At HomeSphero Team
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Social-emotional learning (SEL) has been on the minds of parents and teachers for years, and for good reason. With social and emotional learning incorporated into everyday curriculums, children are better equipped to do things like manage conflicting emotions or adapt to environmental changes as they grow into adulthood. However, with the state of education constantly evolving to meet the demands of different types of learners, how can educators continue to weave social-emotional learning into their daily activities and lesson plans?

With virtual learning environments and hybrid learning models becoming a mainstay for many educators, social-emotional learning is critical for proper student development outside of the physical classroom. But, because figuring out how to teach SEL skills can be a challenge for even the most experienced traditional educator, adapting it to the digital landscape can feel like an impossible task. 

Fortunately, with the right knowledge and tools at your disposal, providing your students with SEL-focused lessons in-person and virtually is easy. With this guide, you will uncover the fundamentals of SEL and learn how to include these life lessons into your virtual learning environment, regardless if your school has developed an SEL program or not. 

What is Social-Emotional Learning?

Social-emotional learning is the educational process through which students discover how to field and manage their emotions, set and strive for realistic goals, understand empathy, maintain strong, healthy relationships, and become responsible decision makers. 

Commonly, SEL is divided into five areas of core competencies, including:

  1. Self-awareness: Recognizing one’s emotions, thoughts, and influence on behavior. This also includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as maintaining a solid foundation of optimism and confidence.

  2. Self-management: Regulating one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in varying situations — including managing stress, controlling impulses, maintaining motivation, and setting and working towards personal and academic goals. 

  3. Social awareness: Empathizing with others from different cultures and backgrounds, understanding normal social and ethical behaviors, and recognizing support systems in family, at school, and throughout the community. 

  4. Relationship skills: Maintaining strong and healthy relationships with diverse groups and individuals, which include communicating clearly, understanding active listening, cooperating, resisting negative social pressures, constructively negotiating conflict, and seeking or offering help when necessary.

  5. Responsible decision-making: Making responsible and constructive decisions about individual behavior and social interactions while considering ethical standards, societal norms, and safety concerns. This also includes understanding the consequences of certain actions and the well-being of one’s self and others. 

3 Ways You Can Integrate SEL Into Your Hybrid Learning Model 

When it comes to integrating SEL into your hybrid learning model, it’s important to focus on experiences that include fundamental aspects of social and emotional core competencies. From presenting stories that showcase the resilience of a character’s journey to helping your students comprehend empathy through virtual reality (VR), there are a plethora of ways you can give learners the tools they need to succeed. 

1. Reading and Discussing a Character’s Journey

No matter if your students are in the physical classroom or learning virtually, there’s one method of teaching SEL that will always be relevant: reading and discussing influential stories of strength and resilience through a character’s journey. 

A teenage girl in jeans and a gray sweater sits on a red sofa while reading a book with a red cover.

From nonfictional acts that detail social awareness (think personal essays by Martin Luther King Jr.) to fictional tales of protagonists overcoming obstacles (such as the hero’s journey in Harry Potter), your students will be able to see that reaching their goals takes hard work, responsible decision making, and dedication — especially in the face of adversity.

While there are many stories out there that showcase the resilience of a character’s journey, try to pick prose that correlates with the subject matter your students are studying or current events. For example, you could discuss the story of a college student who looked at the Covid-19 pandemic through a larger lens and created see-through masks for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Not only does this story help students understand what it means to be socially aware, but it helps them discover interpersonal skills they could use to set and work towards impactful goals.

2. Walking a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes Through VR

A boy wears a virtual reality headset in the living room in front of a TV.

While virtual reality can be a fun source of entertainment, it can also be a great way for students to understand what it means to be empathetic and look at different life experiences with an open mind. With VR, students who are physically in the classroom or learning remotely can be visually transported into a new world. 

For example, if your students are on the subject of world history, you could use Google Expeditions to take them on a journey through the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Rather than simply reading about the Holocaust in a history book or digital excerpt, your students will be able to learn more about the inhumane living conditions at concentration camps first hand.

Fortunately, VR doesn’t have to be a large investment for teachers or parents, either. With cardboard VR headsets and a smartphone, virtual and in-person students can immerse themselves in a digital world that showcases difficult-to-imagine scenarios and promotes a real-life understanding of empathy.

3. Practicing Mindfulness When Times Get Tough

Learning can be stressful for students, especially prior to taking exams or presenting in front of their peers. Rather than letting them internalize unrealistic fears, you can help them practice mindfulness in both the physical and virtual classroom. Oftentimes, children do not understand how to calm down on their own volition, so it’s important to address concerns right away when students are expressing negative emotions. From walking your students through breathing exercises to teaching them to focus on one task at a time, you can help them relax their mind and recognize the power of self-awareness. 

A young boy sits on a tree stump outside meditating in the sunshine.

To take mindfulness one step further, you can weave in discussion about the biological complexities of the human brain. When students have a firm grasp on the malleability of the brain — especially during formative years when the prefrontal cortex is developing — they will be better equipped to take control of their emotions and recognize when their thoughts are influencing physical behavior.

Take Hybrid Learning to the Next Level With SEL

With hybrid learning becoming a mainstay in classrooms all across the country, social-emotional learning is more important than ever. Without SEL integrated into your curriculum, both in-person and virtual students will miss critical opportunities to learn fundamental life lessons that help them develop important 21st-century skills and grow into successful adults. Thankfully, with this guide, you can easily include social and emotional lesson plans that resonate with all types of learners. 

To take SEL and your hybrid learning model one step further, Sphero’s remarkably cool programmable robots and tech toys are here to help. With Sphero, your students will gain access to a myriad of STEAM-based activities that promote computational thinking and foster social and emotional learning through collaboration. Check out our guide on socially distanced learning today to find out how Sphero can help support your students with SEL.

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