Social-emotional learning (SEL) describes the process in which an individual learns the skills and attitudes needed to manage their emotions, hold respectful and empathetic interactions with others, and become responsibly self-sufficient. Every young person needs to learn, evolve, and refine these skills throughout their childhood to become a mature, relatable, and understanding adult.

Many teachers have been adding SEL skill development to their curriculum over the past several years. However, the COVID-19 crisis has made it more challenging to teach interpersonal interaction skills when students are learning remotely. To help you continue your SEL impact, we have suggestions for adapting activities that support SEL skill development into your virtual classroom.

1. Demonstrate a Growth Mindset

A critical component of SEL is developing skills related to problem-solving and personal responsibility. Students may experience a lack of confidence when they face challenges personally or academically, and the insecurity may cause them to shut down. Lead by example by talking aloud as you work through a math equation, think through the answer to an open-ended question, or complete the necessary steps in a science experiment. This tactic works particularly well in a virtual setting when you don’t have the benefit of hands-on learning with your students. Witnessing your self-talk in the face of adversity will inspire students to stay the course even when a task or experience is challenging.

2. Design SEL Lessons Clearly

There are many subtle ways to incorporate SEL into your classroom practice. Still, when students are separated by distance, you will achieve a more significant impact if you make it clear that an activity or lesson is designed to help students understand their emotions and how to deal with them. Hold occasional classroom discussions that encourage students to use words to describe how they are feeling and guide them to understand healthy ways to deal with negative sentiments such as jealousy, anger, and frustration.

3. Enable Students to Connect with One Another and the Course Material

One way to help develop empathy is to interact with people from different backgrounds. A few times during the semester, pair students or place them in small breakout groups and encourage them to discuss how they feel about specific topics or aspects of your curriculum. Perhaps the prompt is to discuss how they felt reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin or learning about the Holocaust. You could also encourage them to discuss broader societal issues with more significant implications, like what we can do to encourage more women to enter the sciences or challenges they are facing learning and adapting to social distancing restrictions during the global pandemic. Such dialogue can break down barriers between students of different backgrounds and help improve understanding and empathy.

4. Teach Your Students That They Can Constantly Evolve

A student who is led to believe that they are born with a fixed level of intelligence may convince themselves that they can’t improve, can’t become more intelligent, or can’t change their behaviors or beliefs. Science validates that we can all adapt, change, improve, and grow. Teach your students this reality and help them understand that they are physically, intellectually, and emotionally capable of anything. With more self-confidence, students will be more capable of interacting with others with self-assurance and take ownership over their academic advancement.

Final Words of Advice

Continue to pursue an SEL focus during the shift to virtual learning. With some modifications and creativity, you can continue helping your students learn how to more assuredly and compassionately interact with others—even virtually. As we look to a future that we can confidently predict that remote learning technology is here to stay. Teaching young people the skills needed to interact with others virtually will help them succeed as they mature into adulthood and enter college and the workforce.

Related PLS Course:

Social-Emotional Learning: Essential to Student Success™
Explore the five areas of social-emotional learning: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, social awareness, and relationship skills. Classroom-applicable strategies and activities for developing a social-emotional culture, while fostering each of the social-emotional areas in students, are modeled so that educators can maximize student learning and success.

Related Articles:

The Importance of Social-Emotional Learning During a Global Pandemic

Four Ways to Incorporate Social Emotional Learning into the Classroom

The Importance of Social-Emotional Learning As We Approach the New School Year 

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