As our students continue to return to their classrooms, educators everywhere are reporting that their learners are experiencing anxiety, have trouble concentrating and are struggling with their work. Supporting learners’ social emotional needs has always been important but, after the disjointed last year, the need to tune in to these elements of their education is all the more essential.“The first thing educators need to understand is the toll that this year has taken on each person’s nervous system,” Mona Delahooke, the author of Beyond Behaviors: Using Brain Science and Compassion to Understand and Solve Children’s Behavioral Challenges, told Phyllis Fagell in an article on SEL support for Education Weekly. “Nobody was immune from the stress of having to leave a familiar environment overnight, and our bodies and brains adapt differently to the new situation.”
Remember that each student will handle their stress differently and will need unique solutions catered to them, but here are a few ways to get your class on track with social emotional learning this year:
Offer flexible lessons with some familiar elements and some new surprises — After a year of zoom classes, some students are craving the consistency of a lesson plan while others need more engagement to get back into the swing of things. Try to strike a balance between new novelty activities and tried and true standbys that can provide the structure students will need to regain confidence in their surroundings.
Be patient with problem behaviors and negative attitudes — We are all navigating a difficult transition to more in-person interactions after a long and challenging year. Keep in mind that fidgeting, refusing to follow directions and outbursts can be symptoms of anxiety, depression and grief. In addition to the loss of stability from the past year, some students have lost family members, had changes in their living situations or have been sick themselves. Consider quiet reading or drawing time to allow students an opportunity to decompress on high-stress days, even if that means a delay in your lesson plan.
Lean on personal connections and build student confidence — Now more than ever, real-world examples and personal connections are helping students understand complex problems. Connect lessons and class discussions with examples from your own life, or in your community, to get them thinking about the world around them. Especially when the world has seemed so uncertain, bridging lessons with community connections can help students feel more confident in the importance of their work, engage their empathy, and give them motivation to engage in classes they may feel discouraged in.
We’ll continue to bring you tips and research about supporting students during this transition period, but we’d also like to ask: what are you doing to support your students’ social emotional needs? Are there activities or methods you use to get them connecting? Let us know in the comments down below!