You did it! After months of uncertainty and hard work, you have adapted as a teacher to remote learning. But now you are probably wondering: sure, I’ve trained myself how to teach history or math through the screen, but what about my students’ social-emotional skills?
What is social-emotional learning?
Hit the brakes! Before we dive in, what exactly is social-emotional learning? According to the Committee for Children, social-emotional learning (SEL) is the process by which children obtain a specific set of social, emotional, and interpersonal skills that will help them to manage their emotions and impulses, set and achieve goals, and cooperate with others.
The Five “Yous” in Social-Emotional Learning
Think of all the times in a day that you may use social-emotional skills yourself, like when you breathe deeply to maintain calm during traffic or when you go to the gym even if you don’t really want to. To help you understand the process better, researchers have broken down social-emotional learning into five core competencies.
1. Self-awareness. This is that strong sense of self we all strive to have - the inner voice that helps us to identify and label our emotions, recognize our strengths and weaknesses, and helps us know and have confidence in who we are!
2. Self-management. This is our inner assistant, the one who helps us to focus, manage stress, listen, organize, and who whispers, “Are you sure?” when we reach for soda instead of water.
3. Social awareness. Before we can communicate with others, we have to have a basic understanding of them. This is where social awareness comes in: it helps us to empathize and understand someone that is very different from us.
3. Relationship skills. To be a part of society, we have to know how to engage with society (whether to order a pizza or make new friends.) This core competency allows us to communicate with others and perform teamwork.
3. Responsible decision making. We may not believe in little angels on our shoulders whispering to us what to do, but most believe in our conscience, the part of us that allows us to assume ethical responsibility by caring for other people, animals, or nature, for example. Before we make decisions, this competency helps us to reflect and want to solve problems for the good of ourselves as well as our communities.
Why teach social-emotional skills, and why now?
Tantrum-throwing students disrupt learning. Students lacking self-management skills may not hand in their homework on time. At the end of the day, however, the main reason social-emotional learning is important for you as a teacher is probably because you want to see your students do well in life. And, both inside and outside the classroom, your students will be more successful if you teach them valuable social-emotional skills.
But why now? Well, during these uncertain and difficult COVID times, your students are probably dealing with trauma, daily stressors, and a sudden lack of routine that may make it even more difficult for them to pay attention in class and do the assignments you give them.
But don’t worry! You teachers have worked so hard for your students, let’s see what we can do to help keep it going in with SEL.
Five Tips and Activities to Support Student Social-Emotional Learning
Do “temperature checks.” We examine our bodies with check-ups, but what about our emotional or mental states? The same principle works here as well. One easy way is by asking students to send in a temperature check once or twice a day at a set time. Temperature checks can be done by taking an online poll, for older kids, or asking younger kids to give a thumbs up, middle, or down by sending an emoji or taking a photo/video of themselves. This practice will help them to develop self-awareness by asking them to tune into how they’re feeling, but also will give you insight into how your students are doing.
Have students fill out a “gratitude tree.” Provide students with an outline of a drawn tree and ask them to every day write one thing that they’re grateful for on one of the branches. This is a mindfulness practice that will help them to recognize the positive and learn important reflecting skills, which will come in handy when it comes to decision-making and has also been shown to combat depression.
Help them stay connected by giving them social homework. Give your students a simple task: assign them to a partner with whom they must check up on once a week (through text, email, or phone, etc.,). Social homework such as this will teach them important listening and empathizing skills, as well as ensure that they get social interaction practice in a comfortable and safe environment.
Do a class project together for a good cause! Together with your students, brainstorm a cause that the majority cares about. It could be COVID-specific, like writing letters to elderly people isolating in nursing homes, or it could be more general, like reading a book to a younger class over Zoom. Regardless of what project you pick, small or big, research shows that doing something for our communities makes us feel like we have a purpose and teaches us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Practice self-care as an educator yourself. This last tip is the most important one. In fact, it is so important, that we’re going to give it an entire heading of its own!
REPEAT, PRACTICE SELF-CARE
You’ve put in the extra hours getting up-to-speed on remote teaching - and now you’re stretching further to find new ways to teach your students social-emotional skills. But, let’s not forget, you too are probably dealing with loads of stress yourself. Like many of us, you may tend to push your own self-care practice aside for others. We want you to remember to take care of yourself too! Try to get enough sleep, drink water, and take care of yourself first, because as we all know, we can’t care for others if we can’t care for ourselves.