Teaching SEL in a Newly Remote World

At Inside SEL, our mission is to act megaphone, amplifying the great work being done by leaders in education and social-emotional learning across the country.

Throughout the past year, we have been incredibly fortunate to help build and interact with an amazing community of educators, administrators, researchers, parents, students, and other proponents of whole child education. Many of our readers will write to us with their own stories and opinions about the future of education, and we view it as part of our goal to help share high-impact stories with as wide of an audience as possible.

The following piece was authored by Charlie Fletcher, a freelance writer living in the pacific northwest who has a variety of interests including sociology, politics, business, education, health, and more.


Our newly remote world presents significant benefits to many of us, as well as new challenges that impact how we connect, communicate, learn, and navigate all the things that make up our world. Our routines have rapidly changed, given the nature of the current pandemic. Along with those changes, we’ve had to navigate accompanying emotional, social, and mental health-related turbulence as well. 

As an adult, it’s difficult enough working through everything that comes with our new normal. Our children are also learning to live in a newly remote world. So, it’s more important than ever we help them find constructive ways to deal with their new emotions, navigate the current social and economic climate, and interact with one another in respectful ways.

This is where social-emotional learning, or SEL, comes into play. Teachers still have a critical task teaching students SEL topics in at-home learning, which will persist throughout the spring as district begin to reopen schools in phases, and the benefits far outweigh the difficulties in cultivating these kinds of behaviors over virtual means.

How SEL has changed over the past year.

The classroom has always been a primary place where children build their first relationships, encounter people of differing backgrounds, navigate their first social challenges, and so on. Face-to-face interactions with other students, teachers, and staff in a classroom setting contribute significantly to students’ emotional, personal, and social development. 

With that said, the most notable change in SEL over the past year is that these skills could no longer be taught in a classroom. Face-to-face interactions were utterly wiped out with school closings, as well as the ease of developing social and emotional skills in person with their peers. Because they’ve been confined to their homes, students have also struggled with increasing mental health issues, including challenges with depression and increased isolation-induced anxiety. 

Limitations and opportunities in SEL now.

SEL is designed to help students of all ages better comprehend and cope with their emotions and demonstrate empathy for others. The hope is that learning these skills will positively impact decision-making, goal-setting, and relationship-building. However, the current pandemic and subsequent shift to a remote world presented clear limitations and opportunities in SEL. 

One of the most significant challenges is that many people cannot afford consistent internet service, or live a lifestyle without the internet, making it more difficult than ever to connect emotionally with these students. In fact, eleven percent of Americans don’t use the internet.  Students living within this percentage are at an obvious disadvantage without access to an internet connection, meaning that while SEL has suffered in the world of remote learning, those students who cannot even connect to the classroom have been cut off entirely.

Further, students with disabilities have also faced a callous time during this pandemic, mainly by not being able to depend on in-classroom learning and interaction to understand their thoughts and emotions better, learn relationship skills, and exercise responsible decision-making. And while there is growing opportunity for disabled students and their parents to choose the learning environment that best suits them in this remote world, there still exist limitations in places that don’t have the tools or resources necessary for student success.

How teachers can help students learn SEL skills remotely.

Whether in a virtual or in-person classroom, teachers have a continued responsibility of helping students become self-sufficient, emotionally mature, more productive, self-aware, self-managing, socially responsible individuals in the future. Learning SEL skills remotely is a challenge, but the proper perspective and appreciation for the unique lessons presented in a remote world can help. 

You can do the following to help students learn SEL skills remotely: 

  • Weave SEL into your daily curriculum with lessons that reflect current personal, social, or world events relevant to your students.
  • Create a diverse, inclusive, safe classroom environment with an “open door” communication policy.
  • Conduct regular one-on-one check-ins with parents and students individually and as a group.
  • Designate a portion of your day for personal research related to how to support your students with SEL.
  • Encourage students to journal and write about their thoughts and feelings on a particular SEL lesson.
  • Create a “big brother, big sister” partner program for younger students to receive guidance from older students.
  • Work SEL-related lessons into more formal subjects, like math, history, or reading
  • Encourage group projects where students self-delegate roles to learn team-building and collaboration skills.
  • Do regular role-playing exercises to get students to think critically about specific decisions, behavior, and thinking. 
  • Set up formal conversation time during the day to discuss current events and allow students to express their frustrations, concerns, fears, and so forth.
  • Work with students to set goals for the future and monitor their progress to ensure their learning how to move forward productively in life. 
  • Celebrate student achievements and individual accomplishments in and outside the

Moving forward.

Social and emotional learning is vital to progression. Without emotional maturity, social responsibility, and personal development, students risk living emotionally-underdeveloped lives. Understanding how SEL has changed over the past year and being mindful of the present limitations and opportunities is an excellent place to start to teach SEL in a newly remote world.


Categories SEL in K-12

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