Developing Your Leadership (or Some Ways to Socialize with Others and Stay Optimistic in the Midst of COVID-19)

Written by: Dana Murano, Kate Walton, and Alex Casillas
ACT Center for Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning

By this point, many of us are well into week three of COVID-19 disrupting our daily lives. We are growing accustomed to working from home, homeschooling, socializing online from home – essentially, doing everything at home! This may be starting to feel like a new normal, and we have already relied on our social and emotional skills to adapt to this lifestyle. We have practiced resilience in coping with the initial shock of the pandemic and attempting to deal with it constructively. We have also practiced grit to help us persevere through this difficult time, set new routines and structure for our days at home, and continue to work toward our goals despite the setbacks caused by the pandemic.

Another social and emotional skill that can help us get through this difficult time is leadership. Leadership is defined as the extent to which a person’s actions demonstrate assertiveness, influence, optimism, enthusiasm, and social interaction with others. Social distancing recommendations are certainly limiting our ability to interact with and connect with others face to face, and this can be a challenge for those of us who thrive on social activities! It is easy to feel isolated, lonely, and even defeated with life as we know it changing so drastically, so quickly.

However, the good news is that there are a variety of resources and tips that can help you stay positive and meaningfully connected to others despite imposed limitations, such as social distancing. You can work to demonstrate leadership at this time—to advocate for things that are necessary to reduce the spread, to stay optimistic despite trying circumstances, and to be a leader others look to for guidance and support. Below are several resources, some of which can be found in these longer lessons and activities from ACT’s SEL Assessment and Curricula solutions designed to build leadership in students and their families. Remember that these can be used by teachers in virtual classrooms, by parents homeschooling children, or by any adult or child on his or her own. We recognize that everyone is in unchartered, challenging territory these days, and we have adapted these activities so that they can be used as widely as possible to help individuals practice leadership.

  • Reach out (and really listen) to others. Just because social distancing calls for cutting off physical contact with others, this doesn’t mean that social connection needs to end. Despite physical distancing, it is possible to develop and maintain even tighter social connections with those close to us. Take this time to check in and connect with those closest to you—friends, family members, colleagues—and engage in meaningful conversations with them. Ask how they are doing and really listen to what is going on in their world. The Active Listening lesson in the full lesson download can help you, your children, or your students become better listeners and engage with others more meaningfully.
  • Try to find the silver linings. Even when things go awry, it is always possible to try to find the positives in every situation. The Optimism lesson will challenge your students to find positives in every situation, including the pandemic.
  • Speak up. Imagine you have family members who continue to ignore social distancing recommendations or friends who feel sick but continue to visit others in person. How do you convey to them that they should not be engaging in these behaviors without upsetting them? Being able to communicate assertively about your needs and the needs of others is key right now. In the Assertiveness lesson, you and your students will learn how to confidently communicate effectively, while still remaining respectful to others.
  • Encourage others. It is likely that you and others have faced some challenging circumstances by now. Many are faced with cancelled plans, navigating school closures, loss of jobs, financial difficulties, and adapting to new situations. The Encouraging Others lesson can help you and your students lift one another up during these trying times.


In addition to lessons and activities that are part of ACT’s SEL Curricula and Assessment solutions, below are a few more tips that could be useful.

  • Make use of technology to connect with others. In addition to phone calls, there are so many ways to check in and connect with others. Make use of video conference platforms to schedule a virtual game night or plan to watch the same movie at the same time with friends! Technology affords us countless opportunities to socially connect while maintaining physical distance.
  • Connect with your communities. Community can mean different things to different people, but try to connect (virtually, of course) to your community at this time and get involved in activities your community is organizing. Do you have a hobby, such as dance or karate, where your instructors are holding virtual classes online? Can you organize weekly virtual meetings with your family members or friends? Take advantage of these opportunities in order to remain connected with your communities.
  • Take initiative. There are countless things that you can do to make this situation better. You can lead an effort to help elderly neighbors obtain groceries and other supplies so they don’t have to go to the store. You can arrange for meals to be sent to hospital workers and others on the front line. You can even organize and teach a group how to sew masks to protect others. You can always take initiative on any of these, or other projects, to help make a difference.
  • Start your day on a positive note. Make positivity a part of your morning routine. You can start off your day by practicing mindfulness or writing down things you are grateful for (see Resilience content), checking in with a different relative, friend or colleague, jotting down some positive affirmations in a journal, listening to music, or reading a good book. The possibilities are almost endless but starting your day off by doing a positive activity that you enjoy will help you maintain a positive outlook.


We hope that you find these resources and tips useful. We believe everyone can be a leader by connecting with and encouraging others, remaining optimistic, and seeking out and maintaining meaningful social connections. In the remainder of this series, we will continue to focus on social and emotional skills that can help educators, students, and their families cope with the challenges brought on by the current pandemic, as well as to develop the skills to manage future challenges more successfully.

Dana Murano, PhD

Dana Murano, PhD

Research Scientist - Center for Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning: Dana Murano is a Research Scientist in ACT's Center for Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning. She completed her PhD in Educational Psychology with a specialization in Learning, Development, and Instruction at the City University of New York. Her research focuses primarily on the development and assessment of social and emotional skills in students. Additional work and research interests include the development of interventions to improve social and emotional skills, meta-analysis, and the intersection of feedback and the development of social and emotional skills.