Distance Education & SEL
4 Strategies for Supporting Students' Social and Emotional Well-Being Remotely
- By Quinlan O'Grady
O’Grady, can I share my high and low with you? My high is we went
on a walk today. My low is I miss you and my friends so much.”
content of the conversation with Armani was not atypical; my second
and third graders share their highs and lows regularly as a part of
our daily morning meeting. However, sharing these sentiments via
FaceTime certainly is not the norm.
this unprecedented time of social distancing and school closures,
teachers across the country are trying to create new routines,
schedules and means of connecting virtually with their scholars. I
find myself missing these daily conversations with my scholars. I am
constantly wondering how they are feeling. Do they understand what is
happening? Are they scared? Are they bored? Are they healthy? What is
their new daily reality?
In these challenging times,
taking the time to check in with students’ social-emotional
wellness is just as important as attending to their physical
well-being. I am grateful that I have invested in my scholars’
social-emotional well-being as part of our daily instruction, because
they now have strategies they can apply on their own to help them get
through what is a stressful time for us all.
In our regular classroom
environment, my students learn and practice mindfulness strategies
for managing and responding to anger, stress, and anxiety and for
building focus multiple times throughout the day. Once they’re able
to manage their emotions and re-center themselves, they’re more
prepared to learn core academic content. I hope they’re applying
some of the same trauma-sensitive strategies they use to calm down,
ease anxiety, and cope with a wide range of emotions in our classroom
to their new classrooms at home.
Here are four strategies
that my students have found to be effective in helping them work
through whatever complex emotions they might be feeling and getting
them ready for learning, wherever that might occur.
techniques help my students connect their breaths and their bodies.
In this way, they learn to calm down if they’re angry or
we breathe deeply, we increase the supply of oxygen to our brains.
This stimulates the parasympathetic
nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Breathing
exercises are a great way to relax, relieve tension, and reduce
There are many different
breathing strategies, and my students learn to choose the breathing
method that works best for them. For instance, they might like belly
breathing, where they place their hands on their stomachs and feel
their stomachs inflate—or they might prefer butterfly breathing,
where they bring their arms up like a butterfly as they inhale and
bring their elbows down as they exhale.
Yoga and stretching
exercises connect students’ breathing with movement. When my
students are angry or frustrated, the last thing they want to do is
sit down or sit still. Stretching teaches them to channel their
emotions through positive physical movement.
Stretching also helps
students when they need something more to calm them down, or when
they need to burn excess energy. If my students come inside from
recess and are pretty calm, we’ll focus on breathing exercises. But
if they’re on edge, or if they had inside recess and didn’t get
to move a lot, I’ll have them do stretching exercises with yoga,
martial arts, or dancing.
is another powerful strategy that can help relieve stress and
anxiety. It involves using mental imagery to achieve a more relaxed
state of mind.
students visualize an item, such as a balloon floating up into the
sky or a jar
filled with water and glitter, they listen to positive language and
settle into a calm state of mind. Even if their thoughts stray a bit,
I’m teaching them to refocus their attention on that moment.
Simply having students tell
themselves, “I’m calm, I’m focused, I’m ready to learn—and
I’m smart,” is an activity in itself. These positive,
self-affirming words help students build self-confidence and belief
in their own abilities.
How We Put These Strategies into Practice
as a class, we would apply one of these techniques for 10 minutes to
begin each day and again after recess to get students focused and
ready to learn. I would try to alternate a breathing or visualization
activity with a more physical activity, such as stretching or yoga.
lead students in these activities, I would use short, interactive
videos from Adventure
Students like the yoga videos led by children’s singer and yoga
instructor Bari Koral in particular, because they have fun while
focusing on movement and breathing at the same time.
they apply these different strategies, my students grow more mindful
of their emotions—and they connect the specific techniques to
calming themselves down. I have worked on these techniques with my
students from the first day of class, and it didn’t take long to
see most of them apply these strategies on their own when they felt
anxious or upset.
that students are learning from home, I’m trying to make sure they
continue to use these strategies. I remind them to practice their
breathing, stretching, visualization, and self-affirmation, and they
have access to the same mindfulness videos we used in class from home
The more students are able
to recognize and manage their emotions, the more capable they are of
being present and learning. This paves the way for both academic and
personal success. In a time where so many of us are experiencing
unprecedented levels of uncertainty and fear, these strategies can
help us all cope a little more effectively.
Quinlan O’Grady is a
teacher at Schmid Elementary School in Chicago Public Schools.