SEL in a Post-pandemic Blended Learning Environment

February 16, 2023

Social emotional learning
Student-centered instruction

Every action and reaction in a classroom are opportunities for authentic teaching and learning.

As schools and districts across the globe made the transition from face-to-face teaching to virtual learning and back again, stakeholders saw the advantage of blending face-to-face teaching with digital experiences.

Many educators found success engaging digital-era learners in blended learning environments that utilize both in-person and digital components while providing students with an element of control over their pace, place, path, and/or time of learning. Blended learning allows educators to differentiate and enhance learning for students with vastly different post-pandemic academic needs.

However, as the learning environment continues to transform, educators and students alike continue to grapple with social and emotional challenges that were heightened by the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. The importance of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) continues to grow as classrooms adapt. Educators are seeking support and new learning around SEL in a blended learning environment, but are burdened by classroom management, curricular restraints, and fatigue.

With decades of combined classroom experience, our team understands the importance of promoting SEL in a blended learning environment and helps our clients incorporate SEL practices into the solutions we help design and create. Clients rely on our insight, perspective, and expertise to bring innovative ideas into focus to meet the needs of K-12 education.

What is Social Emotional Learning?

As defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to:

  • develop healthy identities;
  • manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals;
  • feel and show empathy for others;
  • establish and maintain supportive relationships; and,
  • make responsible and caring decisions.

SEL requires learners to reflect on their words and actions and build trust with others. After being physically isolated from peers and staff during the pandemic, SEL is not easy for educators to build and foster in classrooms with accrued unfinished learning, mental and physical health concerns, and little time to achieve what seems like the impossible.

What Challenges Do Staff Face in Supporting SEL?

Reactive Classroom Management

As students returned to their classrooms, educators were met with more than just academic learning gaps. While returning to school for some students was a positive development, for others, it created emotions ranging from anxiety and fear to anger and withdrawal. Educators were quick to build back their classroom communities and manage behaviors to attempt to unlearn and re-teach behaviors that arose during virtual instruction.

Unfortunately, many educators are so bogged down by putting out classroom behavioral fires that it is difficult to remember to teach social and emotional skills. Blended learning environments provide staff the opportunity to not only provide these SEL skills to all learners, but to differentiate SEL skills depending on students’ needs using digital tools and blended learning models that allow for small group or one-on-one time.

Educator Tip: Redesign your classroom using a blended learning model, such as a station rotation, to facilitate small group and one-on-one SEL instruction. These models also allow you to embed collaborative activities to promote social awareness and relationship skills.

Additionally, organizational learning structures—such as choice boards, playlists, and menus—also provide students with voice and choice in their learning while maintaining consistent classroom routines that support regulation, awareness, and decision-making skills. Take a deeper look at how choice boards benefit student learning in a blended learning environment.

Curricular Restraints and Responsibilities

The COVID-19 pandemic also put increased pressure on instructional staff to mitigate unfinished learning. To address the academic needs of students, many districts have added or changed curriculum and/or increased required curricular minutes.

However, research has shown that academic goals cannot be fully achieved without appropriate social emotional knowledge and skills. Rather than solely building content knowledge, educators must also engage students in extended learning that enhances SEL. SEL does not need to be a stand-alone curriculum that creates time restraints, financial burden, and siloed experiences, but rather a series of learning experiences integrated into previously planned instruction.

Educator Tip: Proactively plan for SEL within curricula using cooperative learning and collaboration activities as well as opportunities for reflection and decision-making. Blended learning tools—such as discussion boards and collaborative documents—promote student engagement and interaction to meet students where they are socially and emotionally. Check out this resource from CASEL for collaborative and one-on-one or small group teacher-guided activities for all SEL competencies to support all learners' individual needs.

Personal and Collective Fatigue

It is no secret that educators and school staff face high rates of career burnout. In fact, according to a National Education Association (NEA) survey of educators, “the massive staff shortages in America’s public schools are leaving educators increasingly burned out, with an alarming 55% of educators now indicating that they are ready to leave the profession they love earlier than planned” (2022). Educators indicated feeling a lack of control in their classrooms and school settings due to changing landscapes and extra responsibilities caused by staff shortages. Many also noted increased anxiety and fear over their health and safety.

SEL is just as important for the health and wellness of adults as it is for children. Taking time to reflect and address the personal and professional needs of staff can have a lasting impact on both staff and student wellbeing.

At Clarity, we are encouraged to take actions that support our physical, mental, and emotional health to ensure that we are able to utilize our full capabilities to create high-quality results for our clients.

Educator Tip: Take the time to show your students that you are human, just like them. When providing opportunities for reflection and engaging in SEL, take the time to breathe and reflect yourself. Share stories of how you overcame obstacles and model responsible decision-making for students. Most importantly, take time for yourself to rebuild and recharge.

The CASEL Signature Practices Playbook offers educators a vast array of inclusion, engagement, and closure activities to choose from to make building a classroom community and incorporating SEL into any learning environment painless.