Strategies for teaching SEL skills during virtual learning

It isn’t impossible to help students build SEL skills online—here are 4 approaches to help you get started

Why did you go into education? I bet it was because you love teaching and inspiring young minds. However, these days teachers are faced with an increased focus on academic benchmarks, state testing–and currently, major changes with the switch to virtual learning.

This shift in focus is causing an increase in teacher stress due to the workload, and the teacher shortage this year is at the highest we have seen in decades. How does an educator teach the important academic skills that will be measured on formative assessments, but also the meaningful life skills that will prepare each student for their future?

Related content: 8 great resources for classroom SEL

Social and emotional learning, or SEL for short, is an essential part of a student’s overall education. Targeting the development of skills like managing emotions, communication, responsible decision making, and character development is essential for success in life.

It’s important to remember that students develop socially and emotionally at the same time as they develop academically. That’s why it’s crucial to integrate SEL skills into the daily instruction you’re offering to your students.

Building SEL skills focuses on five specific areas:

● Self-awareness: The ability to recognize one’s emotions and values and the ability to set personal goals and work toward achieving them.
● Self-management: Learning to detect and control one’s emotions and behaviors.
● Relationship skills: Being able to look beyond yourself by establishing and maintaining healthy relationships with others.
● Social awareness: Considering other perspectives and having compassion for others’ backgrounds, cultures, and differences.
● Responsible decision-making: Learning how to make positive choices involving one’s own behavior.

These 5 areas are crucial for success in every aspect of life from school, home, and in the future with employment as an adult. Integrating SEL skills not only improves academic outcomes but also gives a firm foundation to becoming a better version of one’s self.

Taking the time as a teacher to incorporate SEL skills into the school day will create a classroom community where students will be more respectful learners. The teacher will develop a greater understanding of, as well as build patience for, more difficult aspects of student behaviors.

A classroom where good decisions are consistently being made, and where students learn the value of self-control along with the true impact their actions and words can have on others, will be a positive learning community for all, even during a pandemic.

How will you ensure your students are learning and growing socially, emotionally, and academically during virtual learning?

Here are a few easy ways to maintain SEL skills in the virtual elementary classroom this school year–when children need this focus more than ever.

1. Build meaningful relationships with your students: Relationships can be fostered even screen-to-screen. As a teacher, make a conscious effort to ask questions and get to know your students from the beginning. Research shows that positive teacher-student relationships improve academic success, especially during stressful times. Organize student check-ins where you can talk to your students and see how they’re feeling. Use this time to celebrate their successes and discuss their individual worries and struggles.

2. Create opportunities for teamwork: Collaboration is one area that teachers struggle with during eLearning, but it’s also what students need most. They’re seeking the opportunity to interact with and learn from one another. Be creative in coming up with ways to engage and provide interactive learning opportunities for your students.

3. Model leadership: Teach your students to be leaders. Provide opportunities for them to do service in their communities, schools, and homes. Simple acts of service like reading to a sibling, helping make dinner for a neighbor, or writing a letter to a family member are examples of ways students can be leaders and show empathy and kindness to those around them.

4. Allow time for class discussions: Students need to discuss and communicate their feelings. Talk about current events and give students opportunities to express emotion and gain self-confidence in doing so.

Our students are experiencing higher levels of stress now more than ever. As a teacher, if you provide meaningful SEL opportunities for your students, it will go beyond giving them the tools to manage a very difficult and different school year–it will also prepare them for life in the future.

Make time for what matters most this school year. Remember, as Aristotle stated, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is not education at all.”

About the Author:

Ashlyn Ellsworth is an energetic 3rd grade teacher from Phoenix, Arizona. Along with teaching for 13 years with most of her experience in the primary grades, Ashlyn is also the designer and teacher author of The Creative Classroom.

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