How Schools Can Lean Into Self-Care and Social-Emotional Learning to Navigate Through This Crisis

By understanding the importance of and connection between self-care and SEL, schools are better positioned to navigate moments of crisis like COVID-19.

Nigmatulina Aleksandra /  Shutterstock
Nigmatulina Aleksandra / Shutterstock

Now more than ever, schools are recognizing the need to adapt self-care and social-emotional learning (SEL) practices. COVID-19 has illuminated and exacerbated already existing stressors on students and school staff, and supports are clearly needed. When self-care (the individualized way we recharge in an overstimulated world) is paired with SEL (the strengthening of adaptability, problem-solving and relationship skills), school communities are empowered to tap into the resilience needed to make it through a crisis like COVID-19. 

It is imperative to note that there are glaring disparities magnified by COVID-19 that, for example, could hamper a staff member from having the time to consistently practice self-care because they are caring for family members, or students from engaging in online SEL activities because they do not have WiFi. But as schools take the steps to bring learning online (just the most recent example of resilience), schools can still center self-care and SEL. By understanding the importance of and connection between self-care and SEL, schools are better positioned to navigate moments of crisis like COVID-19. Here are some ways that schools can lean into self-care and SEL during this time:

Think communally. Many educators try to prioritize their own wellness to be of service to others, but often succumb to the time-consuming responsibilities of the profession. When tired, scared, and isolated, school staff should consider the communal benefits of self-care. By finishing that chapter in a favorite book or devoting 15 minutes to meditation, balance comes within greater reach, thereby allowing staff to best show up for students. Schools should create opportunities for professional development so self-care habits flourish, and connect the work to the community since many educators are motivated when the communal connection is made clear. And just like practicing yoga in a studio (and even via Zoom now) fosters more energizing connections than practicing alone, now is the time to provide the opportunity for staff and students to routinely collaborate and problem-solve virtually so they’re rooted in the community.  

Organize and routinize. By embedding self-care and SEL routines into structures, the ability to promote wellness and target SEL needs increases. Self-care is a part of a wellness lifestyle that supports holistic health in mind, body, and spirit, and self-care and SEL skills are nurtured by routines and consistency. One isolated practice simply is not enough to build wellness. Schools are just like us — there are some SEL related skills being developed, but it’s not yet a routine baked into structures. Educators should align instructional practices, social-emotional supports and behavioral supports with SEL standards, and plug these activities into school routines. Schools should consider incorporating self-care activities that relate to habit formation alongside the traditional icebreakers that often occur at the beginning of staff check-ins. Schools can also create small online groups called advisories where student and staff SEL goals are consistently developed, tracked, and celebrated.

Prioritize. Carve out the time and space so that self-care and social-emotional development are an essential aspect of the school day. Use the following questions to guide you: What are the structures and routines that either bolster or hinder wellness and social-emotional development in your school? What could be modified to amplify existing supports around wellness and social-emotional development? How could the school day be shifted to implement 30-60 minutes of self-care and SEL? Schools with established self-care and SEL routines are better situated to deal with crises. It’s not too late to double-down on and adapt existing (or build new) routines. Prioritizing staff skill development highlights the connection between self-care and SEL practices (e.g., mindfulness development), how these skills require lifelong attention, and why staff with consistent personal routines are key resources to build related school structures. 

Now is the time to pair self-care and SEL in our schools. As schools implement these best practices, they should collect data, replicate and codify practices where resilience is shining, and fill in gaps where staff and students are not yet provided the opportunity to demonstrate and develop these skills. In doing so, school members will maintain motivating connections even when isolated, better be able to take care of themselves and others all at once, and develop leaders who not only demonstrate resilience but can tap into the resilience in others. 

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