Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) provides lifelong skills for our personal lives as well as the soft skills for our professional lives.  At this particular time,  SEL has the important role of providing students with the coping skills needed to survive and thrive. Not only for today, but for post-pandemic life.  On November 5th and 6th, I had the privilege of presenting at the Florida Counsel of Independent Schools Virtual Annual Convention.  Within my virtual sessions, I spoke with both administrators and faculty members. I emphasized that SEL is one of the most relevant topics of our time. With over 200 attendees at our sessions, it seems that educators also see SEL as a key issue.

Why is Social-Emotional Learning so Critical Right Now?

These are uncertain times. Though we are in the same storm, we’re all in different boats. In other words, we may experience the pandemic differently, depending on our circumstances. For all, this is a time of great uncertainty that causes our bodies to produce more cortisol, leading to increased anxiety and stress. 

We are all more isolated. Whether a child or teen attends in-person school or is enrolled virtually, life looks different these days. Many extra-curricular activities have been curtailed. Some activities have gone virtual. Families with a child or family member who are at greater risk for Covid-19 are not able to enjoy face-to-face playdates. 

Little loss can have a big impact. Research tells us that these collective changes in our lives can viewed as trauma. “Little t” trauma is the build up of losses and disappointments. Longing for friends and family, missing out on milestones Conversely,. BIG Trauma can include job loss, eviction, not enough food, or losing a loved one. Trauma in children and teens presents itself in different ways within the classroom. Please note, many of these signs are also red flags for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). So, how can we help them reduce feelings of stress and move towards a “Maslow before Bloom” mentality? Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, Pediatrician and Surgeon General of California addresses the importance of social emotional learning in this clip from Edutopia.

As Dr. Burke Harris notes, school can provide direct teaching of coping tools to help with the varying degrees of trauma our students are experiencing.

Social-Emotional Learning Teaches Students Concrete Coping Skills

  • Emotional Literacy – Helps children recognize and communicate what they are feeling (giving feelings a name) and the intensity of the feeling (big feeling or a little feeling)
  • Emotional Regulation – Provides tools to calm down (breathing, mindfulness) and move to the problem -solving part of our brain
  • Communication Skills – Reading social cues (facial expression and body language), assertive communication – respectful communication of wants and needs
  • Perspective Taking – seeing situations through others eyes
  • Problem Solving to add in good decision making
  • Social Awareness – Planning before saying or doing. What impact do my words and actions have on others?

How Schools Can Be Supportive

Focus on building and fostering social relationships. Between the student and teachers, and amongst students. Ways to encourage connection include activities that help students to learn what they have in common (icebreakers) and team-building activities. Additionally, provide a daily feelings check in. Ideas can include anything from actual feelings words to emojis or comic animal faces. Some links to explore: