Social Emotional Learning: Virtual Activities

Social Emotional Learning: Virtual Activities

It’s been a heavy couple of years for educators and students. As school leaders continue to push through another pandemic school year, it’s imperative to think of ways to implement social emotional learning activities. Counselor Kate McKenzie discusses the value of embedding SEL activities in the classroom to enable students and teachers to heal. 

Social emotional learning is an educational buzzword right now, but unlike the term “SMART Board” in 2008, this phrase is here to stay.
In fact, for the past three decades, schools have begun shifting their view of education from being solely academic-focused to one that provides experiences for academic, social, and emotional growth.
According to a recent EdWeek Market Brief survey, many K-12 leaders have become more convinced that they’ll prioritize spending on social emotional learning in 2020-2021.
School districts are beginning to mandate social emotional learning standards, some even carving out spots on student report cards for grades in areas like self management and relationship skills.
There is also talk about districts receiving state funding based on their implementation of social emotional instruction.
Before educators bemoan that they don’t have time to add yet another piece of curriculum to their class, it’s important to focus on why social emotional learning is important and deconstruct the vagueness of the phrase.
Chances are you are already embedding a plethora of social emotional activities into your everyday practices; the key is to become intentional in your implementation so that students will be given multiple opportunities to practice skills that will prepare them to be successful adults. 

Free eBook: An Educator’s Guide to Developing Social-Emotional Learning Skills in Your K–12 Students

What Is Social Emotional Learning? And Why Is SEL Important?

Many professionals in the social emotional field rely on The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) for high-quality, evidence-based resources regarding social emotional learning (SEL).
CASEL defines SEL as the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. 
Their five core SEL competencies are:

  • Self-awareness: Know your strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a ‘growth mindset.’
  • Self-management: Effectively manage stress, control impulses, and motivate yourself to set and achieve goals.
  • Social awareness: Understand the perspectives of others and empathize with them, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
  • Relationship skills: Communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed.
  • Responsible decision-making: Make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety, and social norms.

social emotional learning activities

Image Source: CASEL (What is SEL?)
No one is born being a professional social navigator or a whiz at regulating his or her emotions. These competencies have to be practiced over and over…and over.
Just ask any elementary teacher: a classroom of 25 kids that cannot self-regulate or work well with others makes for a long year.
Therefore, these skills should be prioritized and practiced consistently, especially during students’ formative development.

Kids spend roughly 21% of their waking hours each year with teachers and classmates, and it would be remiss to not build up these competencies during this valuable instructional time.
Blending SEL instruction with academic learning opportunities allows students to form and use critical thinking skills, positive peer collaboration, and time management skills.
Coordinating the two makes complete sense, and must be done with intentionality. 

Building Academic Success on Social Emotional Learning: What the Research Says 

One positive byproduct of implementing a social emotional learning curriculum is the promotion of an equitable learning environment where all students are held to the same standards, and in turn feel heard, respected, and valued.
Therefore, to do their best in school, students have to feel safe, supported, and included. This, of course, not only means physically, but also socially and emotionally.
Unfortunately, creating a safe space is not as easy as waving a magic wand or simply declaring it, as Michael Scott learned in the television show “The Office.”
Instead, creating bonds between schools and families, as well as developing trusting relationships between teachers and students, takes time, effort, and effective communication. 
According to Society for Research in Child Development, “Extensive developmental research indicates that effective mastery of social-emotional competencies is associated with greater well-being and greater school performance.”
Likewise, students that do not receive SEL instruction, or receive spotty lessons that are not taught with fidelity, are more likely to struggle with social, emotional, and academic difficulties. 
Another study proved that when students learn in conditions that promote social emotional growth and begin building relationships with trusted adults, there is an improvement in mental health and a reduction in risky behaviours.
The latter directly correlates to less office referrals, detentions, and suspensions, thus increasing the amount of time students at risk remain in school. 
But it’s important to emphasize that social emotional activities aren’t only for students at risk. All students –and even every staff member– can benefit from examining implicit biases, reflecting on their own identities, and practicing stress management.
In fact, stress can be contagious, and, according to applied psychologist Dr. Schonert-Reichl, when teachers “poorly manage the social and emotional demands of teaching, students’ academic achievement and behaviour both suffer.”

What is a Growth Mindset? How Can Educators Foster a Growth Mindset in Kids? 

The premise of a growth mindset is simple: it’s the belief that through hard work, practice, strategies, and help, intelligence can be developed.
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Alternatively, a fixed mindset means that there’s a threshold on your intelligence and, no matter what you do, it is set in stone. Sounds like a sad way to live, right?
Although growth mindset is a straightforward concept for educators, it can be a different story for kids who struggle with self-esteem or regulating their emotions.
While those with growth mindsets may see a challenge as an opportunity to learn something new, students with fixed mindsets have a hard time responding to any type of obstacle. 
In fact, there are three ways students with fixed mindsets respond to adversity: through their psychological interpretation, behavioral response, and academic outcome.
I’ll spoil the end for you. When students respond in ways like negative self-talk and diminished effort, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 
The good news is that the same is the case for students with a growth mindset. Mind Scholars Network explains that if a student believes his intelligence can grow, he’ll in turn practice positive self-talk and increase his effort and learning strategies, which will most likely lead to a better academic outcome.  

Free eBook: An Educator’s Guide to Developing Social-Emotional Learning Skills in Your K–12 Students

Here are four simple ways you can help instill a growth mindset in your students:

  • Teach them about the brain and body. By introducing that brains grow and bodies change, kids will begin connecting the dots that if you can change physically, you can change mentally.
  • Model a growth mindset in the classroom. Intentionally think out loud when you’re problem solving with students. They will hear you confront your challenges in a beneficial, growth-oriented way. 
  • Help them rephrase their thoughts. Students’ negative mindsets often include polarizing words (“always, never”), include defeatist future thoughts (“I know I won’t win”), and attempt to read others’ minds (“She probably doesn’t like me”). Switch those thoughts to be more helpful and positive, and hold students accountable to flipping from that inner critic to their inner coach. 
  • Praise effort over outcome. The Emotional Intelligence Network recommends that instead of praising what kids may consider an unchangeable characteristic, teachers should praise a child’s effort. “The first is known as people praise; the second is process praise. Process praise promotes an internal sense of self-efficacy because it reinforces that successes are due to effort (which the child can control) rather than some fixed level of talent or skill.”

Social Emotional Learning Activities for the Virtual Classroom

Experienced teachers are intentional about embedding the application of social emotional skills into their daily practices. The problem now, of course, is that learning is not taking place within brick-and-mortar walls.
Kids are not interacting with one another and teachers cannot monitor their students’ social and emotional progress throughout the day. 
While best teaching practices are taken for granted in the educational world, considering explicit instruction and practice of SEL probably don’t come as second-nature to parents, especially when they’re juggling their own work-from-home schedule.
Implementing SEL activities virtually, as well as onboarding parents, will have lasting positive effects on students and families alike.
While there are a lot of solid resources about how to implement content standards remotely, there seems to be a lack of guidance on what virtual SEL instruction should look like.
Below are social emotional learning activities vetted and recommended by teachers, counselors, occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, and school psychologists.
These social emotional books, programs, and videos will hopefully help you implement some much-needed growth mindset and social emotional curriculum into your online classroom.
While it’s always better to practice programs with fidelity, using freestanding SEL lessons at this time is a good way to supplement current holes in students’ social emotional growth. 

  • Common Sense Media- Teaching Digital Citizenship: A collection of lessons to help teach students to use online etiquette, navigate digital bullying, and vet online sources. 
  • Cosmic Kids Yoga: A series of videos that teach kids the basics of yoga, mindfulness, and relaxation. This is a good emotional regulation choice for kindergartners. 
  • Go Noodle: A series of videos that promotes movement, as well as various goals of alerting or calming your body. 
  • Headspace for Kids: An app that teaches the fundamentals of meditation through simple, fun breathing exercises. 
  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success: This book by Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck delves into the power of mindset. For people who desire a 6 minute synopsis of her growth mindset concept, check out this growth mindset video.
  • MindUp: A program that teaches K-12 students the science behind our emotions, as well as ways to regulate stress and be a more compassionate person.
  • Random Acts of Kindness: A non-profit organization that provides free curricula to help students build social and emotional skills.
  • Social Thinking: Resources for educators and specialists to help students that struggle with social emotional norms. 
  • Second Step: A classroom and building curriculum that provides education professionals, families, and the larger community with tools to enable them to take an active role in social emotional learning.
  • Sesame Street- Growth Mindset: A simple explanation of growth mindset for young children, presented by the Sesame Street gang and Bruno Mars!
  • SkillStreaming: A 4-part approach to teaching prosocial thinking.
  • Stop, Breathe, & Think: An app that helps kids ages 5-10 practice being quiet, focused, and peaceful. 

As the pandemic continues to be fluid, districts may switch back and forth between remote, blended, or in class learning, as well as diving deep into preparing students for their future virtually.
All in all, students need to continue developing social emotional skills. Now more than ever, it is necessary for educators to establish a virtual space that helps students foster a growth mindset to help them succeed now and in the future. 

free remote learning guide on social emotional learning activities