How Social Emotional Learning Can Help Schools Cope With Coronavirus


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. The Novel Coronavirus has disrupted the educational system and our daily lives. Every person’s quarantine is different and unique to their situation but it is affecting everyone socially and emotionally. 

SEL has 5 main components: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Both teachers and students are feeling the negative effects or strain of the Coronavirus in at least one of these components within themselves. The educational system must be responsive to this and use SEL to help educators, families, and students cope with these struggles. Here are some suggestions on how adults and students can focus on the main components of SEL to help them cope during the Coronavirus.

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SEL for Adults During Coronavirus

Parents and their children are most likely struggling with social and emotional health while at home. Without the proper tools and strategies, this can be very problematic and add additional stress on top of coronavirus concerns. Teachers cannot fill up the cups of their students and families if they are pouring from an empty pitcher themselves. 

Self Awareness

The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence uses the RULER acronym to promote emotional intelligence and psychological wellbeing and health of educators, students, and families:

  • Recognizing emotions in self and others
  • Understanding the causes and consequences of emotions
  • Labeling emotions accurately
  • Expressing emotions appropriately
  • Regulating emotions effectively

Teachers should set time within their day where they take a few minutes to assess where they are emotionally and mentally and can use the RULER acronym to guide this time. It is helpful to start the day by journaling, gratitude reflection, planning the day, meditating, or doing physical activity. Self awareness and being in touch with your emotions allows you to then identify if there are other things you need for support. 


To help with self-management, teachers should create a schedule for themselves just like they would at school. Set chunks of time dedicated to responding to emails, calling families, teaching and recording classes, and other responsibilities. Set uninterrupted times where you are focusing on your family, house tasks, and relaxation. 

Parents and educators should remain connected, continue to nurture relationships, search for peer groups and advice online, take breaks when needed, and schedule their day properly to dedicate time to each of the ‘hats’ they wear every day. 

Social Awareness

Teachers, using social awareness, should empathize with others from all backgrounds and cultures. During the Coronavirus, teachers should remain informed on how their community, school community, town, state, country and world are being affected by Covid. Placing themselves in other peoples’ perspectives and practicing empathy will help teachers build those skills in students. 

Relationship Skills

Quarantine can feel very isolating, especially for people who live alone. Continue to make connections and nurture relationships with friends, family members, and students. Technology has made this easy to do! Join online groups that you are interested in, take part in virtual book clubs, take online classes, facetime or video chat with family and friends, and continue to reach out to those you have relationships with. 

Responsible Decision Making

We all are practicing social distancing during this time to make sure we are keeping ourselves and others safe. Continue to make decisions that are best for you and allow you to focus and keep yourself emotionally, mentally, and physically safe. 

SEL for Students During Coronavirus

Self Awareness and Self Management

Schools should take some time to focus on using SEL in each digital class so students can practice its important components. This will help students continue to learn about emotions and awareness of how they feel during certain times of the day. Similar to adult strategies, students can be asked to start their day with a Question of the Day in a journal or a drawing of how they are feeling or meditation. 

For self management, students can use strategies similar to what they used in the classroom. Teachers can have students identify a place in their home that they feel safe in and can go to when they are feeling different emotions. Students can create a journal where they draw and write when they are experiencing difficult emotions to help them identify and cope with those feelings just like they would at a reflection center at school. Teachers can continue to teach coping strategies for different emotions at the beginning of each class with a Community Circle. 

Social Awareness

Students are mostly isolated with their immediate families but it is good to continue to build social awareness of others and how the Coronavirus is impacting their lives. Schools should provide families with a list of resources like video links, activities, and discussion questions that focus on how Coronavirus is affecting their city, state, nation, and world. This will help the entire family start conversations around what is happening outside of their isolated home and ways they might be able to help. 

Relationship Skills 

Students are home with their families but many parents are spending significant portions of their day working from home, or leaving for essential jobs, which could make students feel neglected. Start online classes with a set structure like Community Circle to bring a sense of normalcy and connectedness, and help students cope with the difficult time. Teachers can have students show and tell by sharing their pet, bedroom, favorite toy, etc. Students and teachers can sing songs and chants that they did in their classrooms. Students can share a story or their feelings and students can share how their experiences are similar or different. These conversations will build listening, speaking, and relationship skills during this time.

Responsible Decision Making

Children thrive on structure and their structured day has been completely turned upside down. Screen time has increased due to digital learning and enjoyment as well. The focus from schools has been mostly academic in spiraling previously taught standards and skills to now learning new content to complete the end of the academic year online. 

Students, with the help of their parents, need to create schedules for themselves to get school work and chores completed. Students and families will need to use responsible decision making around their health as we start to move in different states to reopening in phases. They will need to adjust to how to be safe in larger crowds and follow the rules that their family sets to keep everyone safe. 

Teachers and students cannot forge forward with a sole focus on academics without balancing their emotions and being able to cope with the effects of COVID-19. Students and families are experiencing trauma in new and different ways than they have before. Schools must continue to focus on SEL the remainder of the year and brainstorm the best ways to help students cope and thrive in schools when they reopen next school year. 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.