Posted by Lily Mora on May 19, 2021
A circle divided into sections. The inner circle reads, "Social Emotional Learning." The outer circle is split into five sections:
responsible decision making 
relationship skills
social awareness 
2020 was the worst! From brutal police violence toward Black Americans, to alarming anti-Asian hate crimes, to widespread wildfires, to devastating hurricanes, to record heat waves, and deep political divisiveness, the year was not short on traumatic events.

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2020 was the worst! From brutal police violence toward Black Americans, to alarming anti-Asian hate crimes, to widespread wildfires, to devastating hurricanes, to record heat waves, and deep political divisiveness, the year was not short on traumatic events. Oh, and don’t forget COVID-19, a global pandemic accompanied by a massive recession, that led to shelter-in-place orders, school and work from home, unprecedented unemployment and business closures, rising mental health concerns, the cancellation of travel and sporting events, and even a toilet paper shortage. 
Many people couldn’t wait for 2020 to be over. Yet, before we could finish waving 2020 goodbye, 2021 began with a familiar deluge of challenges: the storming of the US Capitol, the additional surges of COVID infections and related death, and the continuance of mental health issues. 
While not all-encompassing, these are but some of events that headlined newspapers, television broadcasts, and social media feeds. But what hasn’t perhaps been discussed enough is the individual tragedies that have and continue to take place in our communities and in the homes of our students. Just like the rest of us, our students are attempting to navigate through this trauma while managing all the “normal stuff” that life brings. For instance, in this school year alone, my middle school lost three staff members: a paraeducator, a resource specialist, and a math teacher. And recently, one of our student families lost their home and all their belongings in a fire. 
Social emotional learning has five parts: 
responsible decision making
relationship skills 
and social awarenessSometimes I feel like I can’t handle more bad news. But the reality is this: things are not necessarily going to improve, and certainly not right away. Who knows what’s around the corner? We are at a moment in time where the need for social emotional health is more important than ever for our students and ourselves. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. (Learn more.) Put simply, SEL is a framework that can help students cope with the many stresses and traumas that come their way.
We as teachers, in whatever grade levels and content areas we cover, have the opportunity to include SEL into what and how we teach. Direct and integrated-into-content SEL activities allow students to develop self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. All of these concepts are components of what makes people resilient. And that is what this moment requires: we all need to be able to withstand and recover from difficult conditions. That is why educators ought to be intentional about including SEL into how we educate.

Welcome Activity: How are you doing?

A common SEL activity used by teachers is checking in with students. At the beginning of a class, teachers ask students, verbally or digitally, “How are you doing? How are you feeling?” Typically students reply, “I’m okay. I’m good. I’m fine.” Every now and then, a student might say that they’re not doing good. And, because of time constraints or a hundred other understandable reasons, even well-intentioned teachers might either miss it or forget to follow up. A way to ensure that teachers do not overlook an opportunity to support a student in need is to record student responses.

Capturing Responses

Consider utilizing a platform that will allow you to capture students’ responses in real-time. For example, teachers who use Google Classroom can post a question to start a discussion thread. You can survey students using a poll feature in their video conference platform or using a web-based service like Mentimeter, or include it in an interactive presentation by using applications like Nearpod. The intent is to capture how students are feeling at that specific moment so that you have an opportunity to revisit it. When students communicate that they are not doing well and nothing is done in response, you can do more harm than good.
If it’s an inopportune time to address that student in the moment, especially in front of the whole class, try to connect with them at a later time. Send a quick email or a direct message to the student letting them know that you saw the comment and you wanted to check in with them to make sure that they are okay and to see if there’s anything you could do to provide support.
Example messages:
  • Hi, Student! Noticed in the check-in question that you’re not doing so great. I just wanted to check in to see if you’re okay and to find out if there’s anything I can do to help. – Teacher
  • Student, In the welcome activity at the beginning of class, you entered, “Today sucks!” in the chat. Is everything okay? Is there anything I can do to support you? Let me know, -Teacher
  • Student, Hi. Thanks for participating in class today. In the opening activity, you chose a frown emoji. Just wanted to check in with you to let you know that I’m thinking about you and hoping you’re okay. -Teacher
A table demonstrating what student responses demonstrate social emotional learning
Depending on how you check in with students, you can utilize this one strategy to build self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making, all at the same time. Here is a chart that depicts how adding elements to your student check-in (welcome activity) can widen the scope of which SEL competencies are covered.
Coordinating when students answer your welcome question offers an opportunity for impulse control (self-management). For instance, you can have students hit send all together. Or you can orchestrate waves of responses by organizing students into groups and having them respond by group. Providing an opportunity to review the replies of others and identifying trends in the responses improves students’ ability to appreciate diversity (social awareness). Positively commenting to a peer fosters social engagement and building relationships (relationship skills). Lastly, allowing students to reflect on ways to cope with having a rough day and sharing strategies with others covers reflection, situational analysis and problem-solving (responsible decision-making).
SEL is more than just “checking-in” with students and if this is the only segment of your lessons that integrate SEL, then I urge you to take your check-in question to the next level. Use the opportunity of asking students how they’re doing to build on all aspects of SEL, because the need to build social-emotional skills in our students is now! 

Learn More About SEL

Checking in with students as a welcome activity is just but one SEL activity of many. Some of which are fairly simple, for example, gallery walks, brain breaks, and optimistic closures like ‘I Am Curious.” If you are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of SEL, check out Collaborative for Academic Social Emotional Learning (CASEL) which supports educators and policy leaders in enhancing the PreK-12 learning experiences by utilizing SEL strategies. CASEL developed the SEL 3 Strategies Playbook that supports systemic SEL and is definitely worth viewing activities to incorporate SEL into your lessons.

About the Author

Headshot of Lilibeth MoraLilibeth Mora is an equity teacher leader and instructional coach in Vallejo, California. Her teaching philosophy is that all students can learn and she will do everything in her power to create a positive learning environment that is conducive to collaborative learning and creative problem-solving. She spent 15 years in the field of education developing connections with students, constantly learning how to improve her craft, and sharing best practices with others. Within the last few years, Lilibeth became a chapter leader for CSTA Sacramento and discovered a new passion in education–ensuring that all students have the opportunity to take a computer science course in high school and to change the demographics of who’s making programs, software, and artificial intelligence that is changing the way we live. Until the people in those positions match the people who they were intended for, people of all diversity, she will not stop.