4 ways to include SEL in reopening plans

How to provide students, families and staff healing opportunities as they return to school, whether it's back to school in person or through distance learning, including equity-focused SEL to support antiracism practices

While preparing to reopen schools for the 2020-21 school year, many administrators are including social and emotional learning practices to support students, families and staff. Adding such practices can make the difference in starting the first weeks of instruction on the right foot, according to Pat Conner, senior policy and practice consultant, who is working with the Collaborating States Initiative of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.

“We acknowledge the fact that administrators are overwhelmed; teachers are overwhelmed,” Conner says. “There is a lot of stress even just getting schools back up and running to make sure they are safe.”

Students most likely did not experience the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic the same way. Conner points out that some students might have been impacted by events such as parents losing their jobs, family members passing away, or even the student being a victim of abuse and neglect. Using SEL strategies to build relationships with students in the beginning of the school year can help address the impact of such events.

“We do recommend that administrators focus on connecting with their students and building those relationships at least the first couple of weeks that students come back to school. Not just for students, but for teachers as well,” she says. “We need to give them an opportunity to process and heal from these experiences.”

Beyond establishing relationships and providing healing opportunities, Conner noted that administrators may also consider implementing equity-focused transformative SEL to support current antiracism practices in the schools. “We need to be able to come back and address those issues with an equity lens, giving children opportunities to process that and to speak about that as well,” she says.

Strengthening communications with parents and families and providing meaningful professional learning with a focus in SEL can help administrators better prepare for reopening schools. “Social-emotional learning is not another add on to a teacher’s already busy schedule,” Conner says. “It is the underpinning of all of her practices while teaching.”

Even in scenarios where schools will start the school year providing distance learning, Conner says that SEL practices can be done online, such as one-on-one check-ins with students, class meetings with students and offering prompts for writing that are centered around SEL competencies.

Use the following four critical practices to include SEL in your preparations for SY 2020-21:

  1. Take time to cultivate and deepen relationships, build partnerships, and plan for SEL.
  • Prioritize relationships that have not been established.
  • Engage in two-way communication.
  • Build coalitions to effectively plan for supportive and equitable learning environments that promote social, emotional, and academic learning for all students.
  1. Design opportunities where adults can connect, heal, and build their capacity to support students.          
  • Help adults feel connected, empowered, supported, and valued by cultivating collective self-care and well-being.
  • Provide ongoing professional learning.
  • Create space for adults to process and learn from their experiences.
  1. Create safe, supportive, and equitable learning environments that promote all students’ social and emotional development.
  • Ensure all students feel a sense of belonging.
  • Have consistent opportunities to learn about, reflect on, and practice SEL.
  • Examine the impact of the pandemic and systemic racism on students’ lives and communities.
  • Access needed support through school or community partners.
  1. Use data as an opportunity to share power, deepen relationships, and continuously improve support for students, families, and staff.
  • Partner with students, families, staff, and community partners to learn about students’ and adults’ ongoing needs and strengths.
  • Continuously improve SEL and transition efforts.

Source: Reunite, Renew, and Thrive: Social and Emotional Learning Roadmap for Reopening School.

Claude Bornel covers ELs and other Title I issues for TitleIAdmin, a DA sister publication.

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