Putting SEL into Action During COVID-19 (A recap of our recent webinar with partner school, McPherson Middle School)

While social emotional learning has been at the forefront of whole-child focused learning for the last few years, it’s been given an even brighter spotlight amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Students, educators, and parents are all feeling new pressures and trying to find new ways of working and learning. Social emotional skill development and use are vital to continuing the learning pathway, no matter where learning is taking place.

Recently, ACT Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning researchers, and the guidance team from McPherson Middle School got together to host a webinar about the importance of teaching SEL during times of crisis. When Kansas state government mandated the shutdown of in-person instruction for all schools in March 2020, the McPherson team moved quickly to get their students set up for distance learning and determine what subjects were “essential learning” for the rest of the year. SEL was swiftly determined essential learning for McPherson students.

So why SEL during this time? And how did McPherson do it? Here’s the key takeaways from the 60-minute webinar:

  • We can’t just jump into delivering math and science content online without thinking about the whole child. Are their basic needs being met? Are their psychological needs being met? Arguably, SEL is more important now than ever and can bridge the gap from basic needs to learning.
  • McPherson Middle School has been a long-time believer in SEL. They successfully use SEL assessment (ACT®Tessera®) in conjunction with MTSS framework to determine which students receive which SEL interventions (ACT | Mawi Learning™). McPherson has shown clinically significant gains in SEL pairing assessment with interventions.
  • Communication is crucial. Overcommunicate with parents, sharing the data and reasons why their students are receiving different levels of SEL intervention.
  • Why assess if you’re not going to do anything with the data? McPherson Middle School firmly believes the data received with their SEL assessment is incredibly valuable, not only for student growth but also in team leadership and general education intervention plans.
  • While they were able to move quickly into distance learning, McPherson didn’t have all the answers. There was a bit of trial and error – teleconferencing, texting, phone calls, video on or off – educators had to remain flexible in order to do what’s best for their students.
    • Relationships take on new importance. While there can be more distractions at home, counselors learned more about students (environment they live in, relationships with parents and siblings) than they would in a typical school setting.
    • Making connections fun, like themed days (pet day), increased participation and opened lines of communication. It also created new ways to put basics of SEL into action for these students from home.


The full webinar can be viewed anytime, and the slides downloaded here.  We also continue to have free SEL resources available for use by students, parents, and educators. Visit our COVID-19 Resource page for activities and lessons for core social emotional skill development to ensure students keep learning and growing for future success!