How to Plan SEL Lessons & Programs During Distance Learning


The Novel Coronavirus has impacted the entire country and worlds’ population and our school system has had to shift course like never before. Even if schools are meeting in person for traditional brick and mortar instruction, an increase in positive Covid numbers could move schools to virtual learning very quickly. 

Some districts that are meeting in person are having teachers create virtual lesson plans and classroom platforms for instruction alongside in-person planning in case their classroom needs to be quarantined or if a particular student needs to be quarantined because of Covid exposure. 

As instruction continues for the 2020-2021 school year, attention and thoughtful planning for SEL lessons and programs needs to be one of the top priorities to help our students cope with the stress that Covid has created in students’ lives.

What is SEL?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage their emotions, build and maintain positive relationships, learn how to make decisions, and how to show empathy for others. 

→ See how we support schoolwide SEL

Schools need to think through the components of SEL and the specific skills that students need to develop and hone this school year after 6 months of trauma during Covid quarantine: 

  • Self-Awareness like wants and needs, emotions, and growth mindset
  • Self-Management like resilience, stress management, and self control
  • Social Awareness like empathy, cultural competence, and ethical behavior
  • Relationship Skills like cooperation, respect, and conflict resolution
  • Responsible Decision-Making like self-efficacy, compassion, and mindfulness

Helping students cope with how the Coronavirus has impacted their lives is vital for actual instructional learning to happen. The beauty of SEL is that it can be taught in isolation as its own block and can also be integrated into all content areas and lessons. 

How do schools best plan for SEL distance learning?

Leaders and teachers should think through these questions to help in planning SEL instruction during distance learning:

  • When will teachers be expected to teach SEL skills in their virtual classroom each day? 
  • What are the expectations around how lesson activities will be adapted for virtual classrooms? 
  • If your school does not use a SEL curriculum, are there certain supplemental materials or lessons that are required for each grade level?
  • Which SEL topics are to be covered school- or district-wide and which topics are up to teacher choice?
  • How will discussion questions be delivered; whole-group or given to parents to discuss at home with their children?
  • In which ways will teachers integrate the SEL skill(s) into core curriculum?
  • Will independent activities be done by students alone or in conversation and collaboration with their family members?
  • How will administration support teachers in planning for SEL instruction virtually and provide feedback?

Once leaders and teachers answer these questions, the actual planning and implementation of SEL lessons and programs will be smooth. Schools can use shared planning; where one teacher plans a specific content area like SEL or math and every teacher in that grade level is responsible for reading and internalizing the lesson plans created to effectively implement the lesson in their classroom. 

Some districts and schools use an internalization protocol for teachers to engage in to be best prepared to teach lessons that they did not create. Schools can also keep planning content blocks separate for each teacher. Whichever method of planning your school or district uses, teachers need time to plan and prepare for their virtual classes. Administrators should block time within the designated school days and work time for teachers to do this work meaningfully.

During these times of uncertainty and stress, thoughtful planning for SEL lessons by teachers will significantly impact the success of SEL and how these skills will help students be more resilient and be prepared for the changing world around them. We need to focus on the social and emotional health and wellbeing of our students as well to ensure that we are teaching the whole child.