5 Ways to Prioritize Social & Emotional Learning for the 2020 School Year

Guest post by Peter Davis, @kapwingapp 

Opinions expressed are those of the guest blogger.

 

The 2020-2021 school year has just kicked off in some areas, and it is already proving to be a year like no other. Heightened anxiety among students, teachers, and parents is a certainty this year, across all of the various educational methods administrators are using. Some students will be stuck in precarious, distracting, or harmful home environments, some will be forced to walk halls that could threaten the health of them and their families, and others face an uncertain fall in districts that have yet to finalize their back-to-school methods.

In total, all these changes mean that social and emotional learning will be front and center in the 2020 school year. I talked to Denver-area elementary school teacher Adin Becker about his learnings from spring 2020, his uncertainties in approaching the fall term, and his plans to prioritize SEL in the virtual learning environment. Here are the 5 main things to strive for in the fall semester:

  1. Make sure students have opportunities to interact with each other
  2. Schedule socially distanced visits when possible
  3. Make your materials more inclusive than ever
  4. Advocate for remote health services
  5. Make space for trauma
  1. Give your students opportunities to interact with each other

If you’re conducting some or all of your school through remote e-learning, it won’t be possible to replicate the social environment that your students would experience under normal class conditions. Students’ social interactions with each other are vital to their engagement in school work and their growth as individuals. Becker puts it this way:

The biggest difference this year is classroom community. Young students need social interaction to grow, and there is no question that the online learning environment is not the same as seeing your friends in-person. My school has already experienced the difficulties of limited engagement in e-learning from the last semester. I plan to introduce more in-class discussion between students, make use of online academic games, and show interest in my students’ wellbeing.

There’s no perfect way to transfer the social benefits of in-person school to the remote classroom, but there are lots of things you can do to make up for students’ loss of social engagement. Especially with younger students, their social experiences are as important as your lessons, so it’s vital to dedicate a similar amount of your time and attention to both. Something as simple as using Zoom breakout rooms for free discussion during remote class periods can help to make up for students’ lack of social interaction in school.

  1. Schedule socially distanced visits when possible

Students’ social relationships with each other are indispensable to their SEL experience, but so is their relationship with their teacher. And the same way remote classrooms can’t replicate the social experience of in-person school, Zoom meetings with your students can’t provide quite the same student-teacher relationship. Here’s what Becker has to say:

Unfortunately, it’s simply not possible to provide the same access and inclusion to students through e-learning. Districts can do their best to provide all families with laptops and internet, but there’s only so much they can accomplish – there are nearly 100,000 students in my district, for example. To bolster student interest, I am hoping that I can organize a few socially-distanced home visits with each of my students so that they can get to know me and hopefully feel more comfortable with me online.

Luckily, it’s easier to stay safe while meeting with just one student at a time. If your school’s administration allows it, try to set up socially distanced home visits with your students at least once a semester. This allows students to feel individually heard and acknowledged, so they can feel even more comfortable and engaged in remote learning sessions.

  1. Make your materials more inclusive than ever

Inclusivity and accessibility are crucial in the social & emotional learning of all students under “normal” conditions, and the remote environment of 2020’s classroom means you have to be more intentional than ever in serving all of your students equitably. Record your lesson videos at a pace that all of your students can follow, and add subtitles so every student can absorb the lesson the way they learn best. And if you’re trying to make your e-learning materials fun & distinctive, keep an eye on the readability of your resources for students with visual difficulties.

Unfortunately, even if you include helpful subtitles, visual aids, and voiceovers in your videos, kinesthetic learners won’t find the same tailored learning support that they could in the classroom. Becker explains:

In-class I like to use manipulatives to supplement student learning. Because I’m a general education teacher, I cover every subject including math. Online, I can’t provide extra physical materials to help students understand concepts like fractions. Instead, I will make use of online academic games, and interactive learning models that can engage young students outside the classroom. Because it will be exceedingly easy for students to tune out during online learning, class will need to be hyper-interactive.

Inclusivity extends to every corner of your teaching: use gender-appropriate or gender-neutral pronouns in your materials, and be wary of your students’ personal needs. When planning recorded lessons and producing e-learning videos, be efficient and make use of your students’ limited attention spans. In the classroom, you’re able to monitor your students’ engagement, but teaching remotely means that you can’t always keep an eye on their focus.

  1. Advocate for remote health services

Another important aspect of the in-person school experience that’s missing in remote learning is the accessibility of health services for students. While in-person medical care can’t be provided to students using typical school resources, it’s especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide adequate mental health resources for students of all ages.

You likely don’t have much direct control over your administrators’ use of health resources. But if you’re able, do what you can to advocate for mental health resources to be made available for your students. This might involve bringing several educators together in order to work for what you believe is best for your students, speaking with parents in order to focus the school’s entire community on students’ well-being, or doing your own research on accessible mental health resources online. This terrific list of accessible remote mental health resources is a great place to start.

  1. Make space for trauma

It would be great for your remote teaching to be just as effective as in-person school, but most likely that’s not possible in 2020. And what’s more, it shouldn’t be your primary objective. Many students are experiencing an especially traumatic year, and their health and wellness has to be prioritized over the diligence of their schoolwork. Becker elaborates:

Many students are traumatized after losing family to COVID or getting sick themselves. For that reason, social-emotional learning will be front and center this semester to address trauma. Education through this catastrophe needs a dose of realism: pushing your students harder than usual will do more harm than good.

The main takeaway here is that educators need to be especially responsive to all their students this year and rethink the teacher/student relationship. More than ever before, the parent/teacher relationship may occupy a lot of your attention, as students’ whole lives become central to the success of their education.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

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