The Importance of SEL in Uncertain Times

Teacher with student.

As a former educator, I remember how important it was to develop strong connections with my students and reinforce those relationships in the classroom every day. And now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I know many teachers and school leaders across the country are feeling a sense of loss, even grief, about being suddenly disconnected from their students and the families they support.

In the past weeks, all of our lives have been upended. Educators, families, and our team here at Committee for Children are now faced with navigating a new normal, when life feels anything but. In this uniquely challenging time, when we need to be more empathetic and self-aware than ever before, one thing is abundantly clear—the intrinsic value of social-emotional learning (SEL).

Terms like “social distancing” and “self-isolation” are suddenly a part of the cultural conversation. But we know that humans, children and adults alike, need social connection to maintain physical and mental health. (Research by former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy found that loneliness can be as detrimental to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.1) The language we use to frame our response to this situation truly matters. Instead of framing this period as a time of social distance and isolation, we need to focus on remaining socially connected while physically distanced.

We often talk about the value of SEL in terms of improving behavior or its academic benefits. But SEL also builds skills that allow us to maintain the social connections that make up our emotional support system. This might look like managing our personal stress and anxiety in a healthy way, or perhaps reaching out to someone who may need support. Helping one another strengthens connections and can provide a reaffirmation of our own value when we feel overwhelmed or powerless. SEL can also help us recognize when we need emotional support, and find the words to ask for it. My granddaughter and I have “playdates” via FaceTime several times a week, and it’s been a wonderful way to stay connected.

International SEL Day is the perfect opportunity for each of us to share the power of SEL with our communities—including how it can bring us together, in times of crisis and in everyday life. For those looking to connect virtually, our Community Manager Matt Pearsall will be active on our SELinEDU Facebook Community throughout the day to talk all things SEL.

We may be apart for now, but we’re all in this together.

Colleen Oliver

1Brody, J. E. (2020, March 23). Take steps to counter the loneliness of social distancing. The New York Times.