Why is Social-Emotional Learning Important Post-COVID?

Janelle Cox
Janelle Cox
M.S. in Education
A girl is shown two faces on pieces of paper; she points at the smiling one to report her current emotion.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is essential for managing emotions. It helps children learn to deal with any difficulties that may arise in their life and help them make successful choices. But amid the pandemic, children lost the ability to socialize and interact with others. These barriers showcased an urgent need for social-emotional learning to help promote positive mental health for children whose daily lives have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is Social-Emotional Learning?

Social-emotional learning is the process in which children gain and apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to manage and deal with their emotions and feelings. From problem-solving to developing impulse control, SEL provides a foundation for children to be better able to cope with everyday challenges.

How Did COVID Impact Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum?

In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily closed schools. When this happened, social-emotional learning programs looked different because curriculums were either taken away or transitioned to distance learning because of stay-at-home orders.

The stress of the pandemic, the social isolation, lack of technology for some students, loss of routines, and no access to school meals increased the need for social-emotional programs to be delivered remotely.

Why is Social-Emotional Learning Important Post-COVID?

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, one study found that more than half of student respondents from the Detroit Public Schools Community District experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression. These findings suggest that children needed social-emotional learning even before the pandemic.

Post-COVID, students are still reeling from the loss of learning, socialization, and other increased stressors related to the pandemic. For many students, SEL wasn’t offered during remote learning. This made it difficult for students to progress as they should have with their development of self-control, self-awareness, behavior, and other interpersonal skills that are essential to the social-emotional learning curriculum.

Social-Emotional Activities for the Post-COVID Classroom

To ensure that students continue to develop social-emotional skills, educators may need to rethink existing approaches and teach children how to navigate new social skills needed for life after the pandemic. Teaching and educator positions are social-emotional learning jobs due to how essential SEL is. Here are a few social-emotional learning in the classroom activities to try.

Understanding Emotions

Young students can’t always communicate verbally, so many schools are now trying to support students emotionally by teaching them how to express how they feel by doing a “color check.” This is when a word is attached to a color and students can point to a color to describe their feelings.

For example:

  • Green: Alert/Ready
  • Yellow: Anxious/Excited
  • Red: Angry
  • Blue: Sad/Tired

These color checks help students recognize and express their emotions beyond just feeling “good” or “bad.”

Older students can also learn to understand their emotions better by using a mood meter. A mood meter can help students label their emotions and help them understand the cause of the emotion. Recognizing their emotions will help them become more self-aware, which is also an excellent tool to help develop empathy for others.

Adapting to New Social Norms

The pandemic has changed social norms, and today post-COVID, educators can help teach students how to navigate these new interactions. Life during the pandemic meant social distancing and not coming too close to others. If we ever have to go back to these precautions, students must understand how to adapt to these interactions.

For example, young students may need to learn proper touching such as an air hug versus a regular hug, or proper spacing to social distance, such as using taped makers on a carpet, so students know how far to sit away from their peers.

Routines and schedules may have changed, so children need to learn how to establish consistency when these things happen. It’s equally essential for students to have supportive relationships with their peers, teachers, and family. Educators can help students practice social-emotional competencies by building them into the daily academic structure.

Mental “Check-In” Exit Tickets

Instead of using exit tickets to see how well your students grasped the information that was taught in class, try using them to “check-in” on your students’ mental health as a social emotional learning activity.

Ask students to describe how they are feeling or ask them to jot down anything they want to share with you. If you notice students aren’t responding, then ask them to circle an emoji describing how they are feeling. This will give you a better idea of how they are dealing post-COVID, so you help address any distress that may be going on in their lives.

Encouraging Collaboration

A critical component of social-emotional learning curriculum is learning to interact with others. This can be easily done in person or online by encouraging students to collaborate. Assigning students to work in groups or asking students to choose a partner and work together will give them plenty of practice learning what it means to be a good partner. Students will learn to take turns, listen to others, ask questions, and understand how to relate to others.

Create a Space to Address Concerns

The pandemic created a lot of fears. When you’re faced with the unknown, anxiety can arise, and you can assume the worst. Create a safe space in your classroom where students are free to express any concerns or fears. Give students opportunities to share their thoughts and ask questions without judgment.

Social-emotional learning is more critical now, more than ever. For many students, the stressors associated with the pandemic are still in the forefront of their minds and it’s up to educators and schools to ensure students are equipped with the life skills to help them cope.

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