How virtual wellness shifts SEL online

Topics for these online wellness sessions are developed by students
By: | October 19, 2020

It’s not just academics that are being re-envisioned for the virtual world.

Shifting social-emotional learning online means high school students in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County Public Schools participate in twice-weekly virtual wellness blocks.

The topics for these sessions are developed by students, who this year have told administrators they want time to connect with each other and learn stress management techniques, says Ryan Voegtlin, the district’s director of student services.

The 85,000-student district, which started the school year with full online learning, has infused social-emotional learning throughout remote instruction in all grades.


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For example, teachers in all grade levels also sponsor virtual clubs that provide students with more opportunities to stay connected.

In middle school, students engage in twice-weekly mindfulness sessions focused on stress management and in regular “community meetings.”

“To get kids in engaged, we start with low-stakes conversations, like ‘What’s your favorite meal?’” Voegtlin says. “As they become more comfortable with each other, they develop higher-level conversational skills and the ability to talk about topics that are more challenging.”

In elementary school, students also engage in virtual community-building circles designed to teach them how to have productive conversations, he says.

At the same time, the district’s counselors and social workers have been provided mental health care via telehealth sessions.

“We have told teachers that if something concerning is going on—if a kid is not engaging in online learning, let a school counselor know to reach out to kids and parents,” he says. “When we’re virtual, we have to work a lot harder to figure out what’s going on.”
See more stories in our series on online learning innovations:

  1. How to create a virtual academy
  2. Online SEL success relies on making connections
  3. Get access to doing something new during COVID
  4. 5 stories of online learning innovations during COVID