Empathy Provides Opportunity for Authentic SEL Work
Scrolling through blogs, social media posts and forums, it is evident educators across this country acknowledge the traumatic effects of COVD-19 on both children and adults. This universal experience of living through COVID-19 has fostered a level of empathy previously unattainable, as teachers are able to see firsthand how social and emotional aspects of learning play a pivotal role in how the brain learns. Working in professional development, I have witnessed an increase in teachers wanting to better understand how to support students and colleagues. This openness is the perfect catalyst for an era of new approaches when schools reopen.
So, what is working? Based on the professional development requests and feedback of teachers and administrators I serve in the Moreno Valley Unified School District; I believe the following three SEL efforts are working to place SEL as a priority. 1) Routine class meetings (live or recorded) via virtual meeting platforms (i.e. Zoom, Google Meet). Hosting and posting check-in’s fosters connection that supports wellbeing and relationships and students are able to physically see their teachers. For live sessions in particular, teachers feel reassurance that students are safe. 2) Live mindfulness sessions for teachers. Guided meditation and wellness techniques help teachers and staff to develop intentional practice which helps to balance stress and promote wellness practices applicable to students. 3) Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. As I mentioned earlier, there is an openness amongst educators to better understand the situations and circumstances students and their families are facing. Exploring culture helps teachers to gain perspective and develop partnerships with students and their families. This is essential to distance learning as many teachers report home life being a barrier to communication and instruction.
As a Professional Development Specialist with an emphasis in PBIS, SEL is woven into everything I do. The greatest barrier preventing me from integrating SEL more lies in teachers, staff, and students who are difficult to reach given physical distancing. There are teachers who are frequently absent from meetings, support staff unsure of their roles, and students who have seemingly disappeared as they are unresponsive to phone or email attempts.
Given this challenge, supports I need to integrate SEL equitably into the teaching practice of teachers within my district is money. Teachers must be paid for time outside their contract hours to plan and study. Summer is an ideal time as the majority of planning is often done. SEL has to be integrated into every facet of learning. We must take into account the transition to distance learning and the expectations, procedures, and levels of support needed to support this shift.