6 Tips for Keeping the ‘Social’ in Social-Emotional Learning

Apr 16, 2020

The PATHS® program was first introduced over 30 years ago to teach social and emotional learning to students. At that time, schools were not yet wired, and paper and pencil curriculum were de rigueur in the classroom.

And while we believe that the best way to teach social and emotional skills is still in-person, we know that the needs of educators and students have changed quickly. Despite this, there is a way to teach social and emotional skills without abandoning the social aspects of instruction.

After almost four decades of research, we know the benefits of teaching SEL:

  • Improved academic achievement.
  • Decreased conduct problems and improved classroom behaviors.
  • Reduced depression and sadness, increased happiness, health and emotional well-being.
  • Improved emotional literacy, self-management and problem-solving skills.
  • Improved school climate.
  • Healthy relationships and social skills.

We believe that students should be explicitly taught social and emotional learning for a minimum of 20-30 minutes 2-3 times per week, using a high-quality and developmentally appropriate curriculum. But how can you make sure that happens in a remote learning environment?

We’ve collected the following tips to help you deliver systematic, developmentally-based lessons, materials and instruction to facilitate emotional literacy, self-control, social competence, positive peer relations and interpersonal problem-solving skills—all while teaching and learning remotely.

1. Get Into a Routine

Don’t let them take advantage of the situation to turn in work that wouldn’t fly if you were in the actual classroom.

Even in the best of times, kids crave structure and order. During times of uncertainty, sticking to routines can help students to feel less anxious and worried. As much as possible, try to keep your classroom routines intact when teaching remotely. If your week typically starts with a Monday Meeting activity, try to find a way to still have that time together virtually over Google Hangouts or by recording the routine and sharing it with Google Classroom.

2. Set Guidelines & Have High Expectations

We’re all still learning how to adapt to remote teaching and learning, but that doesn’t mean we have to let our expectations fall. You know your students best, and you know the kind of work they are capable of. Don’t let them take advantage of the situation to turn in work that wouldn’t fly if you were in the actual classroom. You can achieve this by making your assignment expectations clear, and providing guidelines in simple bullet point format so that they’re easy to understand. Behavior can, and should, be part of those expectations.

You can use this opportunity to share the “Doing Turtle” self-regulation strategy, which is stopping, taking a deep breath, calming down and then saying the problem and how you feel. Also the problem-solving steps, which help children to think of ways to solve a problem, can be shared with families to encourage students to use these self-regulation strategies at home. This may be especially invaluable to families who are spending a lot of time together in close spaces and are having to negotiate differences.

3. Prioritize

You may not cover everything you hoped to cover this year. That’s OK. Decide what is most important and focus on those things. One thing that should be included in your instructional priority list is social and emotional learning. Teaching students the specific words to identify the emotions they feel and the understanding that these feelings are OK, may help students navigate through these uncertain times. Encourage students to use their Feeling Faces cards (for younger children) to help children identify how they are feeling by selecting the card that matches their emotion. Or, for older students, using the Feelings Dictionary and Thesaurus can help to increase their emotional vocabulary.

Your students miss their school, classroom, friends and their teachers. They want to hear from you.

4. Encourage Connectedness

It’s important for students to feel like they are still part of a community - even if they can’t be physically part one. Social-emotional learning doesn't occur in isolation, so we need to provide opportunities for students to work together on projects and learn how to be part of a team while working at home. Project based learning is one way for students to continue to practice these important skills. You can help facilitate that connection by trying to find assignments that students can work on together, such as virtual science fair projects or book clubs, in which students meet regularly online to present projects or discuss books they’re reading. Some other activities include identifying a community service problem to solve using project-based learning.

5. Stay in Touch

Social distancing is challenging for everyone, but especially for our students. We will need to create virtual opportunities for our students to connect with one another. Your students miss their school, classroom, friends and their teachers. They want to hear from you. Even if it’s just an email to say hi, or specific feedback on an assignment. Those few words mean more to them than you know. So, if you can, take a moment to send that email, or schedule a video conference with your students. Use the opportunity to have an emotions check-ins with students. Ask how they’re doing. This can go a long way to helping to keep the social aspect of SEL.

6. Practice Online Safety

Lastly, as we move our learning online, let’s remind our students about internet safety:

  1. Don’t share usernames and passwords or other personal information.
  2. Use the Grandma Test when posting online content - would you want your grandma to see what you post? If not, don’t share it or say it.
  3. Once on the internet, always on the internet - so can you live with the information online forever?
  4. Don’t meet someone in person, that you met online, by yourself.
  5. If something seems wrong, report it to your parents or your teacher.

Research shows that to reach the levels of academic achievement that we want for our students, high quality SEL needs to be at the core of a school’s curriculum, and that doesn’t change just because we are using new ways to impart learning. In traditional school settings, we ask students to turn off their social brain while at school, even though the brain is built to focus on the social world around them. When we teach children using the social and nonsocial parts of the brain, we teach the WHOLE child. Learning becomes easier, and can be more enjoyable and effective. We have the chance to do that now. Let’s not miss this opportunity!


Reach out today to find out how PATHS® can help your school.


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