Tag Archives: remote teaching

10 SEL ideas to launch the year

Identity Wheel

Whether you are remote, hybrid, or face-to-face to start the year, educators are realizing that the only way to begin this year is by focusing on Social and Emotional Learning. This really isn’t new as most teachers start off any school year with team and culture building activities. But 2020 brought Covid and a refocusing of black lives with the tragic murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (among others). On top of this is the trauma of poverty that twenty percent of the children in the US experience daily. Educators are reflecting more than ever on the mental psyche of their students due to national or personal trauma.

So here are ten ideas for how to start the year with SEL…and maintain a focus on SEL throughout.

1. Mood Meters

One simple way to “check in” with students is to use a Mood Meter to have students describe their feelings at the moment (I like the image in this post). This is teaching students to identify their emotions, which is the first step before they can regulate them. It also is formative assessment for the teacher on where students are at before jumping into an activity. An alternative is to use Rubber Bracelets, which could be adapted online by having students use a color wheel.

2. Highs and Lows

We always start class by having students share “highs and lows” which means basically anything that they want to share from important life events to “I had Taco Bell last night.” We used to call this “Good News” in our class and focused on sharing positive, uplifting things, but then we noticed students wanted to share painful things and would say, “This isn’t really good news, but my grandmother is in the hospital.” We realized that what was important for building safe community was sharing any news that was important to students. I truly believe this first few minutes of every day created the culture for the year.

3. Identity Reflection

There are many ways to get to know students and for them to learn about each other. If we want to go deeper than the typical icebreaker questions and be culturally responsive than we need to talk about student identities. Two excellent ways to explore identity are the Social Identity Wheel (example pic at the top of this post) and The Paseo or Circles of Identity These activities call for deep reflection on how students see themselves and the influences in their life. These may be too personal to share out loud, especially during the first week, but it may be appropriate to ask for volunteer sharing with you (never mandate it).

Another way to talk about identity is to show how visually biased we can be. Use 10 pics before and after people were asked to smile and 6 photographers, one man to discuss how what we see and how people portray themselves is only a small part of who they are.

4. Build Relationships

As we get to know our students and community, we can go deeper by helping students realize how they prefer to work in groups and with each other. You can use an online version of Meyers Briggs personality test or the Compass Points activity. This further builds their Self-Awareness of who they are, but also leads to Relationship Skills as they can communicate how they work with team members BEFORE conflict arises in their groups.

As the teacher my main goal at the start of the year is to get to know each student. This can be challenging at the secondary level with so many kids. This 360 Spreadsheet is a way to track the data that you learn about your students so that you can use it to guide your instruction. A quick visual check will show you which students you are not spending enough time getting to know.

5. Mini-PBLs

While addressing SEL, we should also be introducing some protocols and procedures so that students become familiar with them. The Selfie Project is a way to get to know students and model the PBL process in only 1 hour. Start off with an entry event of sharing slides about you; introduce the Driving Question: “Who am I?”; spend 2 minutes on Need to Knows; and then turn the kids loose to create their own selfie slides (inquiry). End class with 30 second presentations of who they are. You have just modeled the PBL framework so that when you use it with content, students are already familiar with it.

Whether you are remote or in person you are going to use some technology tools. Instead of direct instruction, use a mini-project like above to introduce it. Here is an example for GDocs Mini-Project. This process can be used for any tech tools that you will use with the DQ of “How do I use….?”

6. Connect with Parents

Whether you are in the same room or far away from students, it is important to make early positive communications with all parents. Especially this year make it a priority to have regular communication with all parents. Take the first step of a personal phone call for each student within the first month of school. Find strengths to share early in the year to build a positive rapport with parents and let them know that you are working with them.

7. Team building

Most team building involve students either touching each other or sharing materials, which is not going to work with Covid. Here’s a couple of activities with no contact at all. Write it / Do it has one student observe an object and then describe (verbally or in writing) it to a partner who has the materials and must build it. Materials are usually things like Legos or classroom supplies. To adapt for Covid, use colored pencils or crayons and have students draw on graph paper printed colored designs.

Another favorite of mine is to tell a One Word Story I ask students to respond to the question: “What is the meaning of life?” Math teachers might try Bing, Bang, Buzz. Count to 20 is another non-contact icebreaker that can be particularly challenging in a video call.

No matter what option you choose, it’s just a fun activity unless you have initiate a reflective debriefing. Show students an image of the CASEL competencies with the subcategories. Ask them which of these skills they needed to use to be successful at the challenge. Discuss how they will need to use these same skills for projects in your class through out the year. Importantly, come back to the activity as a reminder when students are struggling with a group problem.

8. Create Class Norms

Many teachers do this, but I am not convinced that they do it well. This process has to be focused on the kids and honor their voices. Creating and posting class norms is only a piece of the process. What is vital is referring to them whenever necessary, reviewing them weekly, and modifying as required. Class norms should be a living document that grows as students get to know each other.

Another option to consider is using talking circles (can be done virtually) to Create Group Contracts. This is one of the first steps of Self-Management and building Relationship Skills in your class.

9. Introduce Routines

Introduce whatever structures that you plan to use this year. A simple See, Think, Wonder can be used at any grade level and content area to help students be more observant and break down a problem. Students are equipped with a process for Responsible Decision Making.

I have made some templates for Visible Thinking Routines from Harvard Project Zero in Google Docs and Slides that work great for remote use. Check out this post for more info. and free access to the templates.

10. Teach Content

I see many teachers making comments like, “I am not touching content for two weeks.” I think that they are missing an opportunity. One of the dangers of SEL instruction is to treat it as an add-on to your classroom. Don’t treat it as something separate from learning. SEL and content can and should happen at the same time! This doesn’t mean that you can’t do some fun team building activities. What it does mean is that you should attempt to frame everything as essential to your class.

Connect the skills that students are learning to how they will help students be successful in your class. Identity could be the basis of your first project in English Language Arts. Consider a culturally relevant project addressing Antiracism in social studies. For math, you might introduce a tool like Desmos through a Getting to Know You activity. Some open ended experiments can teach students the scientific method and build community.

You can teach routines, build community, and establish procedures while starting to introduce the standards of your curriculum. Don’t fall into the trap that content can’t be fun or student-centered. This will be a year like no other, but no matter where and how your class takes place this year, you can address SEL in meaningful ways.

Let’s Connect

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL workshops or consulting on remote learning?  Connect with me at  michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele.

Online Can’t Mimic Face-to-Face Learning

The irony is that this video was created for a class project. Students will do incredible work if the task is engaging.

You can’t just “upload” your class.

As I scroll through teacher social media I keep seeing posts: “How do I have students take notes virtually? Does anyone have a good powerpoint on _________ that they can share? Who has a PDF of the textbook? How do you grade ___________(rote activity) online? What is your favorite app for tracking student engagement.” And the horrible behavior guidelines for Zoom that are not only controlling, but invasive of student privacy.

Please don’t start your remote or hybrid learning thinking that you can mimic the face-to-face experience. This is especially true if you run a traditional, teacher-centered classroom. You can’t “upload” your face-to-face lessons to your school’s LMS and be done. Don’t plan on video or asynchronous lectures and slides with notes, expecting every student to watch them and excel. You can’t just scan worksheets to PDF and ask students to print at home.

All of the social media requests from teachers basically asking for canned resources shows me that we have a long way to go pedagogically. Many teachers are not student-centered face-to-face and are trying to replicate the only thing that they know online.

So here’s 6 things you shouldn’t expect from remote learning and what to do instead.

Go as fast

Everything is going to take longer than in school. Logging in, introducing the technology, teaching, building relationships, and even attendance. But think about how many things are better done slowly: crockpots, BBQ, and walks outside.

No sense stressing, accept the slower pace. One quarantine lesson is that it is more human to take our time and focus on the significant people in our lives. It’s not healthy living every moment at a frantic pace. Plan extra time for everything and center on your students, not completing tasks.

Cover the same amount of standards/content

First of all, let’s just delete the word “cover” from education. Curriculum is bloated with too much content already. Since we are moving slower, then we need to focus on less material. Winnow your class down to the essential standards that are fundamental to the discipline or will be needed as prerequisites in following classes. Instead of a shallow drive through a zillion topics, go deep on a few and concentrate on developing the skills, not just memorizing facts.

Run a normal bell schedule

I can’t believe how many districts are trying to do this. They think that kids are going to engage sitting in online meetings for 30 hours a week? This is ludicrous and the school leaders are out of their minds. It is not going to work for any amount of time. Online meetings are exhausting for adults and students alike. I think 2-3 hours a day is maximum for secondary students.

Instead assign students projects and hands on activities to do throughout the day such as science investigations outside, choice reading, and PBL. Kids don’t need to be “on camera” to be learning. Teachers should have regular office hours to consult and help students as needed, but requiring students to sit through their daily schedule online is asinine.

Take attendance by simulating butts in seats

Similar to above, we can’t take normal procedures like attendance and shift wholesale to online. I even heard one teacher say that their district is asking parents to keep track that their child is online and verify it. If you post videos that for asynchronous viewing and your student views it at 1am, were they absent? If older students provide childcare for siblings and “attend” your class in the evening were they absent?

Let’s find creative ways to check in with kids and relax outdated policies. Let’s assign credit based on the actual proof of learning of the content of the course, rather than whether or not they were physically present in front of a camera at any given time.

Micromanage student behavior

Don’t make a bunch of rules to regulate students–you can’t control participation, distractions, what kids are wearing, where they are, or if their eyes are on the screen the whole time. Quit trying to control students! Who cares if they are in PJs or eating breakfast. At least if they spill, you won’t have to clean it up! I saw one system set up for points if students were on time to the Zoom call, stayed the whole time, and had their eyes on the screen 95% of the time. I am not sure how you even measure that!

Instead of worrying about student behavior, build community. Many students have experienced trauma through the double tragedies of Covid and the murder of George Floyd. Remote learning adds another layer of stress for them and places our most disadvantaged learners at an even greater risk. Get to know your students deeply. Foster SEL Competencies. Let your class overflow with love, grace, and caring.

Be boring

Those powerpoints and videos of you lecturing aren’t going to cut it. Kids are going to tune you out and play a game on their phone. Kids will find ways to copy your worksheet answers and shortcut your lectures. They will cheat on assessments and basically learn hardly anything at all.

Instead challenge kids with a project that involves movement and hands on activities. Create Project Based Learning lessons around themes in your content. Give kids design challenges to motivate them.

The final products could be digital or a picture or video (Flipgrid is an excellent tool) of a physical product. Worried about supplies? Have students upcycle from their junk drawers and recycling bins. Prototypes can be made from just about anything. Even while social distancing students can still connect with community experts and family members through video calls.


Of course, I have been arguing for years, that these kind of practices should end in face-to-face classes too. But it is obvious that they are still the dominant pattern in many classrooms. The difference with online classes is that cheating is easier and teachers really can’t control students when they check out. A subset of kids who care about grades and achievement (or their parents do) will do whatever is asked of them, but many kids are going to quit playing the game of school.

We can do better. Kids deserve better! Let’s find ways to make online learning as personable and engaging as possible!

Let’s Connect

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL workshops or consulting on remote learning?  Connect with me at  michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele.