The other day I sat down and had lunch with a co-worker. This may not sound like anything extraordinary, but after a year of wearing masks and working from home, this tiny act felt world-shaking. It was a small sign that this horrible pandemic had nearly receded and (hopefully) would soon be gone for good. Many people have already returned to life as usual. Public spaces are opening, tentative crowds are starting to gather, and there’s been a noticeable uptick in travel.

The knowledge that everything could be back to normal by the fall is refreshing for teachers. However, it’s important to remember that while the pandemic may be gone, its effects remain. We don’t know what kind of social-emotional baggage students may bring with them when classes resume. As such, it’s a good idea to review the core areas of SEL, as well as strategies for supporting students in the coming year.

Supportive Strategies
  • Self-Awareness: Self-awareness is the conscious understanding of your own feelings, motives, and desires. It doesn’t just give us a clearer view of ourselves, it allows us to recognize our strengths and our weaknesses. For students who may be struggling this fall with anger or anxiety, a time of quiet reflection could prove helpful. Have them write down their thoughts and feelings in a reflection journal. This will give them the space they need to find balance in the coming year.
  • Self-Management: Self-management is the ability to control one’s emotions and take responsibility for their behavior. For students returning in the fall, frustration and confusion may be a reoccurring problem due to learning loss. Consider helping them organize their emotions by giving them a physical object to use when feeling overwhelmed. This could be a colored wristband, a color-coded emotion board, or anything else which gives them permission to show their feelings.
  • Social Awareness: Social Awareness involves a student’s ability to accept and understand different ideas, viewpoints, and beliefs. Pandemic conditions can make people (especially students) less tolerant and encourage the spread of misinformation. To promote better thinking, have students fight back against their fears by making a positive impact in their community. Work with them to provide a life-changing microloan to someone who needs it, or by teaching their peers the importance of financial literacy. By getting involved, students will gain a better understanding of the world around them.
  • Relationship Skills: Whether they’re building a friendship or making a professional connection, students need to learn the art of healthy communication. This means learning to cooperate with others and navigate conversations respectfully. One way to emphasize these qualities is through respectful debate! Using these Timely Topic lessons, show students how to debate respectfully, to stand up for what they believe in, and to disagree without being disagreeable.
  • Responsible Decision-Making: Students need to recognize that their actions have consequences and making reckless decisions can have serious repercussions. What’s more, you can easily tie Responsible Decision-Making to Relationship Skills and Social Awareness by showing students that their choices don’t simply affect them. Use the Blue Apple project Prevent the Spread to show students how small actions like washing their hands can actually have a huge impact on public health. Then get them motived to do more with a thoughtful PSA!
Starting Fresh

Stress and uncertainty are a part of the 2021—2022 school year, but so is the potential for growth. When we give our students the guidance they need to process their feelings, they can transform those emotions into a powerful force for good. Let’s not miss this opportunity to help our them overcome their frustrations and navigate a new year of learning. For more ideas for implementing SEL into your classroom, check out Strategies for Implementing the CASEL Core Competencies.

*Image courtesy of Karl Gruber via Wikimedia Commons.