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Fostering Whole-School Wellness in a Pandemic

Applying social-emotional learning strategies to support entire school communities through challenges and change
Teacher in classroom with student, both in masks

With reports of pandemic-related anxiety, fear, and sadness increasing not just among adolescents but teachers, school administrators, and families, social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies can be used to support not just students but the whole school community.

In an issue brief released this summer by the Pennsylvania State College of Health and Human Development, Harvard Graduate School of Education faculty member Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlictmann and co-authors Christina Cipriano and Marc Brackett of the Yale School of Medicine explore opportunities for SEL strategies to support whole-school wellness.

As schools and communities transition from reacting to the pandemic to proactively supporting students and families under current circumstances, consider the following opportunities for SEL supports all stakeholders can use:

Practice self-care as a community

Constant uncertainty requires healthy emotional management to create an effective learning environment.

  • Set boundaries on work hours to decompress.
  • Build and maintain routines at home and in the classroom.
  • Give yourself permission to fail and forgive.

Resources the authors recommend:

Focus on creating a positive emotional climate

When community members understand the needs and perspectives of others, everyone can work together and thrive.

  • Consider creating a “charter” — an agreement that helps stakeholders of all ages recognize, understand, and regulate emotions. Start with one for school faculty and staff and expand into the classroom and even at home.
  • Continue to check-in on one another and make changes to charters and shared agreements as the need arises.

Resources the authors recommend:

Leverage community resources

Schools do not operate in isolation. Community and family partners can help schools navigate emerging demands like getting meals to children or providing after school care and programming.

  • Reopening plans or plans for remote instruction should consider the ways in which community partners can forge relationships, not only with schools, but also directly with families.
  • Promote student success and address inequity by including all families in the conversation and know the unique context and needs of stakeholders.

Resources the authors recommend:

Promote equity

Remember the pandemic has also exposed the systems that perpetuate inequality. This is an opportunity to dismantle and rebuild those systems. SEL training and skills are essential for this work.

  • Acknowledge the trauma related to the pandemic and its disproportionate impact on Black and Indigenous communities, people of color, and people with disabilities.
  • Acknowledge the role individuals and school communities have played in perpetuating traumas related to racial injustice.
  • Examine and reflect on the curriculum for misrepresentation and missing stories. Use current events to engage students and community members
  • Ensure adults model empathy, compassion, and hope in their interactions with each other and with students.

Resources the authors recommend:

Key Takeaways

  • Successful SEL requires the investment of all school stakeholders in establishing trusting relationships and a positive emotional climate.
  • Working to promote equity is also key in addressing the trauma many communities have faced.
  • Strengthening relationships with students is important, but in order to engrain SEL into a community, work to strengthen relationships between adults.

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