Social-emotional learning is a prevalent topic especially in the world of special education but it may be more important than ever for all students, families and teachers as we make the challenging shift to online and distance learning during coronavirus closures. 

Last week with little preparation school buildings were closed. There were many uncertainties but one thing that remained clear is even though buildings would quickly be emptied, learning would continue. Teachers compiled homework packets students could complete to keep them engaged and learning during the first days of the closure as educators prepped for the quick shift to online and distance learning.

Too much can be overwhelming. 

Eager to get things up and running we tried to make contact with every student and give them an idea of what learning will be like now that schools were closed.  We scrambled to move instruction to digital format and figure out what that would look like. Everyone was overwhelmed: teachers, students, parents. Extensive amounts of information and resources went out quickly but was it most effective? 

Change can be scary.

We are teachers, we always have a plan, and a back-up plan, and a back-up plan for the back-up plan. However NOTHING could have fully prepared us for this and I think we just need to be told we can stop and breathe. Teachers you have the leeway to slow things down as everyone adjusts to remote education.  This is not just a switch to online learning this is a massive lifestyle change for you, for your students, and for their families. Right now we don’t have to worry about online learning being perfect or fully up and running for that matter. Right now we have to take it in steps because it is a learning process for everyone, unexpected challenges will arise and we will re-design and adjust. Regular communication with students and families is necessary to gauge what is going well and what isn’t. Social-emotional learning may be more important than ever as students, families and teachers deal with these challenging changes.

Find value in a pause. 

In New York State, Governor Cuomo has put us on a “pause”. Maybe we all just need to  take a minute and pause. John C. Maxwell stated “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. We have developed strong relationships with our students inside of our four classroom walls and within our school community. Since this is really uncharted territory, students are left wondering what happens to these relationships when distance separates us. They are going through major life crises, have many fears, and now they have also lost some of the major support systems in their lives. Stop what you are doing now and connect with them. This is like September all over again. Start with relationships and rapport over rigor. Build your online classroom with an emphasis on social emotional learning. 

10 Tips for Building Relationships in a Social Emotional Learning Classroom

I have researched many. Tried a few. I am sharing what works. What I have chosen may not work for you but don’t let that stop you. Explore and find another similar tool that will. 

  1. Try to connect with each student every day. I am using Google Chat to send “text messages” to my students daily. It is app and web-based so it is versatile on how students are choosing to access it. Spending time in the classroom you know this all to well. The directions can be written on the board or on the worksheet clear as day, and they will still ask you a question that has already been addressed. Students need an easy to access platform to connect with their teachers if they are unsure (about anything). If you are not able to make contact with all of your students, see if you can divide up this task amongst colleagues, or create a daily check-in Google Form and touch base with the students that you need to. It can be a simple form.
  2. Despite what they may say, kids really look forward to hearing from their teachers. I send a mixed variety of messages and it’s not always business. I really like to send them digital stickers or funny GIFs. I hope it is making them laugh and shows them that it doesn’t always have to be about school work in order for them to reach out to me.
  3. You are not in this alone. Work with your school counselors and social workers.  Some school social workers are conducting one-on-one remote sessions with students and or families both online and over the phone. Alyssa Lupinski Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)  may have never given the idea of using Google Classroom a thought prior to this but it allows her to continue the personal relationships she has with each student. She states her most student responses come from the daily reminders using pictures of her dog. “I have talked about general physical care, emotional care, getting away from tech, getting a hobby, etc.”
  4. Set up a way for students to be together and connect all at once. Hold class meetings. We definitely had to teach some video chat etiquette. We started with a mute all and raise your hand kind of system and as they get more experienced we are loosening up on some of the controls. My first Google Meet where I planned on going over some answers to ELA work, the majority of the time spent didn’t end up on that! I quickly realized this meet wasn’t about our work it was about allowing the students to connect and catch up on peer relationships that they may not have done in a while. This is the only time I will place more of an emphasis on special education. Special Education students find it harder (for a multitude of reasons I could elaborate on at another time) to socially connect with their peers. They don’t always think to exchange phone numbers, sometimes the idea of talking on the phone is dreadful. Facilitate these opportunities.
  5. Offer non-instructional video hangouts. Eat lunch together. Play a virtual game. Like Bingo!
  6. Offer ways to collaborate with their peers online. Teach them how to work in partners or in groups in this new type of format. Students can collaborate on a Google Doc, Form, Sheet etc. Teach them online etiquette, digital citizenship, and how our conversation and feedback tools carry over into our interactions online.
  7. Allow students multiple ways to demonstrate their understanding of an assignment. As much as there is an opportunity for students to collaborate there is an equal opportunity to individualize. Take advantage of all of the temporary free access and allow students the opportunity to respond in videos, with music, artwork, and written expression. Have students create or take a quiz. Encourage students to reflect on the subject’s feelings as well as their own. Choice Board
  8.  Have them create a daily journal. Documenting their day to day events or provide writing prompts. Journal or writing prompts
  9. Help each student and their families set up a schedule and routine that feels manageable. Understand that right now there are many factors that make all of our accessibility and schedules very different. 
  10. Develop guidance for students and families to cope with anxiety and how to ask for help.  or Office of Mental Health Resources
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