While the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic emergency and homeschooling continues to challenge families and educators globally, it is more important than ever that Social Emotional Learning (SEL) becomes a focal point in our homes and classrooms. Both educators and parents need to continue to work collaboratively to ensure that learning continues; however, while many are hyper-focused on academics, all educators and families need to also have a strong emphasis on SEL for the well being of all children. SEL plays an important role because it teaches skills such as character education and focuses on themes such as building social skills, acceptance, and anti-bullying. SEL can also help improve academic performance when embedded in regular academics. This type of skill and competency is vital for all learners, especially during our current climate. While adults are coping with the rapidly changing environment and society, we must also remember that children are also rapidly forced to adjust very quickly to sudden changes in their lives such as; their learning environment, their daily routine, perhaps the amount of food available or their living environment. Most of the time children are encountering these huge changes in the absence of clear direction (akin to the majority of adults).With an abundance of change in a short time, most adults find themselves struggling; but they have had more time to learn skills that should help them adapt to new changes. For a child or adolescent, learning how to manage their learning, new routines, time, space, in addition to their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors may be equally challenging. Finding ways to focus on SEL in your home and classroom will mitigate some of these challenges and therefore, should become more pressing than ever before. This week's blog will discuss why SEL is a crucial aspect of education during this COVID-19 crisis and provide you with some tips for embedding SEL opportunities into your child or students' learning.
What is Social Emotional Learning (SEL)?
Simply defined, Social Emotional Learning focuses on acquiring knowledge and the development of skills and attitudes that teach people how to express their thoughts and ideas healthily and productively. SEL seeks to develop competency in 5 core areas. Primary areas of SEL include self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills, responsible decision making, and social awareness. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), defines SEL as "..how children and adults learn to understand and manage emotions, set goals, show empathy for others, establish positive relationships, and make responsible decisions." Regardless of definition, SEL is integral to effective teaching and successful learning.
Why is SEL important today?
There is a lot of research that proves that social-emotional learning leads to better test scores, fewer negative classroom behaviors, and it decreases the number of students who drop out. When we embed SEL into daily work, and support children in developing social skills, they will learn to cooperate more effectively, become more realistic with goal setting, and be better prepared for difficult academic work or develop skills to be more supportive and empathetic when facing conflict or unexpected changes. There is value in ensuring students are using SEL to be successful. The truth is, all learning stems from social and emotional connections and stimuli. Much of what is learned boils down to what has been said by parents, educators, media, and role models. Children tend to learn behavior from what others say, what they see, values expressed by others, and the materials and activities that they are exposed to. In reality, the skills, knowledge, and attitude that kids develop to manage everyday situations and challenges in the world are influenced and shaped by others. Adults have a huge influence on how children and young adolescents think, see themselves, and interact with and connect with others. Parents and Educators must be intentional with how they help their students develop both socially and emotionally as well as academically. While students are staying at home for months without their usual learning outlets and regular social routines parents and educators will need to fill this gap and meet the students' social-emotional needs. When schools reopen, students will likely still need ongoing support to handle their fear, anxiety, and any emotional trauma they may have from this lengthy disruption.
If adults continue to support children with SEL opportunities while learning at home or during ongoing school closures students will be better prepared to handle change in the future. The world will not be the same as it once was. In terms of the economy, it may take up to a decade to get back to where everyone stood in the days before the pandemic hit. A strong emphasis on SEL will better prepare youngsters with the interpersonal skills they will need to function and get along with others and to manage the emotions they are experiencing. Building positive social relationships now will help change some of the direct and indirect challenges we have seen with the COVID-19 crisis later on and that we are currently facing in the world today. SEL will help set children up with positive skills that will help children be successful for their entire lives. Culturally proficient practices also go hand in hand with practicing SEL. When students have engagement with SEL they will be better prepared to engage in culturally proficient practices in an area that the entire world needs to survive and thrive. SEL is the foundation of someone's overall well-being. Everyone needs to feel safe, respected, loved, supported, and valued, not just children, everyone! SEL helps to promote the strong coping skills needed to handle emotional challenges. Most crises are preventable, some however are not but when children learn early on how to improve their cognitive flexibility they will be better suited to manage change, challenging situations, and other situations that they can not control.
While the vast majority of children are not in a traditional school setting SEL must be a priority. Regardless of where you stand as an educator, if you are a teacher, a school leader, a social worker, a parent or family member, a guidance counselor or none of the above, we all have a job to do and that's to make sure that children's well beings and emotional development of skills needed to manage emotions, set goals, show empathy for others, establish positive relationships, and make responsible decisions focus on positive and healthy habits, especially now.
A Call to Action: What Can You Do During COVID-19 to promote SEL?
SEL can be taught, learned, and practiced anywhere and at any time. Even while schools are closed down, any adult (parent, teacher, family member) regardless of professional training can help support children to learn and grow in the area of SEL. The best part is that SEL can easily be incorporated into tasks, lessons, and naturally occurring activities throughout your regularly planned day. That means you can teach SEL skills no matter where, how, or when learning is happening. The COVID-19 crisis will continue to unfold, and it may even resurface with greater impact than it is at its current state. All stakeholders must work together to support children while they learn at home and also when they return to the classroom with an ongoing focus on SEL. Focusing on SEL will allow us to pave a path for the next generation to continue learning and growing healthily even despite difficult and challenging setbacks and unknown circumstances.
For now, while many of the schools remain closed, parents and educators can work to include more culturally proficient practices into a child's everyday routine. This can take the form of community service and service-learning projects, even from a distance. Volunteerism is something that can be studied and practiced while maintaining appropriate social distancing. Direct instruction on positive social skills can also be taught from a distance and, or incorporated into daily lessons, virtual schooling, and home routines. These elements are important not only for balanced, good mental health today and every day but also for when everyone can return to a classroom environment. It will be much easier for students and educators to step back into a classroom climate that gives students a sense of community and mutual responsibility; and a classroom that makes certain that all students feel welcome, and supported. If we continue with this focus while everyone is social distancing and avoiding the traditional classroom setting we can make a difference.
Examples / Tips:
Practice Patience: Patience is a skill that can be taught. Work on simple tasks that will help children to develop patience. Also by modeling patience and what that looks like children will learn by observing.
Volunteering: Help children find service-learning projects that they can become involved with or a community project where they can volunteer. There are plenty of ways to get younger kids involved in a safe manner that is consistent with guidelines. You can even look for virtual ways to volunteer. Volunteering will help boost a child's overall health and well-being. Ultimately kids enjoy feeling helpful and that they are making a difference.
Productive Struggle: It is okay to allow children time and space to figure something out on their own without having to intervene immediately. Allow students to independently struggle with challenging problems. The key is to provide kids with time and space necessary to explore a concept. This technique can be used to allow kids to press through something when they are feeling confused, discomfort, or frustration and only provide help when necessary. This will help them develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Examples such as allowing a child to sound out their words when reading together instead of providing them with the correct word as soon as they begin to struggle. Another example is when a child has a question about something and you redirect them to re-read the question or think through what they are asking to see if they can come up with their solution before you provide it immediately upon being asked.
Get The Kids Involved With Family or School Planning: With extra hands around at home and many kids looking for things to keep them busy and feeling productive ask them to help make decisions or ask them to assist around the house with tasks that need to be completed. For example, showing kids how you make your weekly schedule or having them help you to make a grocery list, or helping their siblings with a project, or teaching them a skill such as laundry or budgeting. Modeling also works well with these types of activities and kids naturally will want to emulate what they see.
Teach Kids to "I Feel" statements: Words are important and this is an important communication skill that you will want to teach your children and your students. I feel statements are a great way to teach children how to express how they feel positively without blaming or resorting to aggressive behavior and to practice social-emotional skills. When you can teach kids to say how they feel when they are upset or involved in a conflict, it will eliminate confrontational talk and help them to take accountability for their feelings.
Help Kids Set Goals: Setting goals during difficult times may seem like something that can go on a back burner. However, the act of setting and working toward a manageable short term objective with some defined parameters to help them measure progress will help students feel like they are winning, and will help improve their motivation, and emotional well being and overall learning.
Practice Empathy: It's times like these when we are capable of bringing out the very best in others. This is a great time to teach children about empathy and to promote empathy throughout the day. Example: have kids, create cards for essential works, or write encouraging messages in chalk on the sidewalk for the neighbors to enjoy. These types of activities will help kids practice having empathy for others.
Focus on Hope Instead of Fear: A lot is going on in the world today and lives have been disrupted. There are a lot of unprecedented things occurring that are not within our immediate controls. Instead of focusing on what if this happens or what will we do if that happens and being scared, talk to your kids about how it's okay to not have everything figured out. Let them know that it's ok to not have all the answers right away. Make sure kids know that they are not alone and help them focus on having hope.
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