The pandemic has taken a toll on students’ mental health as they adjusted to the sweeping changes in their schools and communities. The move by many schools to distance or hybrid learning contributed to mental health issues like isolation, anxiety and depression.
Schools are recognizing the rising toll these mental health issues are having on students’ long-term wellbeing and we are, as a result, hearing a lot more this year about the importance of social and emotional learning (SEL). SEL is the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success. However in distance learning or hybrid environments, it can be more difficult for teachers to identify and address SEL concerns because they aren’t seeing students in person every day.
Earlier this school year we participated in a roundtable hosted by Impero Software the Learning Technology Center of Illinois (LTC), and Committee for Children to discuss SEL strategies for remote learning. Here are some of our takeaways and tips about teaching SEL in a distance learning environment, and which practices schools moving back to in-person learning should keep.
1. Take time to foster relationships with students. This is important and can be done whether students and teachers are in a physical classroom or holding class via an online meeting platform. For students, having a personal connection to their educational experience is really important for success, especially for the most vulnerable students we serve.
In a physical classroom, a teacher might stand in the classroom doorway saying hello to the students as they come in. It’s important during remote learning to make sure this kind of personal outreach is still happening. For example, if you’re doing live virtual classes, greet students as they come in, even though they may have their cameras off and you may never hear from them. They’re still hearing you–and hearing those positive messages can make a big difference.
2. Give students a safe space to share their feelings. One way to do this during distance learning is to put students in separate breakout rooms and schedule time to have one-on-one meetings with them. This gives students a space to just simply talk about how they’re feeling. Another option is to use a tool like Flipgrid. Flipgrid lets students record a private response to a prompt, and then lets the teacher respond back to the student. These types of relationship-building activities can be a really good way to start hearing more from students and provides them that one-on-one feedback to help build those relationships.”
Giving students the opportunity to talk and share their feelings is important because they may not have that opportunity anywhere else. It also helps them practice recognizing their emotions and builds up their emotion vocabulary which is really important. And it normalizes having emotions. If a student hears their friends, teacher, or counselor talking about their emotions, it normalizes students’ feeling these different ways. Just by being able to express things openly in a safe space helps students recognize those emotions and process them.
3. Take advantage of asynchronous time to teach SEL. SEL instruction doesn’t have to be done face-to-face. For example, teachers can assign a short video for students to watch on an SEL topic like problem-solving or managing anxiety, and then have students answer questions about the topic. Or use a question-answer prompt like in the Flipgrid example. This can help students who may not feel comfortable participating in larger groups. They may provide more thoughtful answers and participate more if they can answer the questions privately on their own time. Allowing students to work on SEL outside of a live class is a practice that can be helpful whether students are doing in-person learning or distance learning.
4. Don’t be afraid to innovate. The pandemic forced teachers to grow and stretch to find new ways to reach their students. They explored different apps and tools and found amazing new ways to reach their students. Some really great strategies have come out of it. Hopefully that same fire will continue to be there this coming school year. There is a lot of room for innovation and for teachers to create their own custom content to meet their students’ specific needs. For a list of some of our favorite resources, check out the slides from our roundtable presentation here, or watch the full recording here.
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