Encouraging Healthy SEL through Distance Learning
July 27, 2020
For me, it was the sound of rain.
Like many educators, I’ve spent the last few months under quarantine, during which time I did my best to maintain a positive attitude. However, the situation eventually got the better of me. Before long I was frustrated by the state of the country, worried about my friends and family, and stressed about the upcoming school year. Yeah, I was wound pretty tight.
Then I happened to stumble upon a storm simulator. The sound of falling rain helped to clear my thoughts. For the first time in a long time I was able to breath, relax, and renew my focus for the upcoming year. I assume many teachers can relate to my predicament. This summer has been a hard one and it’s important that we make time to rest and recover.
But what about our students? By all accounts, the 2020 school year will see a large uptick in distance learning. How can we maintain our student’s social-emotional health when we can’t even share the same building?
Start with Empathy
Teachers aren’t the only ones experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety right now. Many students are still reeling from the loss of their familiar educational framework. Schools provided routines, structure, friendships, and a place for students to experiment and grow. Now, to keep others safe, we must all stay physically distant. The result is that many young learners feel adrift, caught up in a sea of feelings and frustrations they don’t know how to manage.
The good news is that even at a distance, educators can help improve their students’ social-emotional health. By working in tandem with parents, we can implement strategies that make social-emotional learning a priority in the coming school year. We don’t need a physical classroom to show students that we care. All we need to do is remember three simple principles: routines, communication, and grit.
The Big Three
- Routines: Every student needs structure. Creating regular routines can provide this by setting aside time for educational activities, daily exercise, and unstructured play. During distance learning, teachers can encourage mindfulness practices like journaling and deep breathing exercises to help their class reduce stress. Simply by providing a sense of order, students will be calmer, more respectful, and better focused.
- Communication: How are you connecting with your students? As VAI’s Ben Talsma recently demonstrated, our classroom is filled with diverse motivations. Some students pursue relatedness by being part of a group. Others emphasize mastery by accomplishing difficult tasks and creating challenging goals. When you discover what drive language motivates your student, you’ll be able to speak through the haze of emotion and put them on a clearer path.
- Grit: We want our students to show determination when facing a formidable obstacle. However, this simply won’t happen if we don’t provide them opportunities to struggle and grow. Make yourself available to students, but also recognize the moments when you should step back. Let them work things out on their own occasionally. Doing so won’t just build their confidence, it will show them that the things they fear aren’t so terrible after all. By mastering the obstacle, they also master their anxiety.
Make the Leap
There’s no doubt this is going to be a challenging year, but you and your students are stronger than you realize. Let go of your frustration and anxiety. Take a few minutes to listen to the rain and refresh yourself. Then, once you feel ready, set your mind on building a virtual classroom where students feel safe, supported, and eager to learn!