difficulty with emotional regulation and maintaining focus. Naturally, this makes learning and staying on-task a challenge. Additionally, wearing masks for safety has led to challenges with reading non-verbal social cues, like facial expressions, which typically let students know if someone wants to interact, or if they have made a social misstep.

As we know, the need for social-emotional learning is well documented and evidence-based. So, let’s chat about the benefits of ongoing social-emotional learning for our post-pandemic era students.

Why Should Schools Embrace Social-Emotional Learning?

Viewing Problems as Social Skill Deficits vs. Behavioral Issues

Truancy, social conflict, and non-compliance are seen by many as behavioral issues.  But what if we look through a different lens, and view these issues as social skill deficits? Did you know that high quality social-emotional curriculums directly address the tools and strategies to remedy these deficits?

So why should schools be embracing social-emotional learning? When students feel a greater sense of social competence and feel connected and understood by their classmates and teachers, they are more successful in their social and academic pursuits.  When schools dedicate small bits of time for direct teaching of social-emotional competencies, they are implementing a daily dose of healing for their students. By weaving social-emotional learning into their school day, educators are helping their students learn important life skills such as conflict resolution, emotional regulation, assertive communication, and emotional literacy. Check out this video from Edutopia on how amazing the benefits are of these Daily Doses of Healing.

Let’s address the “elephant in the room.” Somewhere along the way, the common-sense tools and support of social-emotional learning has become a trigger. Legislators and some parents may not understand the goals of SEL and therefore it is a topic that has become politicalized, feared and, in some situations, forbidden. How can caring professionals continue to offer support during these challenging times where connection, perspective taking, respectful communication, empathy and flexibility are desperately needed?

Overcoming Resistance to Social-Emotional Learning

Last month, Social Bridges had the opportunity to present at the Diamond Jubilee for the Florida Association of School Social Workers.  Attendees of the conference were the professionals “in the trenches” providing small group instruction for students identified as needing skill-building and support on their IEP’S. We shared the below strategies for overcoming resistance and embracing social-emotional learning across various educational settings.

Embracing Social-Emotional Learning at Schools

  1. Teach and practice similar skills under a neutral name if “social emotional learning” is too big a buzzword. Lessons can be referred to as “Character Development” or “Life Skills” (because it is!)
  2. Combat misinformation by sharing clear facts to parents after each lesson, letting them know how the skills are being taught and how parents can reinforce skills at home.
  3. Weave “emotional check-ins” into to the school day. The newest research on ACES (Aversive Childhood Experiences) which can impact physical and behavioral health in adulthood, shows that positive daily doses of interaction can help mitigate the impact of trauma. Here are some fun, interactive examples of emotional check-ins:
    • “If your mood was a weather forecast, what would you be today?” (e.g. partly sunny, chance of thunderstorms)
    • “What song best matches your mood today?”
    • “If you could pick three words to describe how you’re feeling in this moment, what would they be?”
  4. Help students to connect and find commonalities through engaging activities such as “Would you Rather” games or various icebreakers. These double as brain breaks and can reduce mental fatigue and increase focus among students.
  5. Explore free or budget-friendly apps and newsletters that offer brief activities that are easily incorporated into small skill groups, or class wide instruction. Examples include:

Follow our Facebook & Instagram for social-emotional learning activities straight from our Social Bridges Toolbox Curriculum. Want to learn more about bringing our social-emotional curriculum to your school? Reach out to

Authors: Carol Miller, LCSW

Photo by Artem Kniaz on Unsplash