Tools for Social-Emotional Learning in Tumultuous Times

By Joie Laykoff, MA, Coryn Nadeau, LCAT; ATR-BC; and MA-AT, and Danielle Peloquin, EdD


This season is likely to bring about heightened emotions and behaviors from our student body. As we navigate the election season, higher rates of COVID-19, continued quarantine, and head into winter, we want to be prepared to create safe, inclusive, and engaged communities for our students.  

Using the framework for social-emotional competencies created by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), below are some suggestions for how to best support your students during this complicated time and leverage the opportunities to help them develop socially and emotionally. 

We wrote this for our teachers and staff to use with our Fusion Academy students, but these can be helpful as you engage with your child at home, so we wanted to share them with you. 


Supporting students to better understand their emotional disposition, needs, and values, including how each of these impacts their behavior.  


• Engage students in conversations prior to the election that help them anticipate their feelings.  Be honest with students and acknowledge competing and challenging emotions. 

• Give your students the opportunity to develop emotional language by using the color wheel of emotions. It may be easier for students to identify with a color as a gateway to expressing their emotions versus labeling them with terms. Find the color wheel of emotions here.

•  Remind students of their skills, competence, and resilience.  Prompt students to reflect on other times in the past when they have had to: wait patiently for an outcome, wish an outcome was different, manage their feelings in the unknown, and ask them how they got through it 

• Once students have been able to identify their emotions, ask what they might need from you, their community, and/or themselves. Help your students focus on what is most in their control.  


Supporting students to manage their thoughts and behaviors in order to achieve more prosocial ways of being. This also includes opportunities to reflect on the impacts of their behavior and a more constructive way forward.  


• Help students to identify a few coping skills when they’re starting to feel dysregulated (taking a walk, squeezing a stress ball, writing, listening to music, etc.). 

• Utilize this Behavior Mapping worksheet for students who have more significant behavioral challenges and require either more frontloading or reflection on their behaviors.

• Encourage students to use “I” language when sharing their viewpoints and feelings. 

• Provide spaces (emotional and physical) for silence. This allows students to reflect and process. 

• Talk through scenarios that might cause students to impulsively react – discuss different ways of responding to various scenarios that may or may not occur.  In terms of self-management, compliance is not the goal; teaching skills and priming healthier responses is.  (Example: News story comes out that prompts an emotional reaction:  How might my impulses lead me to react vs. how might I be able to react in a more mindful way? (lashing out at peers who disagree with me vs. taking space to cool down, breathe, and journal). 


Supporting students in being aware of their environment, including those within it, and to develop perspective-taking, compassion, and cultural sensitivity.  


• Provide prompts to students that expand their current frame of thinking:  

• What are 2-3 ways that other people might be thinking about this?  

• What are your life experiences that inspire you to think this way? How might the life experiences of others differ and impact their opinions?  

• If the outcome was different, how might I behave or want others to behave?   

• Facilitate a discussion about how the US is a diverse nation that represents many viewpoints, including many that don’t squarely fit into a political affiliation 

• Teach students to look for “the helpers” – it’s a powerful reminder that there’s a lot of good in humanity to balance “bad news”.  


Supporting students in communicating respectfully and establishing healthy connections with those who think differently.  


• When emotions are high, it can be challenging to listen to someone’s thoughts that are different from your own. Teach students an active listening skill like RASA: Receive what someone is saying without interrupting (avoid thinking about your retort), Appreciate that they shared (acknowledging they were heard), Summarize their thoughts (get on the same page), and Ask a question (get curious).  

• Establish ground rules for communal spaces: here is a document to help.

• Remind students that conflict is a normal part of life and can lead to new understandings when respect is maintained. If things get heated, teach students to “agree to disagree”. 

• Ask students to engage in dialogue as opposed to debate. Dialogue can feel “lower stakes”, can include more than two points of view, and doesn’t reinforce dichotomies.  

• In times of grief, disappointment, or celebration, it’s helpful to pull “community” closer together for support.  Have students identify their community web (family, friends, teachers, online gaming group).  Ask students how they can be intentional about connecting with them during this time. 

Responsible Decision-Making 

Supporting students to make thoughtful choices that encourage personal safety, as well as aiming towards building connections versus creating division.   


• Similar to the “ground rules” above, you can also create norms and agreements that build a sense of safety for students. Watch this two-minute video for examples.

• Discuss boundaries regarding when and where conversations should happen in order to avoid saturating our common areas with political content. These boundaries can help students with their decision-making.  

•Ask students to follow the guidelines for bias-free communication, found here.

• Help students channel their emotional energy into meaningful action-oriented projects: taking action through community service, fundraising, and civic engagement 

• Introduce the iceberg diagram to allow students to explore challenging topics with numerous layers: what’s above the surface that we see, and what’s below the surface that we don’t?

About the Authors

Joie Laykoff is the Director of Learning and Development for Fusion Education Group. She designs and delivers professional development experiences to teachers and leaders across Fusion’s nationwide organization. Her Learning and Development team is focused on nurturing the expertise and capacity of educators within their skill sets of instruction and social-emotional development. Joie has been with Fusion since its first replication in West Los Angeles, 10 years ago. She has her BA in Psychology, as well as her teaching credential in mild to moderate disabilities and an MA in Special Education. Joie has worked with adolescents for 13 years and wholeheartedly loves the complexities of what it means to be in that stage of life. For Joie, the most exciting part about each day is working with school teams to change the learning experience for every Fusion student.

Coryn Nadeau is a Licensed and Boards Certified Registered Creative Art Therapist by New York State standard.

Coryn is the National Social & Emotional Programs Lead at Fusion Academy and works in fostering the learning & development of our schools. In this role, she offers professional development to campuses and leadership coaching around campus SEL programs. She has worked with Fusion for 8 years in different roles including East Coast Learning & Development Coach, Assistant Director, Director of Homework Café, Teacher/Mentor, and specialty curriculum & program design. Coryn has a special passion for innovation, development, coaching, facilitation, and wellness.  Coryn is excited by facilitating colleague and student growth and is an advocate for shifting mindsets in regards to student support, encouraging a more creative and compassionate approach.

Coryn completed her Master’s degree in Clinical Art Therapy from Goldsmiths University of London and CW Post Long Island University. Before working at Fusion Academy, Coryn worked in various mental health settings as a therapist, specializing with the adolescent population. Coryn leans into a humanistic, positive, and person-centered approach.  Her history also includes building and designing a non-for-profit, movement therapy program for children in NYC District 75 schools. She has consulted with high profile branded companies to create “teen happiness” campaigns and events. Coryn has practiced Creative Arts Therapy in many different countries including Myanmar, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and South Africa.

Danielle Peloquin, EdD is the Instructional Development Lead for Fusion Education Group. While the majority of her academic and professional background is in adult learning, she still relishes the years that she spent teaching English and social studies in the 6-12 classroom. She holds two Bachelors of Arts in English and history, a Masters of Science in Library and Information Sciences, and a Doctorate of Education in Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning.
Dani has taught at various universities and developed such courses as World History Through the Graphic Novel, Comics as Literature, Folklore, American Art, Thriller and Horror Literature, Social Issues in World Drama (1850-present) and numerous others. Before embarking on a career in academia, she interned at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and numerous historical societies in New England. Her favorite position was working as a docent at an 18th century cemetery where she taught elementary school students how to identify and interpret gravestone art.

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