September 2020
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William & Mary Training & Technical Assistance Center


Responsive School Restarting Considerations for Administrators
By Cathy Buyrn

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Promoting Social Emotional Learning and Equity with
Classroom Routines and Procedures: Part 2
By Nick Kier, Daria Lorio-Barsten, Kara McCulloch, and Christine Peterson
One of the 5 C’s in the Profile of the Virginia Graduate is citizenship. A life-ready Virginia graduate must be both a responsible and responsive citizen. Specifically, VDOE (2018) calls for students to demonstrate civic responsibility and community engagement by building connections and valuing interactions with others. This is perhaps more important than ever in today’s changing environment, where the impact of COVID-19, civil unrest, and systemic racism causes tensions to rise. Educators must find ways to navigate the new complexities and support students with building connections and valuing interactions with others. Whether students are asked to wear masks or hold courageous conversations around potentially uncomfortable topics, they will need to develop socio-emotional skills in order to interact with each other respectfully. The core competencies of self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationships skills, and responsible decision-making designed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning [CASEL] (2017) are the very skills that educators can help develop in their students for the citizenship component.
A safe, inclusive learning environment with proactive and positive routines and procedures is a wonderful place to start building the foundational skills for citizenship, but at times, students (or educators) will inevitably misstep. Everyone makes mistakes. How an educator reacts when someone breaks a community norm can model citizenship and either reinforce or hinder the safety of the learning environment. How do we react to behavior that interferes with positive learning? How do we preserve a sense of community, build connections, and demonstrate the value of respectful interactions with others when missteps happen?
As the new school year kicks off, teachers will need to consider additional routines and procedures to identify and support students who are struggling. In particular, routines and procedures centered around the five competencies of social-emotional learning will be essential for students as they transition back to school and learning. These competencies allow educators to respond effectively if difficulties arise.
Strategies to support self-awareness:

  • Establish routines for checking in regularly and frequently with students. This applies to both in-school and virtual interactions. Check-in routines help students self-reflect upon their emotional state. Consider using a 5-point scale to rate emotional intensity at different times during the day.
  • Use age-appropriate language to identify students’ current emotions, the intensity of the emotions, and the students’ needs. Help students label their emotions and needs.
  • Role-play different feelings to help students of all ages accurately label and connect with their emotions as well as situational triggers. For example, read-alouds can help students relate to characters and their emotions and understand the effects of own their behavior and emotions on others in their environment.
  • If providing instruction virtually, you may want to establish routines for using the video feature. Video features enable you to monitor students via their body language and facial expressions so you can tell when a student is not engaged, upset, or frustrated and can intervene appropriately. While camera use allows you to see your students and monitor their engagement, keep in mind that some students and families may not wish to use the video feature of online platforms due to privacy concerns. Consider the use of other engagement features in online platforms (e.g., raising hands, reactions, chat boxes, discussion boards) to monitor student participation and comprehension.
Strategies to support self-management:
  • Help students struggling with disruptive behaviors learn to regulate their emotions by teaching calming exercises (e.g., mindfulness, grounding, using a stress ball or putty, and deep breathing).
  • Establish a safe space in your classroom (virtual or in-person) for students to de-escalate and reflect.
  • Provide students with a menu of previously agreed-upon options to help deal with the present situation and de-escalate (e.g., a cozy space, deep breathing, visualizing, self-talk, or the opportunity to journal or draw pictures about the situation and the emotions involved).
  • Use behavior-specific praise strategies to acknowledge the students who are on track with the lesson. This reinforces appropriate, desirable behaviors, and provides a cue for other students to get on board.
  • Teach positive self-talk, model it, and encourage students to use it regularly.
  • “I am safe.”
  • “I can calm myself down.”
  • “I can regroup and attend to the lesson successfully.”
  • “I can trust the adult I am with to help me.”
  • Respond to escalating behaviors in a calm manner modeling the routines and procedures established for the students to use. Ask individual students how you might help support them.
  • In virtual classroom settings, when necessary, remove students from the group without resorting to public humiliation. You may choose to put a student on hold or to communicate with the student privately via the chat box. If removing a student from the virtual classroom, make a point of connecting with the student as soon as possible afterwards to discuss the expectations for the virtual setting and develop a plan to support the student in meeting those expectations. Provide immediate positive feedback for more successful classroom participation in subsequent sessions.
Strategies to support social awareness:
  • Be mindful of students’ home environments. Students who display heightened emotions or disruptive behavior may be dealing with trauma related to the loss of a loved one, fear of contracting the virus (COVID-19), or fears and anxiety surrounding social unrest. Some families may be dealing with stresses related to financial trauma such as the loss of employment, a housing crisis, or illness.
  • Recognize, respect, and celebrate diversity. Encourage students to share their culture and traditions. This helps students develop an awareness of and an appreciation for people who are different from them. Connect an appreciation for cultural diversity with citizenship, civic responsibility, and community engagement as addressed in the 5 C’s in the Profile of the Virginia Graduate (VDOE, 2018).
  • Mindfully consider the structure of the classroom environment, the lesson, and hands-on or group activities to ensure that all students have an opportunity to participate effectively via a variety of response options (e.g., verbal responses, written responses, drawing, via Padlet, the chat box, or emojis) to meet students’ needs and skill levels. This reduces stress, meets individual student learning needs and styles, and subsequently heads off potential disruptive behaviors.
  • Help struggling students develop empathy by sharing stories and experiences. Discuss emotions involved and the impact of these emotions and behaviors on others. Role-play a variety of both positive and stressful situations so students who struggle with regulating their emotions learn to identify and relate their feelings, emotions, and responses to the characters in the situations.
Strategies to support relationship building:
  • Connect students with an in-school, virtual, and out-of-school coach to support their ongoing social-emotional learning (SEL).
  • Use class or small-group discussions to develop a menu of appropriate responses to specific behaviors or situations. Engage in think-pair-share activities to help students hear and learn from their peers. Such activities help students explore more effective ways of responding to stressful situations and emotional triggers.
  • Set up rotating class roles in both virtual and in-person learning environments (e.g., safety expectations monitor, timekeeper, notetaker, breakout room facilitator, positive language monitor). Make sure students receive explicit instruction and practice in class leadership roles. This will help them develop citizenship and effective communication skills.          
  • Teach students effective listening skills and help them practice these skills in virtual and in-person learning environments. Teach students how to take turns when speaking and listening, when playing a game, and when dealing with conflict.
  • Teach students how to work cooperatively with peers in virtual and in-person learning environments by having them regularly engage in partner and small-group cooperative learning tasks. Assign students to breakout rooms or cooperative learning groups to complete a short activity, task, or discussion.
Strategies to support responsible decision-making:
  • Explicitly teach students the problem-solving process so they have a structure to follow when situations arise where they have to make a choice or decision. Model and practice this process regularly so students become familiar with it and use it consistently.
  • Teach and practice self-reflection:
  • “How did I do?”
  • “How do I feel?”
  • “How did others working with me react and feel?”
  • “Were my choices positive?”
  • “Were my choices the best for me, my peers, and my classroom community?”
Implementing the strategies listed above will help to establish an environment where all students feel safe and connected to their school and classroom community, but once it is established, it is important to continue to develop and nurture it. As you consider your plan to support students, reflect on your own thoughts and feelings regarding your students’ concerns and fears, whether they are related to COVID-19, systemic racism, civil unrest, or any of the other experiences that students will bring into the school and classroom. 

Think about how you and your students can co-construct the classroom community through group norm setting to help develop social awareness and relationship skills. Place students at the center of your efforts and implement their suggestions, allowing them to increase their sense of belonging and value within the classroom community. These actions will further develop trust between the students and between the students and you, fostering the growth of social-emotional learning. Valuable tools and resources from CASEL to help prepare for a return to teaching and learning virtually and in-person environments may be accessed at the links below.

These documents provide a roadmap for utilizing SEL strategies like the ones presented in the lesson above to promote equity in your school and classroom. As educators, we are committed to student success and believe in the transformative power of education. As the Virginia Board of Education stated in their unanimous declaration on June 18, 2020, “The Board recognizes that equal access to a high-quality public education is a fundamental right of all Virginians, regardless of race, gender, creed, color or sexual orientation. However, systemic racism and discrimination still exist in public education, and too often, a student’s skin color or socioeconomic status predicts the quality of their educational opportunities. As education leaders in the Commonwealth, we have a responsibility to recognize and confront such racism and discrimination” (para. 1).
References & Resources

Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. (March, 2020). Creating a PBIS behavior teaching matrix for remote instruction. University of Oregon.
Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (2017). Core SEL competencies. Retrieved from
Newman, P. (2020, January 13). 6 Social emotional learning strategies for teachers [Kickboard blog]. Retrieved from
Virginia Board of Education. (2020, June 18). Statement from the Virginia board of education regarding systemic racism, racial justice and education. Virginia Department of Education.
Virginia Department of Education. (2018, June). Profile of a Virginia graduate. Retrieved from