Creativity in crisis: How to hold a virtual wellness week

Educators led workshops on cooking, yoga, art, tae kwon do and national parks
By: | April 24, 2020
Students created these artworks for wellness week, during which Scarsdale teachers focused on SEL, mindfulness and staying connected.Students created these artworks for wellness week, during which Scarsdale teachers focused on SEL, mindfulness and staying connected.

Thomas Hagerman

Leaders and teachers in Scarsdale Union Free School District realized that wellness, SEL and mindfulness were as important a part of the shift to online classes as the academics.

New York school districts were directed to provide online learning last week during what was supposed to have been spring break. Scarsdale educators’ seized the opportunity to reinvent the break as “Scarsdale Wellness Week” for the district’s seven schools and 4,800 students.

“Maintaining relationships and positive connections should always be at the center of instructional decisions, and we have tried to keep that as an important priority,” Superintendent Thomas Hagerman says.

Scarsdale Wellness Week featured dozens of synchronous and asynchronous workshops on cooking, yoga, art and other topics.

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Titles of the wellness sessions workshops included “Loving the National Parks–From a Distance,” “Communication is the Art of Listening,” “Connecting with the Land and World Around Us,” and “Connecting through Taekwondo.”

“The intention was to keep students connected to one another, their families, and the broader world,” Hagerman says. “Some of the activities required digital streaming, while others called for students to detach from technology completely.”

More than 150 teachers, administrators, psychologists and support staff volunteered to create 57 live sessions and 23 asynchronous sections. District families received a digital catalog of activities, which was updated during the week as new sessions were added.

Students, who were expected to participate in three sessions each day, filled out brief reflections about the activities they completed. Siblings and family members were invited to participate.

The district in Westchester County, New York, has been at the heart of the state’s coronavirus outbreak and closed on March 8 when staff members were diagnosed with COVID-19, Hagerman says.

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“Students, families, and staff members all have had unique health, financial and other stressors to contend with, along with the quarantine,” Hagerman says. “A focus on wellness was extremely important to us in light of the current reality. Even after this week, we have continued to keep this as a major priority in our work.

Reflections on wellness and SEL

Hagerman shared some of the 9,000 reflections teachers received from students, including:

“My experience today was enlightening. I thoroughly enjoyed the activities I participated in today, and feel much better about the coronavirus and this hard time we live in right now. The light-hearted activities that the teachers have made provided me with insight as to dealing with the struggles of quarantine.”

Scarsdale teachers created this word cloud from students' reflections on their wellness week activities.

Scarsdale teachers created this word cloud from students’ reflections on their wellness week activities.

“I had a very good experience doing the workshops. In the mindfulness in our everyday lives workshop, I learned to focus on what is going on around me and appreciate the outdoors. In the yoga and meditation workshop, I was focusing on my body and how to maintain balance.”

“The first workshop I did was the sidewalk chalk journey, which I did with my brother. We went up almost half of our driveway. It was very relaxing to draw the patterns with the chalk, and sign our names in big bubble letters.”

“Firstly I listened to teachers read Shakespeare sonnets, which I really enjoyed. I liked hearing their interpretations of such well-known works, and I could hear their passion for English through their readings. The themes of the sonnets also brightened my day.”

Based upon an analysis of the reflections, we created a word cloud to reflect the ideas, values, and activities most frequently mentioned by participants. Here is the link:

Share your stories of teacher creativity

District Administration is sharing stories of creative teaching during this challenging time. Please use this form to nominate an innovative teaching effort for us to share with our readers.