New Jersey Department of Education

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

The COVID-19 pandemic has created different types of traumatic experiences and high levels of stress for many of our students, educators, and families. Individuals may have lost loved ones, have family members who lost jobs, or may have experienced abuse or neglect. As we work to support students, the importance of SEL and attending to student and educator well-being has become even more critical. Integrating SEL into summer programming is critical to re-engage students, support the building of relationships, and foster the development of skills needed for success in schools and communities. 

Considering that students and staff have experienced some level of isolation from peers and colleagues, it is especially important to utilize summer programming as an opportunity to build strong relationships between students as well as relationships between students and adults. These connections help support students who may be feeling anxiety or stress about attending the summer program, and foster connectedness and student engagement. Schools may find it helpful to dedicate time in the beginning of the summer program to providing students and educators with increased opportunities for shared experiences to foster positive relationships. Research has demonstrated that supportive and sustained relationships with adults in schools support students’ capacity for resiliency. As schools design summer programs, it will be critical to focus on:

  • dedicating time to re-socialization and to developing social emotional skills and growth mindsets that are reinforced and practiced across instruction;
  • identifying students who have had traumatic experiences or who may be suffering from anxiety and depression, and helping them access local and culturally relevant supports; and
  • building a culture in which relationships are prioritized and all students and adults feel safe and supported and experience a sense of belonging and agency (See Building Developmental Relationships Between Staff and Students chart below).

Building Developmental Relationships Between Staff and Students


Sample Actions (Explanations)

Express Care

·  Be dependable (Be someone I can trust.)

·  Listen (Really pay attention when we are together.)

·  Believe in me (Make me feel known and valued)

·  Be warm (Show me you enjoy being with me)

·  Encourage (Praise me for my efforts and achievements)

Challenge Growth

·  Expect my best (Expect me to live up to my potential)

·  Hold me accountable (Insist I take responsibility for my actions)

·  Help me reflect on failures (Help me learn from my mistakes)

·  Stretch me (Push me to go further)

Provide Support

·  Navigate (Guide me through hard situations)

·  Empower me (Build my confidence to take charge of my life)

·  Advocate (Defend me when I need it)

·  Set boundaries (Establish limits to keep me on track)

Share Power

·  Respect me (Take me seriously and treat me fairly)

·  Include me (Involve me in decisions that affect me)

·  Collaborate (Work with me to solve problems and reach goals)

·  Let me lead (Create opportunities for me to take action)

Expand Possibilities

·  Inspire (Inspire me to see possibilities for my future)

·  Broaden horizons (Expose me to new experiences, ideas, and places)

·  Connect (Introduce me to more people who can help me)


As provisions for these supports become a part of your summer learning plan, consider the following guiding questions:

Guiding Questions

  • How will you design the summer program to prioritize the building of relationships and connections?
  • How will students be supported in transitioning back to in-person learning and to new school buildings?
  • How will you embed practices, activities, and instruction that consider the social and emotional needs of students?
  • How can you integrate the NJDOE SEL Competencies and Sub-Competencies into the standards-based lessons and activities?
  • What materials/programs/curriculum will you use? How will you ensure that they are organized around a high- quality SEL curriculum?
  • What additional personnel (e.g., therapists, nurses, counselors) may be needed to support the mental and emotional health needs of students and staff? How could community mental health providers help?
  • What professional development will you provide summer programming staff, so they are prepared to support the social-emotional needs of students?
  • How will you identify staff and students who may need to access additional social-emotional supports and services? For preschoolers, how will you implement the Request for Assistance (RFA) process with teachers and the Preschool Intervention and Referral Team (PIRT)?
  • How will students participate in wellness and social activities, or other physical and emotional health practices?

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