Adopting a Social Emotional Learning Program: Assistance for School Counselors Adjusting to the “New Normal”

By Kristie Frost

If 2020 is an indication of what extreme challenges 2021 may bring for school counselors and the students they serve, a survival tool is necessary. The start of a new year typically comes with the latest programs to execute, and special projects to develop, but the Covid-19 pandemic changed all of that. The beginning of the 2021 school year brings with it a fear of the unknown, including a high level of anxiety about what to expect not only for the career professionals but for their students too. How do career professionals prepare for the unknowns in the coming months to find a “new normal” conducive to serving students effectively?

The Pandemic and the New Normal

The “new normal” not only brought about mandated attire (masks) for school professionals and the students they serve, but also summoned feelings of panic, confusion, anxiety, and inadequacies because of the nature of the disease that had to be confronted. For many career specialist, carrying out their daily duties during the pandemic feels overwhelming (Murata, 2020). Providing real-time attention for students is very difficult in a virtual environment, especially when counselors are accustomed to face-to-face interaction. Many counselors are questioning their abilities to create the interpersonal connection with their students in a virtual setting. In this new environment created by the pandemic, old tools no longer work. Career professionals have to learn new tools to engage students more authentically, creating an additional burden for the dedicated professional.

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Many counselors are adapting to new learning management systems (LMS), navigating video conferencing tools, and revamping lesson plans in order to give students the resources and tools that they need to be successful; but that is not all that is needed (Forbes Expert Panel, 2020). While career specialists may be working round the clock to help students transition to the new environment, they are also paying an unseen emotional price in the process. According to a study from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, counselors experienced damaging emotional distress, financial instability, and threats to basic needs during the pandemic (Usable Knowledge, 2020). All involved in the school setting, navigate stressful situations every day, but it is even more difficult to manage frustration, deal with conflicts and understand an ever-changing workforce during a pandemic. Career professionals may benefit from a cushion of emotional support in the coming months to lighten the pandemic-driven load. Even though a school may provide up-to-date technology and state-of-the-art resources, the social and emotional state of their staff and students should be addressed. Many career professionals who are still reeling from the suddenness of the pandemic are at risk for burn-out due to the overwhelming impact and skyrocketed workload (Martinez, 2015). School administrators need to prioritize the wellness of their career specialists through attention to their social and emotional wellbeing. One of the tools to manage the emotional state of career professionals and the students they serve is to adopt a Social and Emotional Learning-based (SEL) program.

Social-Emotional Learning Wellness Program

When adopted into the school environment, SEL is a wellness program that could allow counselors to acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to manage overpowering emotions, which in turn enables them to manage their relationship with students, make responsible decisions and achieve positive goals (Greater Good in Education, n.d.). The beneficiary of these positive outcomes are the students they serve. The SEL program is a whole-school wellness program developed to empower career counselors to carry out their duties by addressing the negative emotions. Through the SEL program, career professionals are affirmed of their purpose and passion as student advocates, while providing them a strong foundation for achieving success in the career planning and exploration process. This program provides multiple coping mechanisms for career counselors so that they may feel more secure and in control in the COVID-created unknowns and uncertainties. The following represents steps to assist career counselors in acquiring SEL knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to be emotionally stable amid the pandemic and better adjust to the “new normal”.

  • Career counselors will complete an SEL-based self-assessment which are available to counselors in many school settings. If not provided by the school, many are obtainable online for free (Casel Guide, 2015). Counselor would use this assessment to examine where they are and need to be emotionally and set goals to reach that desirable state.
  • Career counselors will develop plans based on the outcome of the assessment. The plan will include self-reflection, emotional management, and emotional rejuvenation.
  • Career counselors will adhere to the plan to develop or enhance their social-emotional skills to respond appropriately, manage their own stress, and sustain lasting emotional health at work.
  • Career counselors will have an SEL support group of other professionals to aid them when emotions are running high. The SEL wellness program will allow professionals to lean on each other during this complex time.

When these steps are completed, counselors will feel rejuvenated emotionally and in turn school climate will improve. Career specialists who participate in the program will feel supported and valued which will lead them to have a better connection to the school and will experience a greater commitment to their work (Weissberg, 2016).

Developing Resilience

Research supports that using an SEL program can help counselors manage the overwhelming emotions associated with the new work environment characterized by virtual communication. By participating in this program, career specialists are well-positioned to emotionally handle what lies ahead in the “new normal”. The school’s employment of an SEL-based wellness program will reap added rewards of helping their professionals to develop resilience in the face of adverse work conditions that was thrust upon them by the pandemic.




CASEL Guide. (2015). Casel Secondary Guide Beta. http://secondaryguide.casel.org

Forbes Expert Panel. (2020). 12 career coaches and how the pandemic has impacted their work. Forbes. www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2020/11/12/12-career-coaches-and-how-the-pandemic-has-impacted-their-work/?sh=3a30ea674fe1

Greater Good In Education. (n.d.). SEL for adults: Self-awareness and self-management. https://ggie.berkeley.edu/my-well-being/sel-for-adults-self-awareness-and-self-management/

Martinez, L. (2015). Developing teachers' social and emotional skills. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/developing-teachers-social-emotional-skills-lorea-martinez

Murata, A. (2020). Preparing for a "new normal" for school community after physical distancing. Thrive Global. https://thriveglobal.com/stories/preparing-for-a-new-normal-for-school-community-after-physical-distancing/

Usable Knowledge. (2020). Rebuilding for a new normal. https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/20/09/rebuilding-new-normal

Weissberg, R. (2016). Why social and emotional learning is essential for students. Edutopia. www.edutopia.org/blog/why-sel-essential-for-students-weissberg-durlak-domitrovich-gullotta




Kristie FrostKristie Frost is a veteran Career and Technical Education teacher with 25 years of experience teaching business and marketing courses and is currently employed by the Clarksville School District in Clarksville, Arkansas. She is a National Board Certified teacher in Early Adolescence through Young Adulthood/Career and Technical Education. She has a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She recently completed 120-hour Career Service Provider training and delights in the opportunity to help students pursue career exploration and prepare for their future endeavors. Email: kristie.frost@csdar.org  LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/kristie-frost


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