As a teacher embarking on the 2020-2021 school year, I was given little guidance on how to teach a hybrid model, any concrete curricular resources to implement, and largely useless advice from administrators who simply didn’t know what to expect. I found myself scrambling all summer long, in anticipation of the unknown, to try to prepare myself for what lay ahead. I created documents to organize myself, researched ideas on how to set-up a hybrid model, and became anxiety-ridden thinking about how lost I felt, when teaching had always come so easily to me. There was no college course or PD workshop that had prepared me for this. I was questioning my own competency as a teacher.
As the year began, I slowly realized that, even though I was poking around in the dark, I was still finding my way. One reason for this was because I employed SEL strategies that helped me cope. I reflected on my own practices, talked to colleagues about how they were surviving day to day, realized that I should expect to make mistakes, and replaced the word “control” with “manage.” By being aware of my social and emotional spheres, I was able find success.
This example highlights why SEL needs to be at the forefront of education now, as we enter one of the largest transitional times in education. As we emerge from a pandemic that plucked us from normalcy, we need to make sure that adults and children alike are better prepared for the next obstacle that enters our lives - and there will always be another obstacle. This can be addressed through SEL. The 5 core competencies of SEL - self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and social awareness (CASEL) - are integral for students to succeed in this new environment and in future situations, where expectations are different and the landscape is new.
This year, teachers will attempt to accomplish a near impossible feat - recovering lost learning while bridging a social and emotional gap. The social scene in the past year, regardless of the virtual, in-person, or hybrid format, was new for everyone and not ideal for many. Emotionally, students had to cope with a myriad of schedule changes, extended screen time, isolation, and fear of the unknown.
To say that students and educators alike were resilient in the past year is an understatement. But, even with their adaptability, there are still residual social and emotional issues that need to be addressed.
Although SEL should be regularly employed, it is integral during transitional times when anxiety, fear, and isolation abound. Grade-level changes, extended recesses, the beginning and end of the school day, and when a new student joins the class are examples of other transitional times. Remember the goal of SEL is to increase awareness of social and emotional skills in students, so that they grow to be adults with a strong sense of who they are, how to interact with others, and how to face adversity.
Here are 5 ways to address SEL during times of transition:
The best way to promote self-awareness in students is to talk. Talk about their morning, their weekend, their plans for after school. Talk about their families and friends, their vacation plans, their new sneakers.
Talk about their thought process when solving a problem or answering a question. Have students discuss different strategies they used to get to the same answer. Have conversations about why certain strategies work better than others given different scenarios.
During times of transition, especially during more significant ones, students can lose self-awareness as anxiety and fear take over. Talking about social, emotional, and academic topics can convert negative feelings into a better understanding and awareness of reality.
Giving students flexibility and the freedom to choose gives them opportunities to strengthen their self-management skills. As an educator, this is a natural course of action to take, especially when there are students with individual accommodations in place.
When students have choices on how to accomplish a task, they can make their own decisions about what strategies work best for them. With metacognition, they can come up with a plan on how to tackle a problem. Instead of telling students how to accomplish a task, offer them the freedom to think for themselves.
During times of transition, learning self-management is a way for students to become independent, rather than rely on others. This autonomy is a sign of growth both socially and emotionally, and is integral for lifelong learning and adaptability.
In order to strengthen students’ abilities to make informed decisions, let them focus on the journey rather than the destination. Whether they are working on a Math problem, an open-ended question about a novel, or a procedure in Science, let the road to the final answer be the center of attention. This will increase not only their self-awareness and self-management, but also their decision making.
As an educator, it can be difficult to switch the focus from the answer to the process, especially when data collection is so integral in today’s classrooms. However, approaching instruction through the lens of responsibility and self-efficacy, it is clear that students need to learn how to solve problems on their own and make their own decisions. Don’t be afraid for students to make mistakes, because that is when responsible decision making is developed.
Being a responsible decision maker during a time of transition is a life skill that will serve students throughout their lives. In the classroom, transitions are somewhat controlled and expected. In the real world, that is typically untrue. Being able to identify a responsible course of action when making a decision takes practice and critical thinking. Supporting this practice in the classroom during times of transition gives students the opportunity to build that experience.
When selecting programs, apps, and tools for your classroom, keep peer-to-peer relationships in mind. Even though students are working towards their own goals, they can still work together collaboratively to develop relationship skills. Every educator knows that relationships suffered over the past year, when there was more screen time than facetime. The 2021-2022 school year will be full of transitions, and it is the ideal time for students to begin to interact more personally again. This comes with the goal of building strong relationship skills for the future.
Introduce interactive tools to your classroom, where students not only answer questions, but also talk about their ideas with others. Understanding how other students went about solving a problem builds tolerance and empathy, which are critical relationship skills. Transitional times can be confusing, and when students can use their relationships to better understand how they feel and what is happening, social and emotional learning is being employed.
The classroom is filled with students who each have unique abilities and understand the world differently. As an educator, you can reinforce the “S” in SEL by providing students with opportunities to celebrate their peers and build social awareness.
This can be accomplished by promoting understanding that others may approach a problem differently, but can still be successful in solving it. Students will develop an awareness for others' differences, and appreciate them rather than criticize them.
People cope with transitions differently. Building social awareness in students arms them with the knowledge that others may go through the same experience, but in a different way, and that it is still valid.
When I think back to the summer of 2020, I remember a dark cloud of anxiety and fear. However, as I stand on the other side, I realize that I made it by empowering myself with these skills throughout the year.
Make sure your classroom is prepared to employ SEL, especially during times of transition. Check out these resources: