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Supporting Social-Emotional Learning in Socially Distanced Settings

Children’s learning experiences are often the result of social interactions. With the increased number of children engaged in distance learning, we have been challenged to find new and enhanced ways of supporting children in continuing to build social-emotional skills in virtual settings.

For Justina Schlund, director of field learning for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), part of this challenge has to do with the fact that social-emotional learning (SEL) has traditionally been taught through in-person interactions.

“So much of typical SEL programs and practices have included a lot of face-to-face interaction between students and between students and adults,” Schlund said in an article published in Education Week. “So, I think it’s going to require a lot of creativity on the part of our schools and educators to think about how they’re communicating SEL during this time.”


The Importance of Rituals

In response to the increasing need for educators to provide SEL to children learning remotely, the Institute for Social and Emotional Learning (IFSEL) recently published a list of ideas and strategies teachers can implement right away.

Because the pandemic has introduced an unprecedented amount of uncertainty, IFSEL suggests that establishing rituals to begin and end virtual class sessions can “provide a grounded and predictable form for connection,” and if repeated consistently, create an inviting space where students feel focused and safe.

An example of an effective ritual educators can use according to IFSEL is an emotional/physical well-being check-in. Inviting students to share how they are feeling will not only give them an opportunity to express their emotions, but it can also provide important information for teachers as to how they can best interact and cater to individual student needs from a distance.

For students who are reluctant to describe their feelings directly, it can be helpful for teachers to suggest different metaphors children can use to explain how they’re feeling. IFSEL provides a few examples including:

  1. What color or blend of colors best represents how you’re feeling today? Why?
  2. Imagine the way certain animals look, live and move. Which one best matches your feelings this morning?
  3. If you made or used an emoji to best represent your mood right now, what would it be?
  4. Across our planet there are many landforms — geysers, streams, craters, mountains, hills, forests, valleys. Which form or blend of forms represents your feelings at the moment?

For additional interaction, educators can invite their students to locate an image of the animal, emoji or landform they come up with, and share it with their classmates using the chat feature.


The Opportunity for Expression

Especially in remote settings, giving students the opportunity to express themselves is essential. While it might seem counterintuitive to expect genuine SEL to occur in a distanced setting, by making it a top priority, teachers can ensure that their students develop these crucial skills.

Invention Project® K-6, the latest education program from the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), can be implemented in in-person, at-home and blended settings. Each of this program’s 10 units, with subjects ranging from ecosystem exploration to entrepreneurship, includes SEL components educators can also incorporate in their traditional curriculum. To learn more about Invention Project K-6, we invite you to visit our website.

For more ideas on how to promote SEL in your classroom, check out our blog.

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