Sunday / March 3

Now More Than Ever, Implementing SEL Will Help Teachers and Students

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a great deal of reflection in schools throughout the nation. As you are probably well aware, significant mental health, social, emotional, and behavioral needs existed before the pandemic, and social and emotional learning (SEL) has been part of education for decades. Although it isn’t a new topic, we are seeing it affect our students in historic ways. Achievement gaps have widened, and the cracks in the system in how we support SEL are no longer hidden in the traditional chaos of school. We have some students who may need additional support, some who did not need it prior to the pandemic but do now, and some who just need to know they are loved and cared for. Here are 3 ways implementing SEL can help during distance learning:  

First: It strengthens your WHY around the need for SEL in schools 

Consider just a few developing statistics during the COVID-19 period by National 4-H Council and the Harris Poll (2020) and EdWeek Research Center Survey (Harold & Kurtz, 2020): 

  • Seven out of 10 teens reported struggling with mental health in some way. 
  • More than half of the students surveyed experienced anxiety. 
  • Forty-five percent felt excessive stress. 
  • Forty-three percent identified as struggling with depression. 
  • Sixty-one percent reported loneliness. 
  • Compared to their engagement level prior to the COVID-19 closures, students’ current level of engagement with their schoolwork has decreased significantly. 
  • One out of four students was reported to be essentially truant during the COVID-19 closures: MIA, not logging in, not making contact, etc. 

Essentially, it has become clear that SEL competencies—students having the strategies and real-life skills they need to be successful during this time—is a main focus of schools and districts around the nation and world. 

Second: It provides a framework of where to begin  

We divide the framework into three phases designed to help teachers, teacher teams, and schools through effective SEL implementation:  

Phase 1 is Prioritize: Prioritize the SEL competency and related skill(s) of focus based on data and stakeholder input and needs.  

Phase 2 is Mastery: Develop a rubric for mastery of the priority SEL competency and related skill(s) of focus based on data and evidence indicators.  

Phase 3 is SEL Teaching Process: Embed the priority SEL competency and related skill(s) into the SEL Teaching Process: identify, teach, model, and reinforce.  

Third: Teachers need several tools and processes for each SEL Competency  

In our book, SEL From A Distancewe provide a brief definition of each of the five SEL competencies from, along with tools and processes for each. The five core SEL competencies for which we provide tools, processes, and strategies are Relationships Skills, Responsible Decision Making, Social Awareness, Self-Management, and Self-Awareness. Here is an example tool and process from the SEL competency Self-Management. Self-Discipline is a deconstructed component of self-management and a really good place to begin.  

Educators need a starting point that will help them visualize how SEL can be implemented in a way that is an authentic, natural, and intentional part of the learning environment—whether  from a distance, in person, or hybrid. Don’t hesitate to get started—the results will speak for themselves! 

Short description: Engage your students and learn ways to incorporate SEL processes and strategies into your daily lessons, whether you are teaching remotely, in a hybrid setting, or in person. 


Written by

Dr. Jessica Djabrayan Hannigan is an Educational Consultant and an adjunct professor in the Educational Leadership Department at Fresno State University. She is also an educational consultant working with several school districts and county offices in California on designing and implementing effective behavior systems in schools and districts that work. She currently trains approximately 300 schools on the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Champion Model System. Together, she and John have authored SEL From a Distance, The MTSS Start-Up Guide, Building Behavior, Don’t Suspend Me!, and The PBIS Tiers One, Two, and Three Handbooks. Follow Jessica on Twitter @jess_hannigan.

Dr. John Hannigan holds a Bachelor’s in Liberal Studies, Master’s in Educational Leadership, and Doctorate in Educational Leadership from California State University, Fresno. He is currently in his seventh year as principal of Ronald W. Reagan Elementary in Sanger Unified School District, where under his leadership has earned California State Distinguished School, California Title I Academic Achievement Award for closing the achievement gap by the California Department of Education; a 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 California Honor Roll school by California Business for Educational Excellence; a 10 out of 10 similar school statewide ranking; 2008, 2010, 2012 winner of the Bonner Award for Character Education; 2013 Silver Level Model School recognition, and 2014 and 2015 Gold Level Model School recognition from Fresno County Office of Education for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. He also serves on Dr. Paul Beare’s, Dean of California State University, Fresno, Kremen School of Education and Human Development, Advisory Council. Dr. Hannigan resides in Fresno, California, with his wife Jessica and daughters Rowan and Riley. Follow John on Twitter @JohnHannigan75.

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