As we get ready to send our students back to school – whether they can go fully in-person, a few days a week, or attend virtually – it is critical to keep in mind that they have been through a historically tumultuous time.
Like everyone, young people have had to contend with a global pandemic and all that that encompasses – health fears, feelings of loss, uncertainty, loneliness, isolation, boredom, etc. Then, in June, they witnessed the killing of George Floyd. This tragic event and the ensuing national turmoil have had an immense impact on the emotional well-being of many adolescents and teens and how they view others and the world around them.
Now, for kids returning to a physical classroom after six months of being at home, add new COVID-19 routines such as masks, social distancing, changed schedules, and we are looking at an especially difficult start to the school year.
So, while school districts and parents may be focusing on academics, it is critical to ensure that Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is also a priority during the 2020-21 school year.
SEL is the process by which children (and adults) learn to understand and manage their emotions, set goals and make decisions, and engage in positive relationships. Research- and evidence-based SEL programs in schools improve classroom behaviors and attitudes as well as academic performance. These programs also help children build healthier relationships and cope with their feelings in ways that improve well-being. Moreover, SEL can be an effective tool for addressing difficult issues such as racism and inequity in positive and age-appropriate ways.
An SEL Roadmap for 2020
According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), “To rebuild thriving schools, we need to prioritize safe, supportive, culturally, sustaining and equitable learning environments that promote social and emotional competencies of both students and adults.”
To this end, the organization and more than 40 expert partners have developed “Reunite, Renew, and Thrive: Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Roadmap for Reopening School” as a how-to guide for schools and educators.
4 Critical Practices
The Roadmap covers four critical practices for SEL, and provides a toolbox of resources and activities to inform and enhance these practices.
- Strengthen partnerships and relationships – Schools need to make connections with the broader school community and raise awareness of the importance of social emotional learning. They should make efforts to communicate with those families whose voices have been traditionally overlooked to ensure that their students’ social and emotional needs are addressed. Especially this year, when the reopening process is longer and more complicated, schools should partner with parents and caregivers to ensure that every child has an adult they can reach out to for support during this difficult time.
- Create opportunities for adult coping and healing – Educators need to be supported so that they have the capacity to help their students cope and heal. Schools should create spaces where adults can come together to process their experiences and ensure that staff and teachers have access to mental health and trauma supports that will help them deal with ongoing stressors.
- Develop safe, supportive and equitable learning environments – Students learn best when they’re taught in unbiased environments where they feel they belong and have opportunities to express themselves. Schools should develop a system of supports and safe spaces for students to discuss their feelings about the pandemic, racial injustice, inequity and other issues they are struggling with. They should also look for ways to create a sense of community through daily check-ins or community-building events and look for opportunities for students to socialize even when physical distancing is necessary. Partnering with mental health professionals can help schools ensure that they are fostering trauma-sensitive learning environments.
- Collect and use data – By collecting qualitative and quantitative data about student, faculty and family experiences, schools can get a sense of what is working and what isn’t. With a clear understanding, schools can make adjustments quickly to address the social and emotional needs of everyone in the community – especially at a time when conditions and circumstances will likely continue to change as the pandemic evolves.
We at Evergreen Psychotherapy Center are ready to partner with families, educators and schools to ensure that the social, emotional and mental health needs of all are being met in positive ways. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to talk about how we can help.