An SEL Roadmap to Reopening Schools

SEL is necessary to help students understand what’s happening in the world around them and emerge from the situation thriving.

Topics: Social Emotional Learning, Health and Wellness

The end of the 2019-2020 school year was one of firsts for schools across the country because of school closures caused by the spread of COVID-19. Principals and their staffs sprang into action during a time of chaos to do their best to ensure a continuity of quality education while also keeping their students and staff healthy and safe. Now more than ever, social-emotional learning (SEL) is necessary to help students understand what’s happening to them and the world around them and emerge from the situation thriving.

Reunite, Renew, and Thrive: Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Roadmap for Reopening School, a guide from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, with input from NAESP, offers four SEL Critical Practices to help schools create supportive learning environments and foster social, emotional, and academic learning as we reunite and renew through a global pandemic and mobilization against systemic racism.

SEL Critical Practice No. 1: Take time to cultivate and deepen relationships, build partnership, and plan for SEL.

Foster new relationships that elevate the voices and perspectives of students and families. Connect with those whose voices have not traditionally been elevated and use their perspectives to improve and deepen the school-family-community connection. Look at where SEL efforts have been effective and where more support is needed—and use that data to identify strategies to build on in the fall.

Using two-way communication strategies enables schools to be transparent with their communities and lets students, families and staff feel safe and supported. It also gives them an outlet to ensure their hopes and concerns are being addressed. Consider what channels of communication already exists and what new ones could be implemented. Then, take the information that’s learned and use it to inform actions to benefit the school community.

SEL Critical Practice No. 2: Design opportunities where adults can connect, heal, and build their capacity to support students.

To support healing and self-care, design safe and responsive spaces for educators to build relationships with all adults in the school community, support and reinvigorate one another, and collectively process their emotions and experiences. This comes down to having adequate mental health and trauma supports, leveraging community partners, and normalizing asking for help.

Take time to identify opportunities for innovation and anti-racist practices. Although the health, racial equity, and economic challenges of these past months have been deeply painful, they have also offered an opportunity to learn from experiences with new modes of teaching and learning, confront inequities, and lead human-centered structural change. Areas for improvement include learning about and building skills to reflect on identity and bias and encouraging others to confronting racial injustice where it happens.

SEL Critical Practice No. 3: Create safe, supportive, and equitable learning environments that promote all students’ social and emotional development.

Intentionally build structures that promote supportive adult-student and peer relationships. Work together as a school community to identify ways to create school structures, including restorative practices, that ensure students feel a sense of safety and belonging. Don’t forget about students with additional needs either. Evaluate the current structure to understand student assets, competencies, and strengths and make adjustments, as needed, to avoid labeling students as “struggling,” “vulnerable,” or “at-risk.”

SEL Critical Practice No. 4: Use data as an opportunity to share power, deepen relationships, and continuously improve support for students, family, and staff.

Elevate the student voice in reflecting and acting on data around their learning and engagement. Work with them to understand how they find meaningful sources of connection, learning, and growth—be it in-person on during distance learning.

Include educators in this, too. Encourage them to reflect on data around their own instructional practices and learning environment, especially when trying out new strategies or modes of teaching. Fostering a sense of trust and shared purpose helps educators feel comfortable giving and receiving feedback, collaborating on data, and innovating on their practice.

Schools at any stage of SEL implementation can use this roadmap to build upon existing efforts. It is also intended to help users reflect and act upon what they can do that is different to leverage the historical moment we are in. While this guidance is written for schools, states and districts will also play critical roles in ensuring schools have the resources, support, and guidance needed to carry out these actions. Download the toolkit.