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Checking In: Social Emotional Learning Strategies Can Help Reduce Students’ Stress and Anxiety

By Tomeka Wilcher

We are in that part of the semester when stress and anxiety are peaking and energy is declining for many of us. Although the end of the semester is near, we along with our students still have things to accomplish. We are also in the holiday season, and this can add another layer of stress and anxiety. The holidays can be a time of immense joy when we commune with family and friends; however, we may also face sadness and grief for those we have lost. Many of us are experiencing an influx of intense emotions that can quickly go from one extreme to another. As we are experiencing this, our students are, too. They may need support and strategies to stay motivated and to navigate the emotions and the many deadlines they are trying to meet. We want our students to know that we are in this together.

One way we can support students is through continued use of social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies within the classroom. According to the Collaboration for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning's (CASEL) framework, social emotional learning has five key components: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, social awareness, and relationship skills. Faculty can implement strategies throughout the semester to support these competencies. One SEL component we can tap into as this semester ends is self-management. CASEL defines self-management as the ability to manage one's emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacity to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals - i.e., managing one's emotions; identifying and using stress management strategies; exhibiting self-discipline and self-motivation; setting personal goals and collective goals; using planning and organizational skills; showing the courage to take initiative; and demonstrating personal and collective agency.

This component is not about preventing students from being their authentic selves. It is about giving them tools they can use when they feel overwhelmed, overstimulated, anxious, stressed or unmotivated. A few strategies that faculty can use are as follows:

  • Moments of Breathing and Affirmations - At the beginning and end of each class, provide students with a daily affirmation. It can be as simple as, "I got this." Give them an opportunity to say this aloud or to themselves. Also, incorporate time and space for them to engage in deep breathing as they get settled into their seats and before tackling the goals and objectives of that class. You can do the same for them near the end of class.

  • Goals Visualization Activity - The purpose of this activity is to help students identify a goal and visualize the steps needed to attain it. This will help students who face a huge task and may not know how to take a goal and "chunk" the steps in order to achieve it. Having students do this in class may help them gain clarity. It could also lead them to realize that what they need to do is achievable. In addition, as they tackle this activity in class, they have support from their peers and the faculty member. Lastly, once students complete the activity, they can use it when meeting with faculty during office hours. You can access a copy of the Goals Visualization Activity here. Have students make a copy of the Google Doc, and they will be able to record their answers.

  • Support Circles - Create support groups and/or accountability groups in each class. Within each group, students are to share their goals for the class and what they need to do to accomplish the goal. As a group, students can work on the Goals Visualization activity, share what they wrote with their peers if they choose to, and update one another on their progress each time they meet. They can also provide one another with tips and strategies that they use to stay motivated and focused.

  • Checking In - Give students an opportunity to share what they may need to achieve their goal. You can access a "Checking In" form here. Just make a copy for each course, send the link to students, and the answers will populate in a spreadsheet. If you need help with this form, please email me at twilcher@odu.edu.

Our students are at various levels when it comes to knowing how to deal with stress and anxiety; however, incorporating strategies to provide them with support, guidance and understanding may be the boost they need to be successful.


Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning. (n.d.). Advancing social and emotional learning. https://casel.org/

Gallagher, K.M., & Stocker, S.L. (2018). A guide to incorporating social-emotional learning in the college classroom: Busting anxiety, boosting ability. Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology. https://teachpsych.org/resources/Documents/otrp/resources/Gallagher%20and%20Stocker%20SEL%20Manual%20-%20FULL.pdf

Stocker, S.L., & Gallagher, K.M. (2018). Alleviating and altering appraisals: Social-emotional learning in the college classroom. College Teaching, 67(1), 23-35. https://doi.org/10.1080/87567555.2018.1515722

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