COVID-19 and Social-Emotional Learning

by Hector Montenegro

The rapid spread of COVID-19 has created deeply disturbing unimaginable scenes of ghost towns in urban centers and emotionally unstable times for communities around the world. As we watch the numbers grow of people being infected and the death toll both locally and globally from the coronavirus we are also watching the numbers fall in the stock market. We are being impacted by terms that will forever be etched in our memory – pandemic, coronavirus lockdown, social distancing, stay-at-home orders, quarantine, and self-quarantine

As of March 25, 46 states have decided to close an estimated 123,000 public and private schools indefinitely, affecting at least 55 million students. It is uncertain the number of teachers, administrators, support staff and service providers that have also been impacted by these school closings, but what we do know is that it has totally disrupted the routines that educators are so accustomed to. Teachers bring order to their classrooms and make life secure for the children they teach by setting clear expectations and making outcomes predictable. Now carefully constructed routines have been halted, and field trips, concerts, festivals, sporting events, fundraisers and final exams all canceled with very little warning. Educators are also having to care for sick loved ones, are quarantined for their own exposures, are caring for children home from closed schools, are trying to teach virtual classes, or are otherwise coping with the rapidly changing national and local responses to the pandemic. 

No telling what impact this will have on student learning, on families, on the economy, or on teachers’ ability to cope and manage their own careers. How will we support students who rely on school for meals or the stability that their classroom provides? How will our students without access to computers or technology continue to learn? What will this do to our school and campus communities? How will this impact our schools’ funding? And then there’s the uncertainty around when teachers and students will be allowed to return to school—and what school will be like when we do. 

As we cope with these uncertain times and the radical change of routines, here are a few thoughts and practices to consider: 

  • Find Calm and Nourish Resilience in the midst of the change. This is a perfect time to revisit personal practices and nourish your inner resources by taking time to reflect on accomplishments, creative ways to manage your time, explore personal practices of self care, well-being, open-hearted self compassion, mindfulness, and even rewire your brain for resilience and calm.
  • Be Careful about Media Consumption and becoming addicted to the latest news. We are being inundated with anecdotes of both good and bad news. Take a media break and focus on your health, unfinished projects and even consider preparing for your return to the classroom better prepared and more informed about options for re-entry. 
  • Consider Looking into Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) for evidence-based practices to help you now and to support you and the students when you eventually return to school. SEL is for everyone. It’s especially critical for students with the greatest needs—the ones who will be severely impacted by the psychosocial and fiscal effects of this pandemic. In times of high stress, negative emotions like fear, anxiety and panic diminish our mental resources and ability to think clearly, make healthy decisions and behave prosocially and productively. 

Chronic stress impairs our ability to function well and impacts the quality of our relationships. Navigating uncontrollable, unpredictable, ambiguous situations like the new coronavirus, in addition to being confronted with many new demands, is challenging and for many of us amounts to chronic stress. We can’t control what has happened, but we can control how we respond to what is happening (Cipriano & Brackett, 2020).

Dr. Hector Montenegro, President/CEO of Montenegro Consulting Group, LLC, is currently Senior District Advisor for the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and works with districts and administrators nationally and internationally on systemic implementation of SEL.  He is also a Senior Associate for Margarita Calderon and Associates (MC&A) and provides training on instructional strategies for ELLs, leadership development for administrators, instructional coaching.  Learn more about him on the ExC-ELL Team page.