Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Strategies for Distance Learning

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is defined as the process by which children and youth “acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions” (CASEL, n.d.). How can children and youth develop effective social and emotional learning skills when they need them now more than ever in a virtual learning format?


Fortunately, there are many ways to develop and build students’ social and emotional competencies, even in a distance learning format.  An important first step is to create a positive and welcoming culture in your classroom or session environment.  Teachers can create a positive and welcoming environment by greeting and recognizing students and by encouraging and facilitating positive peer interaction.  I’ve observed teachers doing this successfully in distance learning by having morning meetings, encouraging positive feedback to others, and setting aside time for student discussion and interaction via chat and break-out rooms.  Additionally, PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Support) Expectations can be adapted to define classroom rules for remote (i.e., distance) learning, such as Be Respectful (use kind words and faces, turn off audio, wait or use chat to respond when others are speaking); Be Responsible (arrive on time, keep camera on), and Be Safe (find a distraction free environment, use technology as intended) (


Teachers may also incorporate SEL strategies and activities directly into their online teaching.  Examples include mindfulness exercises, such as breathing and reflection; identifying and discussing feelings expressed in stories and videos; and posing social problem solving scenarios for students to discuss and resolve.  SEL themes in literature and content materials can be highlighted and discussed in relation to the five competencies.


There are many excellent resources for developing SEL competencies that can be adapted in an online format.  For instance, the Collaborative for Academic and Social Emotional Learning (CASEL) has a list of resources for teachers and counselors; Move this World is a great resource for short videos created by secondary students for grade K-12, and Go Noodle includes many activities for brain breaks, mindfulness and relaxation strategies.  


Research shows that when SEL strategies are taught, modeled and practiced, it can lead to long term improvement in students’ social emotional skills, attitudes, relationships, academic performance, and even their perceptions of school/classroom safety and climate (CASEL, n.d.).  Further, evidence based SEL programs and strategies can help decrease students’ anxiety, behavior problems, and substance abuse (CASEL, n.d.).  SEL competencies can and should be taught, modeled and practiced on a daily basis, especially during distance learning, to develop and improve students’ engagement in learning, relationship skills, and positive well-being.  We need SEL now more than ever!


Author: Dori Barnett, Ed.D., School Psychologist



This practice brief shares tips for maintaining continuity of learning through defining classroom expectations for remote (i.e., distance) instruction and online learning environments. With a few adaptations, teachers can use a PBIS framework to make remote learning safe, predictable, and positive.
Collaborative for Academic and Social Emotional Learning. Website includes evidence-based resources, tools, and the SEL Competency Wheel.
Move This World- SEL student directed videos for home and classroom use.
Go Noodle website. Include a vast array of short movement videos for mindfulness, activity/brain breaks, stress management, movement, etc.

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