Social Emotional Learning during the COVID-19 pandemic
Updated: Jun 8, 2020
The COVID-19 public health crisis has presented our communities around the globe with unprecedented health, socioeconomic and human rights challenges. While the virus does not discriminate, health disparities caused by poverty, racism, classism, and other social ills has led to stark inequalities in terms of which communities have been most severely impacted by COVID-19. The constant flood of information on these compounding challenges add to our worry of being infected by the virus, concerns over job security and economic upheaval, and loneliness caused by social isolation. This overwhelming multitude of fears and concerns can lead to major psychological risk factors like anxiety, depression or even self-harm. How can our education institutions address and help to mitigate these risk factors and provide critical psychosocial support to children, families, and educators during this time of physical distancing?
Nearly all of the world’s countries have responded to this public health crisis in part by closing their schools, affecting close to 80% of the world’s school-going population, according to data from the World Bank. While children seem to be less vulnerable to severe illness resulting from COVID-19, staying away from school contributes to a tragic situation for children, particularly those who rely on schools as a safe learning space, for feeding programs that provide a main source of nutrition, and for fulfillment of their social and emotional needs.
Education thought leaders around the globe have identified Social Emotional Learning (SEL) as a major priority for educators to focus on as education systems work to rapidly transition to remote learning while attempting to mitigate the widening of achievement gaps that result from existing digital divides (See WHO, USESCO). The challenge of providing SEL is all the more daunting in light of the reality that the teachers and adults who children turn to for social and emotional support are themselves likely to be struggling with their own mental health challenges during this time. Survey findings released recently by the Collaborative for Social Emotional and Academic Learning and Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence showed that US teachers’ most commonly cited emotions during this crisis are feeling anxious, fearful, worried, overwhelmed and sad. Teachers cited worry over themselves or loved ones contracting COVID, but also the anxiety they feel over trying to juggle caring for their own families at home while also trying to work full time from home and figuring out how to transfer their teaching practice to online platforms, which many have very little if any experience using.
While these challenges are difficult to process, let alone allow us the mental latitude to think of solutions, this time we are in can be viewed as a wake-up call that we must heed as we re-imagine how our education systems can better support psychosocial well-being as a foundation for learning going forward.
This article offers a review of resources that have been put forth globally, with an emphasis on resources in the US and India,as two of the world’s most severely impacted and heavily populated countries, and the common threads among them that can inform how we approach education beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, with resources tailored to - parents, children and educators.
In addition to keeping themselves and their children physically safe amid the pandemic, parents are being challenged to take extra care of their emotional well being as well. Extended responsibilities of home schooling and creating a positive learning environment, on top of professional commitments and household chores can take a huge toll on parents’ overall health. While it may sound like yet another responsibility to juggle, parents must do their best to care for their own mental health in order to persevere through everything else. When we practice and build our own social-emotional skills such as self awareness, emotional management, and social awareness, we are better equipped to navigate stress and anxieties, and overcome challenges. Following are some of the fundamental skills with relevant resources which can be practiced by parents:-
Personal Well-being Practices - One great way to support your own well-being during this crisis and beyond is to establish or grow mindfulness practice. Mindfulness can be defined as the state of being aware and focused on the present moment; accepting the present while being open and curious about what is happening around and inside us. Dedicating even just a few minutes of your day to incorporate mindful practices can help in calming your mind and build healthy coping skills. Below are some useful resources for mindfulness exercise and wellness routines:
Actively listening to your kids and addressing their queries - Understanding and listening to children’s feelings and their questions patiently will help them better understand and process the situation, and also give parents an opportunity to address any misinformation or rumors they may be hearing through their friends or social media. The following resources offer tips for having these conversations with your children.
Establishing routines - Making a schedule for you and your children to engage in structured activities, even for free time will help to have an engaging day. Children can also help plan their own routines and take ownership over developmentally appropriate activities. These habits can be a small step toward children feeling a sense of normalcy, learning to regulate their own emotions and building their decision making skills. Hopefully, they may also help give you a little break as well!
Healthy Work from Home habits - Working from Home, a new normal amid the pandemic can be quite hectic and challenging especially if you are a parent. It’s important to create a healthy environment to work at home and following tips can be useful in achieving this.
Some of the useful resources:-
Practice Physical Distancing not Emotional Distancing - Being physically isolated for a long period of time can have long lasting psychological impacts. However, the present need for physical distancing does not have to mean that we cannot still connect with our loved ones using new technology as well as bringing back dying practices like letter writing.
The sudden disruption of routines, lack of social and physical activities and constant worries of the pandemic situation can be stressful for kids. They might find it struggling to express how they feel about it and can exhibit extreme behaviour like being sad, alone, irritated and angry.
By supporting children with their continuous learning can help in keeping a sense of normalcy and routine in their lives. Here is the repository of resources that can be useful based on one’s needs and interests.
Knowing Coronavirus through Story Telling & Discussion for Social Emotional Learning knowledge makes one feel empowered, but with the ongoing constant coronavirus updates this knowledge can be overwhelming as well. It’s important for children to make sense of the current situation and feel heard and given the opportunity to get their questions answered. Below are some of the resources in child friendly language, briefly explained through stories or comic strip format to provide them with accurate knowledge.
Activities for increasing well-being - Being involved in creative activities can make children express themselves better and learn new things in a fun way. It overall creates a positive environment with a warm opportunity to spend time together as a family. Few ideas for such creative activities are here.
Activities for building Social and Emotional Competencies (English and Hindi)
Cartoons for building SEL skills ( English and Hindi)
The complete shift to remote teaching can be overwhelming for teachers. With the constant juggling between taking care of the well-being of their own families, it also becomes prioritize caring for their students emotional well-being, which is arguably more important than concern over academics during this time. Understanding your emotions and implementing SEL skills can help both teachers and children to overcome these challenging times. The resources compiled below may be helpful for teachers in easing this transition.