Developing Social and Emotional Skills in the Virtual Classroom

Developing Social and Emotional Skills in the Virtual Classroom

In veiw of all of the changes imposed by social restrictions, it falls upon remote learning to guarantee that social and emotional skills can be just as successfully developed in the virtual classroom. Teaching professionals must focus on crucial competencies and apply various practices to ensure that their students will become successful individuals. Some of these methods may include giving explicit instructions, sharing coping mechanisms, nurturing a growth mindset, and fostering community building. Achieving an effective level of social and emotional skills development in students is important, but what is more important, especially in the virtual classroom, is sustainability. Successful teaching professionals should make the most of the digital tools and resources while giving their best to bring the diversity of human experience into the challenging context of remote learning.

Social and emotional skills in the educational process

With the beginning of the internet era and the new millennium, traditional schooling has evolved from being solely academic into a multitasking pedagogical process of educational, social, and emotional growth. Over the last year, the universally imposed switch to remote teaching has forced teachers to bring even more social and emotional skills into the virtual classroom. It has become commonplace for teaching professionals to embed this approach into their teaching instruction. It is necessary to present young students with multiple and various opportunities to practice different social and emotional skills that will prepare them to become successful adults, while older students can always benefit from more elaborate practices of the same. Whether teaching takes place in person or in a virtual classroom, the process must produce long-term beneficial effects on the students’ behavior and skills.  

Social and emotional skills, social and emotional learning – definitions

Social and emotional learning is a process through which young or adult students gain a set of skills that help them become better individuals. Guided by their teacher, in the traditional or in the virtual classroom, they learn to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve goals, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. 

The core social and emotional competencies can be summarized as follows:

  • Self-awareness: being conscious of one’s own strengths and limitations;
  • Self-management: being in control of one’s stress and reactions, and having the motivation to set and achieve goals;
  • Social awareness: being able to understand others, empathy;  
  • Relationship skills: communication, listening, cooperation, seeking and offering help;
  • Responsibility and decision-making: a well-grounded choice of behavior, respect of ethical standards, social norms, and personal safety.

Social and emotional instructions within the academic environment allow students to form and use critical thinking, and to learn positive collaboration and effective time management.

Developing social and emotional skills in the virtual classroom – guidelines

The last decades have seen an increased need for teaching professionals to incorporate the additional functions of social workers and counselors into their practice. The recent transition of the educational process from the physical to the virtual classroom has also added IT and technical support activities to the teachers’ responsibilities. Within this complex environment, tutors must work even harder towards nurturing their students into becoming successful individuals.

The effective tips for developing social and emotional skills in the virtual classroom are focused around several key points:

. Explicit Instructions

Social and emotional skills are essential and they must be taught to students, and even more so in the context of virtual classroom education where physical presence is replaced by remote interaction.  Achieving goals and handling emotions are skills that can be improved with discussion and engagement. The teacher must also set expectations and then give students feedback on their progress toward meeting those expectations through evaluation and auto-evaluation. Virtual classrooms offer many features that can help support explicit social and emotional learning. The most important feature is videoconferencing as it provides direct visual and audio contact and instantaneous feedback. The Presenter’s Mode gives students the opportunity to act as teachers. The Whiteboard’s large spectrum of functionalities offers various options for assignment clarification and distribution, for quantitative and qualitative assessment, and for personalized follow-up and feedback.

. Growth Mindset

Intelligence is not static. Discipline, asking for help, and using positive wording are key to developing the students’ intelligence. Instructive challenges and beneficial competition are crucial for instilling a growth mindset in students and can be implemented through the virtual classroom’s breakout rooms where students can work individually or in small teams. Collaborative activities, peer assessment, performance marks, brainstorming, and self-talk on one’s weak and strong points will further push students to improve.

. Community Building

The most serious downside of remote teaching is the disconnect between the individual or the group and their teacher or classmates. Overcoming this challenge can be achieved through creating stronger community bonds. Rebuilding the team unit and establishing each student’s valuable position in it are primary tasks in the virtual classroom. The teacher can employ many tools such as sharing important personal moments, role-playing, focusing on team-building activities, and implementing breakout rooms for discussions. The teacher’s efforts towards building a successful community can strongly benefit from holding non-educational activities in the virtual classroom that include both the teacher and their students, such as talent shows, parties, meeting the pets, and others.

. Coping Mechanisms

The ability to manage one’s emotion requires regular practice both by adults, as well as by younger students, and even more so in the context of online learning. In the virtual classroom, switching off the microphones and cameras might seem like the easiest way to reign in uncontrolled reactions. However, emotional coping mechanisms can be taught by the tutor to avoid having to implement this extreme approach. Monitoring all of the students and addressing them in private or in a group chat, as well as issuing notes with feedback on their behavior is as feasible in the virtual classroom as it is in the real one. Coping strategies may include: rules that were previously set and agreed upon, welcoming or checking-in rituals, engaging challenges, and positive closure practices. In order to implement these mechanisms in the virtual classroom, a teacher may resort to brain breaks, physical or breathing exercises, or off-topic socializing.

The successful application of social and emotional skills development in the virtual classroom leads to better academic achievements, as well as to improved behavior.

Sustainable development of social and emotional skills in the virtual classroom

Achieving an effective level of social and emotional skills is important, but what is really crucial, especially in the online environment, is its sustainability. To guarantee that their efforts to develop their students’ social and emotional skills in the virtual classroom lead to results, teachers should be consistent in practicing these skills and in giving constant feed-back to their students. Keeping track of individual as well as group achievements, performance, and progress is decisive for the teachers’ ability to draw objective conclusions and plan the next stages of a beneficial educational process. Here the virtual classroom has an unbeatable advantage over a conventional in-person lesson through its ability to record and save entire teaching sessions in different formats. Successful professionals will make the most of the digital tools and resources offered by the virtual classroom while giving their best to bring the diversity of the human experience into the challenging context of remote teaching.

Cristina Macias
Cristina Macias is a 25-year-old writer who enjoys reading, writing, Rubix cube, and listening to the radio. She is inspiring and smart, but can also be a bit lazy.