July 2020
Link Lines
William & Mary Training & Technical Assistance Center


Social and Emotional Learning Strategies for Administrators

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Promoting Social Emotional Learning and Equity with
Classroom Routines and Procedures: Part 1
By Nick Kier, Daria Lorio-Barsten, Kara McCulloch, and Christine Peterson
In the words of the Grateful Dead (1970),” What a long, strange trip it has been.” The end of last school year brought unprecedented changes to life as we knew it. As educators, we had to adapt to new challenges and continuously innovate to meet our students’ needs during a worldwide pandemic, and as the new school year begins, we will have to continue to adapt and innovate. To help us do so, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) offers guidance on moving learning forward through recovering, restarting, and redesigning instruction (2020).

As our students return for another year of learning, be it remotely, in person, or a combination of both, many will have experienced a greater learning loss due to COVID-19 than during a typical summer (Kuhfield & Tarasawa, 2020). Additionally, various experiences during a pandemic can lead to new or exacerbated individual or collective trauma. In order to provide effective instruction, we must provide a strong foundation of social-emotional learning (SEL) to ensure that students are ready to learn. As a result, VDOE (2020) urges us to prioritize both the physical and the social-emotional needs of students. A previous Link Lines article discussed the connection between the 5Cs of the Profile of the Virginia Graduate and the core competencies designed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning [CASEL]. Furthermore, VDOE calls us to action to “ensure safety, belonging, and mental health as a foundation for learning” (VDOE, p. 13) for all our students. One way to foster safety in the classroom, both physical and emotional, is to create and reinforce consistent routines and procedures.
Establishing consistent routines and procedures is an essential piece of a successful classroom (Simonsen et al., 2008). This is true for the beginning of school every year, but will be even more important than ever for 2020-2021. For students returning to the school building, additional routines will need to be adopted to address social distancing measures, hand washing, wearing of masks, etc., to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Possible examples include:

  • Classroom entry routines that limit student contact and ensure that students access only their own materials. 
  • Transition plans, both within the classroom and in hallways, that adhere to social distancing guidelines and/or wearing of masks when necessary.
  • Routines for access, use, and exit from common areas.

In a virtual format, structures that were successful in March, April, and May while school buildings were closed will need to be re-taught and reinforced. Additional consideration should be given to virtual learning activities connected to new content. For example:

  • accessing videos or presentations for students to learn on their own time
  • taking notes or reflecting on presentations
  • preparing for follow-up activities
  • alerting the teacher and classmates of the desire to speak or answer a question in large-group settings
  • establishing specific student roles (facilitator, recorder, timekeeper, etc.) for small-group activities

While each of the options listed above will be important for practical reasons, additional new routines will be required to re-establish a sense of safety for students. Students returning to school buildings may be fearful of contracting Covid-19 as they interact and socialize with others at a greater scale than they have since March. Students and faculty/staff will inevitably become ill from the sicknesses that typically affect schools: colds, strep throat, influenza, etc. When previously sick students return to school, they may fear being ostracized by their peers or considered potentially dangerous. Administrators and teachers will need to encourage healthy communication routines so that students, families, and faculty feel supported to stay home when sick and accepted back into the building without fear when they are healthy. 

Virtual learning environments present new challenges, and teachers will need to incorporate similar and uniform safety routines (e.g., setting up a safe home learning environment) and communication etiquette between students, families, and teachers (e.g., email, telephone, text apps, video conferencing, screen sharing, virtual background use). The  PBIS Virtual Learning Expectations resource is a helpful tool to create behavioral expectations for virtual learning. 

Schools utilizing a behavior expectations matrix will need to consider adding specific behaviors related to students’ physical, mental, and emotional safety. Incorporating student voice and cultural responsiveness into the development of expectations and routines is an effective way to establish and navigate this new normal. Students can play a leading role in defining behaviors that will support their feelings of safety. They know better than anyone how they are feeling and what structures and routines will help them feel safe. These additional behaviors are critical for a successful return to school this fall and will support productive behaviors for all students and adults in future “normal” years as well.
In addition to the student considerations highlighted above, it is important to remember that ongoing routines and procedures related to your own physical and emotional needs are also essential. As educators, you have been a model of resiliency as you worked tirelessly over the past few months to meet the needs of your students. As we continue to move into unchartered territory, it will be important to attend to your own needs so that you are better poised to meet your students’ needs. It will be hard to provide the support your students need if you are not taking care of your own physical and emotional well-being first. We often reference the need for self-care, and it is important to remember to not only make it a priority, but to also establish routines and procedures specifically for those practices. The article, 5 Strategies for Teacher Self-Care , highlights a few suggestions for teachers to consider when establishing self-care routines.

Many educators are in the field of education because they are service-oriented. Putting others' needs first is the norm for many teachers, and in these unprecedented times, it is important to balance that with routines and procedures designed to give you the strength you need to continue to be awesome.

Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Education. (2020). Recover, redesign, restart 2020: A comprehensive plan that moves Virginia learners and educators forward. Virginia Department of Education.

Grateful Dead. (1970). Truckin’ [Song]. On American Beauty.  Wally Heider Studios.

Kuhfield, M., & Tarasawa, B. (2020). The COVID-19 slide: What summer learning loss can tell us about the potential impact of school closures on student academic achievement. NWEA. https://www.nwea.org/content/uploads/2020/05/Collaborative-Brief_Covid19-Slide-APR20.pdf