There may be no more critical time than now to teach children to regulate their emotions. And yet there’s probably no time more challenging, as districts around the country begin the school year remotely.
Social and emotional learning—the process by which children learn to understand and manage feelings, develop empathy for others and acquire problem-solving skills—has been gaining traction in schools. Research has shown that students who control their emotions do better in school and face fewer disciplinary actions. Many kindergarten through 12th-grade classes have daily breathing exercises and lessons for defusing conflict.
But the nationwide shift to distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic has created obstacles to delivering SEL, as it is called. According to a July report from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt , SEL was largely absent last spring when schools scrambled over to remote learning. Nearly all surveyed educators said students will need more social and emotional support this school year and are vowing to do better this fall.
As with other classes that went online abruptly, one challenge for SEL has been getting lessons from third-party providers online. And because SEL attempts to address the children’s emotional issues in a class, its effectiveness could be blunted when everyone is separated by screens and social distances. In many cases, the distance prevents kids from being able to discuss their feelings at all.
“Many times, school is a safe place where kids know they can speak freely,” said Melinda Johnson, principal of J.P. Ryon Elementary School in Waldorf, Md., which receives federal funding due to its high level of students in poverty. “In cases where a kid may not have a safe place at home and the teacher is the person who represents their safe space on a screen, they might not be able to say much out loud.”