#52 – Managing Transitions: Addressing Social and Emotional Learning for Students

Unpacking Education August 11, 2021 22 min

As you plan and organize your back-to-school preparations, we wanted to explore the role of transitions with this three-part series that examines how social and emotional learning can help you and your students prepare for the new school year after a year of disruption. In the second episode of this series, we discuss how to create classrooms where students can focus on learning because they have built relationships and routines with social and emotional learning protocols that help them shift away from the survival-brain focus they have carried for the past 18 months.

Our team of educators share their diverse experiences in helping students build comfort and familiarity with each other so that they can try something new. We explore the importance and grace of failure because it is through failure that we remember and come to own our learning by examining our mistakes. We also define the survival brain and the steps that we as educators can take to help shift our students into the learning brain this year.

Paul Beckermann
PreK-12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Carl W. Buehner


The following are resources available on AVID Open Access to explore this topic in more depth:

Understanding Trauma: Survival Brain vs. Learning Brain

As we have navigated a year filled with changes and unknowns, we recognize that our students are returning this academic year with experiences that have shaken their routines, impacted their families, and changed the way they view and interact with their environment. In short, the world has experienced a traumatic event.

In this episode, we discuss how students are coping with the impact of the pandemic on their daily lives and how this experience will affect classroom dynamics. We explore how you can help manage your students’ transition back to the classroom by moving them from the survival brain to the learning brain—by focusing on routines, relationships, and social and emotional learning protocols. Our goal in the coming weeks and months is to help our students feel safe, wanted, and valued.

Survival brain characterized by students:

  • Hyper focused on threat
  • Discomfort with ambiguity (requiring clear facts and directions)
  • Black-and-white thinking

Emotions connected to the survival brain:

  • Panicky, obsessive, and unwilling to learn new things
  • Afraid of getting things wrong (normally connected to punishment and pride)
  • Doubtful in ability to learn new things

Learning brain characterized by students:

  • Open to new information
  • Comfortable with ambiguity
  • Able to create connections to other topics

Emotions connected to the learning brain:

  • Calm, peaceful, and excited about the content being learned
  • Playful and curious
  • Not afraid of making mistakes
  • Confident in ability to learn