How SEL Can Help Us in the Context of Coronavirus

By SEL in Action Community

This conversation is part of a series led by SEL in Action awardees from across the country. SEL in Action community gatherings invite educators to exchange promising social and emotional learning (SEL) practices, co-create solutions to challenges, and tap into a network of peers for support. This summary reflects key themes and takeaways from our conversation on March 19, 2020.


With coronavirus (COVID-19) threatening public health and forcing mass cancelations and closures, every one of us has been impacted in some way. We are getting a real-life lesson in how to manage seismic change, fear, and uncertainty. While emotions are running high and we’re all navigating significant disruptions to normal life, this moment presents a unique opportunity to look for the good and leverage our SEL skills to get through.

Acknowledging the Range of Emotions

How are you feeling? A core SEL skill is to be self-aware and recognize the emotions one is experiencing. In real time, the current public health crisis is significantly impacting all of us (students, educators, parents, workers, providers, neighbors) in myriad ways. Understandably, people are worried about their loved ones, their students, and the world. Many of us are stunned and in disbelief about the gravity of the situation. Other common emotions at this time include confusion, stress and overwhelm, disappointment, frustration, fear, sorrow, loneliness, helplessness, and—for some, despite it all—gratitude.

Using SEL to Help Us All

This educator community came together to discuss and share examples of how SEL skills can help our students and ourselves get through this trying time. Using the following list of SEL competencies and skills created by Education First, we generated a number of examples that can serve as inspiration and resources. It’s our hope that these examples help you spark a conversation with students, design a relevant SEL lesson, and personally navigate the many unknowns and changes underway.



Privilege and disadvantage: In many ways, this crisis can help us to more clearly see our relative privilege and disadvantage. So many of us can recognize the privileges that come with continuing our work from home, having paid sick leave, or having the means to “stock up” on groceries. On the other hand, one participant shared that her students, some of whom are young mothers, are having trouble getting the diapers and basic resources they need at this time. Many students and their parents have lost employment with no warning or time to prepare. While we are all impacted in some way, the extent of the impact differs drastically.

Students and adults alike should ask ourselves: How can those of us with these privileges help others? What privileges do we take for granted? As one example, young people across the country are stepping up to shop for and deliver groceries to seniors who cannot leave their homes.

Mindsets: Look for the good in isolation and school closures. What opportunities does this experience afford us to read, reflect, connect, innovate, or simplify? What about rethinking education, student-led learning, and family engagement?

One educator shared that, in her district, educators have been asked to post to their class website three times each week and continue student engagement, but to not introduce new academic content. She recognizes that this is a unique opportunity to share SEL resources, such as these SEL collections from Newsela and AFT Share My Lesson, with students.

Young people step up to bring groceries to those in need in their communities.

MindfulnessAnother educator shared that she typically begins class with 2-3 minutes of silence for mindfulness and self-reflection, and that’s something she wants to continue through virtual learning. Recommendations from the group included Mindful Schools’ free online mindfulness classes for kids and Insight Timer’s free music and guided meditations to support mindfulness.

Feelings: Don’t forget to check in with yourself and your emotions. Feeling lonely and isolated? Reach out to friends and loved ones. Feeling overwhelmed and anxious? Shift gears and dive into an activity that brings you joy. Acknowledge and give voice to the feelings you’re having.



Healthcare workers ask citizens to stay home to prevent further spread of coronavirus.

Acting with compassion: Neighbors can purchase carry-out and gift cards to support local businesses, while businesses are supporting others by giving away items and offering discounts to public health workers. A group of healthcare workers in the UK shared this image stating, “We stay here for you, please stay home for us” to communicate the human impact of individual behaviors.

Showing you care: During this difficult time, consider writing notes to students and neighbors. Let others know you care from a distance by calling, texting, tweeting, and sending cards. The Gratitude Experiment outlines the simple practice of inviting students to write letters of appreciation for others in their school community, which could be easily extended to others such as individuals living in senior housing, first responders, and healthcare workers.


Assertiveness and Agency

Confronting bias: – Speak up against any hate and bias toward people who identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander. See Teaching Tolerance and NPR for examples and resources to share with students.

Using your voice: This time is an opportunity to communicate to students the importance of using your voice for good. Many people are using social media to share facts and resources with peers, as well as personal health stories to convey the importance of health and safety measures.

For examples, follow #HighRiskCOVID19 to see immunocompromised young people with using their voice to get their peers to recognize the impact of their behaviors, and #PowerNotPanic to see youth organizers brainstorming opportunities for youth and community agency in this moment. The Tik-Tok app is another forum many students are using for fun, as well as to make statements about the world. 

Effort: Children, parents, and professionals are practicing time management and self-discipline to get (school)work done.


Belonging in Community

Teamwork: There are so many heartwarming examples of teamwork at this time. Some favorites includes Italians singing the national anthem from their balconies, Spaniards clapping in unison every night at 8pm local time to recognize healthcare workers, high school students reading to elementary students using Facebook Live, local neighbors offering to help others with groceries, and medical students helping front-line doctors with childcare and other tasks.

Singer Lizzo leads a meditation sharing the mantra, ““Fear does not exist in my body. Love exists in my body.”

Sharing: Teachers, artists, and celebrities alike are offering up their talents. Check out the #BetterTogether hashtag to see teachers volunteer their support to friends and family members as they become first-time homeschoolers. Artists and authors, such as dancer Debbie Allen and illustrator Mo Willems are offering free online classes.

One participant brought our attention to Mariam Kaba and the transformative justice concept of “mutual aid” whereby individuals support one another within communities of care. Learn more about pod mapping, read how to create a neighborhood pod in this time of coronavirus, and adapt this sample letter to invite neighbors to engage in a circle of support.

Communication: Another teacher who joined the gathering works with a group of student peer mentors and mentees. With these weeks away from school, she plans to support the mentors in getting in touch with and checkin in on their mentees.


From the Counseling Teacher


Relaxation techniques: There are a number of freely available guided meditation resources and live streams, including these mindfulness for kids videos, the Headspace meditation app, and virtual meditation groups hosted by Open Door Portland (Mondays), Embrace Yoga, and Baltimore Wisdom Project. One can also search for free coloring sheets and other calming activities online, such as this SEL resource packet for elementary students.

Lastly, while many of us cannot attend school or work, we are still able to take walks and get fresh air to clear our minds, keeping social distance of course. Now is a tremendous time to reconnect with the earth and find peace in nature.

Expression of feelings: Journaling can be a powerful emotional regulation tactic for adults and children, alike. For those looking for SEL activities for students, encourage students to consider the significance of this moment in history and document their experiences and feelings from a primary source lens .

External triggers: Set healthy limits on news consumption.

Letting go: Focus on self and what’s within one’s control. Consider using the “I Cannot Control” graphic as inspiration for an activity with students. What might their version of this graphic look like? How might this help them (and their parents) let go and focus on their locus of control.


Decision Making and Problem Solving

Brainstorming options:  What social challenges might we solve? How might we take new perspectives on old problems? Challenge students to follow Newton’s example. As educators, how might we redesign education to be more equitable and meet the needs of our kids?

Trying solutions and alternatives: Model vulnerability, jump in and try new things like video check-ins. As one educator shared, “I do not know how to use Google Classroom. I’m telling my students and parents, ‘We’re on this journey together, we’re trying to learn new things…’ This is giving me a a new way of connecting with parents around our shared eagerness to help their kids. We are all learning and willing to try to support them.”

Take Care

This is a community SEL in action. It is our hope that SEL can be a source of light and support in these challenging times. As one participant concluded, “Thank you all for the time today. We are stronger together.” For a final dose of inspiration, watch these Chino Hills high school students connect virtually to perform “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.

Join the Next Gathering

Connect with fellow educators and join us for an upcoming SEL in Action online gathering:

  • Tuesday, March 31 at 8:00 pm ET | The Power of Storytelling As a Tool for SEL | Register
  • Wednesday, April 15 at 6:30 pm ET | Race and Diversity in SEL | Register
  • Thursday, April 30 at 7:00 pm ET | Empowering Students to Teach and Lead SEL | Register
  • Monday, May 11 at 7:30 pm ET | Student Trauma: Spotting It, Avoiding Triggers, and Finding Support | Register