Social Emotional Learning in a time of Social Distancing

Updated: Mar 27

Social Emotional Learning has gained attention in many schools recently, and hopefully it has become even more; a movement toward prioritizing the most essential needs of our students. But how can social emotional learning take place when we are social distancing? We have no guide, no structure for this.

Teachers have worked so hard all year to build their classes into functioning groups with a group identity and now, in what seems like a heartbeat, those groups are scattered. Barely time to prepare, much less say a proper goodbye and have any closure. We and our students feel jarred, jangled. The center of our social and professional identity is… what? On hiatus? Finished? Continuing? We don’t even know.

While we all try to figure this out, my offering to you is just three steps, probably the first of many toward healing for ourselves, our students, our classrooms and our schools.

Step 1: Self regulate

In times of upheaval, our bodies operate under stress conditions. Correcting the physical symptoms actually begins a positive cycle of stress reduction. Here are a few simple (but perhaps not easy!) things we can do at home to self regulate.

Sit still for a minute or two. Focus on your breathing, a short set of repeated words or your posture. Notice your breathing becoming more regular, relaxed and smooth.

Walk, run or pace. Any regular, repetitive motion can also regulate your breathing and your emotional state.

Practice any calming methods you used with your class. It will work for you too!


Step 2: Help your students regulate

As the saying goes, “Maslow before Bloom.” Our students are feeling all the stress we’re feeling, and sometimes more. Many of our students already rely on their teacher or other school staff to help them manage. It can be damaging when that support is lost. Communication with them is essential, outside of any academic work or expectations.

Check in. In our classrooms, many of us do some sort of check in during the day. A somewhat regular check in is even more important now. The goal is to convey to the student and their family that there is someone who cares about them, they are still part of a classroom or school community and their contribution is important.

Remind them of any mindfulness techniques you’ve been using in class or teach them a new one you’ve learned. Knowing that they already have the tools to help themselves can be very empowering!

Some tools I’m seeing teachers use for communicating with students:

Regular avenues of school or classroom communication (Email, Google classroom, etc)

Minecraft or other online gaming platform

You tube video

Facebook live

And some old school ones:

Phone calls

Hand written notes (yes, through the mail!)


Step 3: Help your students connect with each other

Our students have suddenly lost their social connections outside their families. For students who aren’t connected with classmates on an electronic medium it is a particularly heavy loss. Setting up online groups or even pen pal relationships could help to reestablish some of these connections.


What creative ideas do you have?

Teachers are creative professionals. What ideas do you all have for keeping Social Emotional Learning at the forefront? Working together, we can meet the needs of our students.


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