Putting SEL First for Students and Teachers

Together Again: SEL Solutions for the Year Ahead edWebinar recording link


Blog post by Stacey Pusey based on this edWebinar

In recent years, schools have recognized the need to attend to students’ social-emotional needs as well their academic ones. But with kids coming back to school in an uncertain world, SEL takes a higher priority. During a recent edWebinar, sponsored by Scholastic Magazines+, the presenters offered strategies for helping students ease back into the classroom and get engaged in learning again.

First, administrators should understand why students will feel continuing stress with the start of the new school year.

  • They lost connection last year. School personnel provide a consistent connection during the year, and students lost that. They also missed out on interactions with their peers.
  • They feel uncertain. Even the adults don’t know where the pandemic is headed. Students can sense their uncertainty and add it to their own.
  • They suffered loss. Whether it was a family member, a job, a home, or just their routine, our students and our community are in mourning.

Next, schools need a plan for how they’re going to address SEL. The presenters offered four key steps.

  1. Provide opportunities to communicate. Kids need time and space to communicate with each other. It shouldn’t just be a beginning-of-the-year event but built into the regular schedule.
  2. Reestablish routines—but also provide flexibility. The pandemic disrupted routines, so teachers and students need to create them again. However, the pandemic also took away a lot of choice, so look for places in the schedule and the classroom protocols where students get to make some decisions.
  3. Communicate often with parents. Parents became the co-teachers last year, and that role will continue. During the pandemic, many schools came up with a variety of ways to reach out to parents, and they should continue to use all of those methods.
  4. Let students—and school staff—know that it’s okay to stop. While schools don’t need to practice formal meditation, allow for moments where everyone can think and breathe.

In addition, the presenters offered three strategies to help with back-to-school stress.

  1. Create a welcoming environment. Acknowledge what’s happened and let them know you’re there to help them move forward. Don’t force it, though.
  2. Remind students that they were still learning, even away from school. Students don’t need constant reminders of what they lost—they know they weren’t in school. Give them space to talk about it but reinforce everything they did last year to keep learning and growing.
  3. Make anxiety and stress management activities a regular part of school. And this extends to SEL—it shouldn’t be something separate that happens every other week, but integrated into the curriculum. For instance, a writing assignment could ask them to discuss something interesting they learned from their family while studying at home.

Finally, administrators should set up assessments to help track student needs. However, these assessments should be asset based. Talk with students about what they do well, what they do when they’re not successful, etc. Again, don’t keep the entire focus on what they lost.

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by Scholastic Magazines+

Watch the Recording Listen to the Podcast

About the Presenters

Dr. Linda Mayes is the Arnold Gesell Professor of Child Psychiatry, Pediatrics and Psychology at Yale and Director of the Yale Child Study Center. She is also Special Advisor to the Dean in the Yale School of Medicine. Trained as a pediatrician, Dr. Mayes focuses her research on stress-response and regulatory mechanisms in young children who are at biological and psychosocial risk. She has published widely in developmental psychology, pediatrics and child psychiatry literature. Dr. Mayes also studies how adults transition to parenthood. She and her colleagues at the Center have developed a series of interventions for parents, including an intensive home-based program called Minding the Baby.

Michael Haggen brings more than 25 years of academic experience, having served as a teacher, principal, chief academic officer, and direct report to superintendents in three school districts. He served as Deputy Superintendent in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System, leading efforts and driving significant change that ultimately yielded increases in academic performance in 70 percent of schools. In St. Louis Public Schools, he developed and implemented a turnaround model for 30 schools, which helped lead to that system’s first accreditation in almost a decade. As Deputy Superintendent of New Orleans’ Recovery School District, Michael led the system-wide organization of an integrated learning supports program, designed to remove barriers to learning for students, including those returning home post-Hurricane Katrina. Today as Chief Academic Officer, Michael ensures that Scholastic Education is best able to support educators to improve student learning through its focus on instructional materials for literacy achievement, professional learning programs for teacher effectiveness, family and community engagement initiatives, and consulting services designed to strengthen integrated systems of learning supports.

Chirlane McCray, the First Lady of New York City, is nationally recognized as a champion for mental health reform. Named a 2019 “World Health Organization Champion” and a 2020 Empire Whole Health Hero by Crain’s New York, Ms. McCray created the NYC Mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health (previously known as ThriveNYC), the most comprehensive mental health plan of any city or state in the nation. She leads the Cities Thrive Coalition, bringing together more than 200 mayors, county officials, and thought leaders from all 50 states to improve mental health care delivery. As the co-chair of New York City’s Taskforce on Racial Inclusion and Equity, Ms. McCray helps ensure that the city’s recovery from COVID-19 includes giving hard-hit communities access to resources and services like mental health care, broadband, and small business support. The First Lady also chairs the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City and co-chairs the NYC Commission on Gender Equity.

Meisha Porter is Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. She is the first Black woman to lead the education of the system’s 1 million students in over 1,800 schools. A lifelong New Yorker and product of the City’s public schools, Chancellor Porter has climbed every rung of the DOE’s professional ladder over nearly 25 years: community coordinator, English teacher, assistant principal, principal, district superintendent, and Bronx executive superintendent before ascending to Chancellor. Under her leadership in her most recent position, graduation rate increases in the Bronx outpaced the gains of other boroughs. Just as her own local public education enabled her to achieve success, she is driven by the mission of enabling all students to realize their dreams.

Join the Community

Social-Emotional Learning is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net where educators can collaborate and share ideas, examples, and resources for incorporating social-emotional learning in the classroom.

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