As we make the transition from distance learning back into the international journal classroom, teachers are facing a whole new set of challenges related to students’ social and emotional well-being and mental health. New research from Common Sense has found that the number of teens and young adults who report feeling depressed has grown significantly throughout the pandemic, something that schools will need to reckon with during the return to in-person learning.

Building close relationships with students is an integral part of teaching that creates a school culture that’s inclusive, fosters personal and academic growth, and encourages positive social behavior. And we know that students’ social and emotional well-being can have a direct impact on their academic success. But what does this work look like during the complicated process of reopening schools after a year (or more) of distance learning?

Looking at the return to in-person learning through an SEL lens
For a classroom teacher, it may be easy to think, “I have so much content to cover — isn’t a daily check-in enough?” Things like daily SEL icebreakers are a step in the right direction, and individual counseling options are a crucial support for those who need them. But it’s also important to rethink how we meet students’ social and emotional needs through the day-to-day, academic aspects of our teaching. For example, some students may struggle to stay focused after spending so much time in front of screens. For others, collaborative work could feel awkward, whether it’s with peers joining class online or with those physically next to them in the classroom.

Here are four ways to support students’ social and emotional well-being during the transition from online to in-person learning — each tied to core SEL competencies from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL):

  1. Consider how students’ digital lives are changing.
    CASEL competency: self-awareness: As students and families acclimate to shifting school schedules, many will struggle with changes in routine and the loss of whatever daily online habits they’d settled into during distance learning. Returning to school in person will also mean navigating new, or altered, physical environments with a mask, and following a variety of other safety protocols. Some students could even feel like they’re experiencing withdrawals from their digital lives.

Regardless of whether students are learning in person or online, consider teaching one (or more) of the Media Balance & Well-Being lessons from our Digital Citizenship Curriculum as a way to get kids thinking critically about the impacts of their media use.

Online strategies:
Encourage students to talk about the at-home routines they’ve developed for starting and finishing class time during remote learning. Help kids to think through these experiences, including the emotions they might feel during these times of transition. You could even have students come up with their own personalized social-emotional checklists to review before classes start. Help them think through how they might use a checklist like this, both during distance learning and once they start attending in person again.