After K-12 schools moved to an online learning format, many teachers struggled to maintain connections with their students. In a session presented at a virtual summit this summer, UTeach Fine Arts faculty, students and alumni shared resources for educators to help them improve social and emotional learning outcomes for students learning remotely.
The summit is hosted annually in Austin by the Center for Educator Development in Fine Arts (CEDFA), a nonprofit organization that provides professional development and resources for fine arts educators in Texas, and UTeach Fine Arts Director Roxanne Schroeder-Arce, alumni, two graduate and five undergraduate students presented a session on “Social Emotional Learning (SEL) through the Fine Arts.”
Human connection in dance, theatre, music and visual art is essential, but many teachers found that emotions were getting lost through a screen in Zoom. The platform is mostly used to deliver lectures, but UTeach Fine Arts students, faculty and alumni modeled different approaches to show how teachers could incorporate expression and movement through group activities and interactive sessions.
According to the Collaborative for Academic Social Emotional Learning, social emotional learning (SEL) is how individuals understand and manage emotions to maintain positive relationships. The UT group demonstrated an activity to support SEL during the first session of the summit. Led by Schroeder-Arce, the activity asked participants to wear face masks. They were then asked to convey emotions solely through their eyes.
“The mask telephone exercise was really fun and interactive, and it normalized our reality in a playful way,” said Theatre Education junior Deja Criston. “We are constantly feeling a range of emotions, so as a teacher, it is my job to guide my students in channeling those emotions to express themselves into a creative outlet.”
Theatre Education junior Nathan Tran said one of the main focuses of the summit was relating the importance of SEL in all aspects of teaching.
“The material that is being discussed could be applicable to young people not just in the classrooms, but also in their everyday lives,” Tran said. “For example, we focused primarily on social and emotional learning and the main competencies of that, which are all very important topics for every single person to learn.”
Educators who registered for the summit were able to attend virtually, and participants came from all over Texas and spoke multiple languages. UTeach Music junior A.J. Marks said students learn in many ways, and the different approaches the panel introduced help educators serve all types of learners.
“There was one point in the session that one of the teachers had a portion of his lesson in English, and another in Spanish,” Marks said. “Another teacher allowed us to use an item that had meaning for us personally in the lesson. It reminded me that each student is individual and that if a student is struggling, there may be another approach that allows the student’s other abilities to shine.”
As many classes move to an online teaching format in the fall, Tran said he hopes professors will incorporate social emotional learning competencies into their classrooms and be active in the same way they would be if they were in person.
“My biggest takeaway from the session was how much can be accomplished through Zoom,” Tran said. “I was missing that human connection that is so important with theatre, and it was lost by just sitting in front of my computer screen. But after the session, I learned that Zoom doesn’t have to be constrained into just a lecture. It could transform into group activities and much more.”