Online SEL success relies on making connections

Administrators can still offer daily reminders about eating well and getting enough sleep
By: | October 19, 2020

The key for administrators in developing an effective social-emotional learning program—whether it’s online or in-person—is making sure that the teachers leading it are taking care of their own wellbeing.

Though most teachers have a sense of what it takes to stay healthy, administrators can still offer daily reminders about eating well and getting enough sleep, exercise and movement throughout the day, says Tricia Maas, a research scientist at the nonprofit SEL provider, Committee for Children.

“One part of wellbeing that’s not as intuitive is making sure you are building your connections with others,” Maas says. “When a lot of us think about self-care, we don’t think about tending to relationships.”

While in-person interaction is seen as a key to SEL, many of the core principles—such as self-care—remain the same when schools are in full online-learning mode.


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Administrators should therefore continue to support teachers’ participation in online professional learning communities. These groups allow educators to reflect on their practices and share concerns and ideas.

Second, administrators can set clear expectations for online SEL with teachers, while teachers can take similar steps to establish routines with their students.

Administrators and teachers can work together to embed SEL into instruction, such as by holding virtual morning meetings so educators can check in on the wellbeing of students each day.

The next step is for teachers to collect data about SEL so they can keep better track of how students are feeling, plus determine which practices are most effective, Maas says.

“Oftentimes, folks in education think of data and see spreadsheets and numbers,” Maas says. “Data can just be asking kids every morning how they are doing and providing opportunities for feedback. Everyone is giving out data informally, all the time.”

Ultimately, COVID is forcing an “involuntarily reset” for an education system that for many years was focused solely on academic achievement, Maas says.

“It’s never been OK to ignore students’ social-emotional needs but it’s never been quite so obviously irresponsible as it is today,” she adds. “This situation is pushing the system to break free of tracks it’s been on.”
See more stories in our series on online learning innovations:

  1. How to create a virtual academy
  2. How virtual wellness shifts SEL online
  3. Get access to doing something new during COVID
  4. 5 stories of online learning innovations during COVID