Tens of millions of students are dealing with massive upheaval to their educations and daily lives with their schools shuttered indefinitely to thwart the spread of the coronavirus.
Add to that fears over a pandemic that could sicken them or loved ones, students now more than ever need strong coping skills to adjust to this new reality that will likely, for many, extend through the end of the school year and beyond.
But should social-emotional learning really be a focus for educators right now as they scramble to figure out how to teach their classes remotely?
And how can educators even continue to foster students’ social-emotional skills when they aren’t in class together?
To answer that first question, yes, said Marc Brackett, a professor at Yale University and the director of its Center for Emotional Intelligence.
Social-emotional learning is critical to managing anxiety at this time, he said.
“Because if you don’t know how to deal with the lack of control of your future, or the feelings of uncertainty that you’re having, your brain is going to stay in a constant fight or flight mode,” he said. “And if our brain is in fight or flight mode, then it’s not in learning mode.”
Simple Things Teachers Can Do
One place to start, said Brackett, is to try a technique he calls psychological distancing.
Teachers can encourage students to stop thinking about themselves and instead ask: “‘Well, what would I do to support my best friend who was telling me they were really worried about the coronavirus? What would I say to them?’” Brackett said.
“And all of the sudden, they start thinking about all of these strategies that they would use to be compassionate to someone, but that they may not use for themselves.”
Students should examine what they are saying to themselves—consciously or not—inside their heads and to ask themselves, ‘is their self-talk helpful?’
“It’s about doing [something], as opposed to being in your head all the time about it,” Brackett said.
“It can be simple things, such as sending daily notes, or, as some educators are doing, morning meetings with their classes where they can build community and do check-ins with young people to see how it is going,” said VanAusdal. For younger students, some teachers have been reading books aloud to their students virtually and then reflecting on the social-emotional skills of the characters in the books, said VanAusdal.
For older students, VanAusdal recommends teachers ask students to examine the social-emotional attributes they’re seeing in leaders right now and to ask students how those qualities are helping the country through the crisis.