Why Is Social-Emotional Learning Important?
Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is important in all classrooms because it enables personal growth and natural maturation. SEL is especially important in virtual classrooms where the teacher is not physically present in the classroom. It can be tricky to establish meaningful bonds with students remotely, but incorporating SEL is an important component of relationship building. By encouraging SEL, teachers can cultivate trust in their classrooms - even if it is through a screen.
Live instruction teacher Brandi Davidson teaches 2nd grade in a Virginia virtual school. She explains, “SEL is important in any classroom form, but is especially important in the virtual classroom. Students who are learning virtually are often working from home and have limited or no in-person contact with others outside of the virtual school and home. This increase in isolation has brought attention to behaviors that may not necessarily have been exhibited so blatantly in a brick-and-mortar environment. Some things I have personally witnessed are difficulty with self-care, conflict among siblings/family members, difficulty with basic social skills (turn-taking, having conversations, etc.), and lack of empathy. It is increasingly important that I build in opportunities for students during the school day in my virtual classroom to address these deficiencies.”
Virtual 1st-grade teacher Victoria Young says, “It is extremely important for students' emotional needs to be met in the virtual classroom. In a brick-and-mortar school, students can ask to speak to the counselor or we can see that they need to step away from the classroom to regain their composure or take a breather. In a virtual setting, this is a bit difficult. Students need to know that they matter. They need to know that their voices are heard.”
How to Incorporate SEL in Virtual Learning
- 10 Minutes of Sharing Time
“One way that I build rapport with my virtual students is by allowing the time to share,” Ms. Davidson says. “Every morning we have 10 minutes of sharing time to start our day where students are able to share aloud the things that are on their minds and talk with each other. This allows me to get to know my students, learn about their families, and find out what their hobbies and interests are. I can then weave this information into lessons to increase interest and buy-in, as well as give students the sense of love and care that they need from their teacher to succeed by showing that I am interested in them as people, not just as students.”
- Use Breakout Rooms
Ms. Davidson also recommends small groups. “Another strategy I use to build rapport is to incorporate both small group instruction and breakout rooms as often as possible into each day. I’ve found that there are many students who feel uncomfortable discussing topics in a whole group of 20+ students, but come out of their shell in a group of three to four students. This allows me time to extend my personal knowledge of each student and what works for them academically. It also continues those personal connections that I strive to make.”
Ms. Young agrees, “I make it a point to connect with my students on a more personal level. Each morning I ask how they are doing, but I also will pick a few students to ask a more detailed question. Maybe about their loose tooth, maybe about a trip they took this weekend or a sibling that was sick. This shows them that I care about each of them and their families.”
- Allow Students to Teach
Ms. Davidson says, “Finally, one thing that can be difficult but is really important to do is to take a step back as the teacher and allow the students control over how the classroom is run. Allowing them to discuss and write the classroom expectations, letting them use the Zoom annotate tool to draw on your screen when appropriate, and having them lead discussion when it is feasible are all great ways to give them freedom while still being able to guide them towards what you want them to learn that day.”
- Celebrate Diversity
Ms. Young recommends celebrating cultural differences. “One of the things I do in class is learn more about my students and their backgrounds. I encourage them to discuss their beliefs or traditions. They enjoy asking questions about cultures that they may not understand. I have had parents share things that they do as a family. This immerses the class in diverse cultures.”
- Address Selected Issues as a Group
Ms. Young chooses some situations to resolve together, knowing other classmates may have the same academic question or need a mental break. “I have a student who becomes very upset at times in class. He cries and becomes extremely emotional if he doesn’t understand a problem. Instead of singling him out, I get the entire class to work on breathing exercises that help him and the whole class cope with their feelings. We breathe in as we count on our fingers to five and then we breathe out as we count six through ten. Something that takes thirty seconds to a minute and does wonders for this student. He also believes his peers are supporting him. His emotional needs are met by feeling like he has a purpose and that his feelings matter. He even asks me to breathe with him sometimes before he becomes really upset. So, he has recognized that this breathing exercise helps him and he knows what he needs to cope with his emotions.”
A few quick strategies can make a huge difference in developing your students’ social-emotional learning skills. Take the time to get to know your students and incorporate their interests into your lessons, recognize their culture to help them feel heard and valued, explain questions to the class to help silent strugglers, address stress and emotions, and use small groups so students have one-on-one time interacting with their peers. As we continue to adjust to this ‘new normal’ the pandemic has developed, teachers need to adapt to the changing times as well. Implementing SEL into teacher and student daily lives can be a key coping skill for the next generation.
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