Traditionally, as students and teachers settled into classrooms in the fall, building administrators begin organizing those special fall events such as Open House, Book Fairs, Fall Festivals, Homecoming, fall plays and more. However, this year brought very different organizing and scheduling challenges. Creating schedules within hybrid models, seeking resources for internet connectivity for all, organizing breakfast and lunch distribution to students, ordering PPE for buildings and more to meet the challenges of schooling during a pandemic.
In many cases, academic time with students is impacted by half-day attendance, hybrid schedules, and total remote instruction. Regardless of student learning modalities, it is crucial for building administrators to emphasize the importance of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) experiences within the classroom. It is equally pivotal that building administrators address the social and emotional needs of their faculty and staff.
The Remote Learning Challenge
In school settings across the country, teachers face the challenging frontiers of remote learning and classroom environments unfamiliar to all. They often have many more questions than we currently have answers to. They are struggling to provide normalcy within a crisis (Cipriano, 2020). It is a building administrator’s responsibility to meet these needs to the best of their ability. As a former building principal, I know how difficult it is to seek new resources while balancing the routine needs and daily emergencies that we encounter each day. There are, however, numerous programs and resources now available to assist principals as they forge ahead. Many without any cost to the building or district.
To rebuild thriving schools, we must create safe, supportive, culturally sustaining, and equitable learning environments that promote the social and emotional competencies of both students and adults. This requires centering our transition plans and processes in relationship-building and authentic partnerships that honor the voices and experiences of all members of the school community (CASEL, 2020).
Providing timely, valuable, appropriate staff development is a building administrator’s continual challenge. While tension runs high this school year, carefully determine which topics to present to your teachers during faculty meetings and staff development days. In many cases, your teachers have been on “learning overload” trying to garner as much as they can to prepare for remote, in-person, or hybrid instruction. While SEL is not the anecdote to the complex issues we face in school, it does offer a critical foundation for supporting students and adults in the midst of the great uncertainty and long-term path for sustaining thriving school communities.
The RULER Approach to Social and Emotional Learning is an example of a school-wide approach designed for use with kindergarten through eighth grade students (The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence Team, 2020). The five key emotion skills include:
- Expressing, and
Yale University’s Center for Emotional Intelligence has also developed a number of resources for schools to address SEL for students and adults as well as the many resources found through CASEL (Yale University, n.d.). You can find them here.
It is critical that building administrators place an emphasis on continued, integrated SEL concepts throughout the school year as well as preparing to facilitate discussions on faculty and staff welfare throughout this school year. There are a number of strategies and tools that can be used with faculty to engage them in SEL experiences (Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, 2020). The following are some ideas to get you started:
- Look for ways in which to brainstorm and create with the professional learning communities at each grade level.
- Aim for the integration of SEL concepts in the English Language Arts block; involve special area teachers in developing opportunities for children to express themselves through art, music, and movement.
- Be a visible presence visiting classrooms, brief positive hallway conversations–check-ins for struggling staff members (virtual is ok too), and any additional personal touches that can be extended in the building.
Remember it need not cost money or need a great deal of organizational time to just reach out and remind the teachers and other staff in the building that you are there for them as they address the needs of their students. This time spent will reap many benefits. All of the hard work and effort a building leader puts forth will return to him/her as the children smile (yes, even behind their masks) and wave each morning.
As Margaret Wheatley (2004) shares, “It is possible to prepare for the future without knowing what it will be. The primary way to prepare for the unknown is to attend to the quality of our relationships and how well we know and trust one another.”
Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action
CASEL. (2020, July). Reunite, Renew, and Thrive: Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Roadmap for Reopening School. Retrieved September 30, 2020, from https://casel.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/SEL-ROADMAP.pdf
Center on GREAT TEACHERS & LEADERS at the American Institutes for Research. (2020, April). Educator Resilience and Trauma-Informed Self-Care. Retrieved September 30, 2020, from https://gtlcenter.org/sites/default/files/Educator-Resilience-Trauma-Informed-Self-Care-Self-Assessment.pdf
Cipriano, C. (2020, September 28). Teacher, Interrupted: Leaning into Social-Emotional Learning Amid the COVID-19 Crisis – EdSurge News. Retrieved September 30, 2020, from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-03-18-teacher-interrupted-leaning-into-social-emotional-learning-amid-the-covid-19-crisis
The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence Team. (2020). Managing Anxiety Around COVID-19. Retrieved September 30, 2020, from https://www.rulerapproach.org/managing-anxiety-around-covid-19/
The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. (n.d.). Cultivating Resilience Through Physical Health and Habits of the Mind. Retrieved September 30, 2020, from http://www.rulerapproach.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Cultivating-Resilience-V2-1.pdf