Remote learning and the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly disrupted the social aspects of learning for today’s students. As a result, teachers at all levels are looking for ways to encourage socialization in the classroom while still achieving academic goals.
Early childhood is a critical time for social and emotional development. Hence, early childhood educators must focus on maintaining social and emotional learning (SEL) in all learning environments. This involves innovating social teaching techniques and strategies to adapt to shifting, uncertain educational environments.
For educators interested in tackling these challenges, Worcester State University offers a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Early Childhood Education online program. This advanced degree program can prepare educators to be effective early childhood education program leaders and specialists. Professionals in these roles can ensure SEL and academic learning outcomes through in-person, online, or hybrid learning settings.
What Is SEL?
The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) explains that SEL helps young people attain the ability to:
- Develop healthy identities
- Manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals
- Feel and show empathy for others
- Establish and maintain supportive relationships
- Make responsible and caring decisions
CASEL cites research that “demonstrates that an education that promotes SEL has a positive impact on a wide range of outcomes, including academic performance, healthy relationships, mental wellness, and more.” The impact of SEL on a child’s development is widely recognized, and the education field has seen innovation in social teaching strategies and SEL-infused curricula.
What Social Teaching Strategies Can Improve SEL Amidst Shifting Learning Environments?
SEL is perhaps even more important during times of disruption like the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Edutopia, “56 percent of students reported increased levels of stress during the pandemic.” These factors, as well as the isolation and lack of socialization brought on by the pandemic, can inhibit social and emotional development.
However, Edutopia notes that many SEL strategies are adaptable to both in-person and distance learning environments, including these five social teaching practices:
- Implement daily “gratitude practices,” prompting students to reflect on something they appreciate or are grateful for in their lives.
- Incorporate regular movement breaks, as they help boost productivity, peer interaction, and creative expression through various activities.
- Check in with students regularly on a one-on-one basis, encouraging them to share their feelings openly.
- Structure times when students share and celebrate their own accomplishments and those of their peers, which fosters self-efficacy, trust, and empathy.
- Help students develop relationship-building and empathy skills by engaging them in self-reflection activities.
Building Language-Rich Environments
The U.S. Department of Education also highlights the importance of a “rich language environment” for social-emotional development in early childhood education. Educators in all classroom environments can promote both literacy and SEL skill development through engaging students in a back-and-forth conversation.
Creating a rich language environment involves active listening and asking open-ended questions. Scaffolding vocabulary development and other aspects of literacy and language acquisition are essential to fostering a rich language environment.
Encouraging students to share their experiences and interests in creative and expressive ways is especially important in early childhood education. Teachers can incorporate reading, talking, singing, creating art, dancing, and other creative modes of expression into all daily activities. Educators can holistically integrate SEL and literacy development into curricula and instruction design and strategy.
Using Educational Technologies
Innovations in educational technologies can also be central to social teaching strategies in all learning environments. Virtual classroom technologies enable continuity in socialization, face-to-face instruction, and group project work no matter the learning environment. Educational technologies like device-based educational games can also incorporate empathy, compassion, conflict resolution, and critical-thinking development.
Another crucial part of expanding social teaching beyond school walls is parent and caregiver involvement. Educators should strive to engage parents or guardians and build strong relationships that bridge school and home life. Helping parents understand the goals and benefits of SEL, and coaching parents on social teaching methods, can vastly expand the impact of SEL programming.
Worcester State University’s online M.Ed. in early childhood education program explores various family-school engagement practices and overall SEL program development strategies. With expertise in adaptable social teaching strategies, early childhood education leaders in many roles can improve SEL development and academic outcomes for today’s youngest learners.