In one district, superintendent and principal remain in regular contact with students.

Social-emotional learning may be more important than ever as students, families and teachers make the challenging shift to online and distance learning during coronavirus closures.

Educators in Connecticut’s Cheshire Public Schools (4,200 students) are keeping social-emotional learning top of mind as students and teachers begin connecting in the virtual learning environment, Superintendent Jeffrey Solan says.

“This isn’t just a change in how we offer education,” Solan says. “Kids don’t have music, sports, theater or art, and their parents are trying to work from home while our teachers are juggling their own little ones. Everybody is experiencing this massive lifestyle change and we are trying to be cognizant of that.”

Solan and Cheshire’s principals are communicating regularly with students, families and teachers to help them through the transition.

School counselors also are conducting one-on-one remote sessions—online and over the phone—with students, Solan adds.

“I am emailing directly to students,” Solan says. “Our seniors, in particular, are devastated about things like losing sports seasons and the school play being canceled. I remind them to hang in there, not panic too much, and of the importance of social distancing.”

During its first week of online learning, teachers checked in with students to reinforce some of the learning that had been going on when schools closed. Now in the second week, teachers are introducing content to move forward in the curriculum, Solan says.

The district is also providing extensive information for parents on its website.

Administrators have created an internal resource guide for teachers but have narrowed down the number of online platforms teachers can use to create some consistency across schools and grade levels, Solan says.

“We shifted from a century of brick-and-mortar instruction to remote learning in a week,” Solan says. “That can be pretty overwhelming for everybody is involved, so just reminding people to breathe a little bit is helpful.”

Supporting families during coronavirus closures

In Tennessee’s Hamilton County Schools, administrators and teachers have tried to give each other—and themselves—leeway as everyone adjusts to remote education.  In the social-emotional learning realm, connecting online has been “a lifeline for kids,” Chief Schools Officer Neelie Parker says.  “Kids really look forward to hearing from their teachers, and teachers like to do their best,” Parker says. “But it’s OK if the online learning is not as perfect as you want it to be—give yourself a little grace and assume the best intentions. Everybody’s working hard on the right things.”

To further support families, the local utility, EPB, has put up new poles to extend internet access to previously underserved neighborhoods. The district has also strengthened bandwidth at school buildings so students can work while parked outside. Another community partner bought 450 laptops for the district to distribute to families. Hamilton County’s educators also collected all district laptops and gave them to needy students, regardless of whether the child attended the school the device officially belonged to.

District leaders began planning two weeks ago when it first appeared schools would close for an extended period.  Teachers compiled homework packets students could take home to keep them engaged and learning during the first days of the closure as educators prepped for the quick shift to online and distance learning, Chief Schools Officer Neelie Parker says.  “It hasn’t been easy, but what has made it easier is we have a workforce of teachers who really believe in doing what’s best for kids,” Parker says. “We all have the belief that if we missed an entire quarter of learning it would be a disservice to students and a disservice to us as teachers.”

In Colorado’s Jeffco Public Schools, mental health and social-emotional learning team is developing guidance for teachers to help students and families cope with anxiety.  “This is going to be a learning process for everyone, from teachers to schools to families to students,” Superintendent Jason Glass says. “Unexpected challenges are going to emerge, and you have to keep designing to meet the challenge. It’s deploy, reflect, adapt and repeat—that’s the cycle we are in right now.”

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