Social-emotional learning is a term often used to describe a school’s approach to building what may be considered the softer skills - regulating emotions, building interpersonal relationships, navigating the internal desire to succeed. According to CASEL, a non-profit that aims to make evidence-based social emotional learning (SEL) an integral part of preK-12 education social-emotional learning is:
... the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.
In a school community, the approach to social-emotional learning is evident both in the school climate and culture and how adults and students relate to each other. It is also demonstrated through the time allocated to navigating these important skills with students, while balancing the core academic subjects.
Because there can be differences in how social-emotional learning is approached in schools, defining it for a school community is important. What then, is social-emotional learning at WSG?
As is illustrated on this graphic, there are two layers to social-emotional at WSG:
WSG Core Values (within the girl’s face) and specific Qualities of SEL (the blue circle surrounding the girl).
WSG Core Values:
Since the school’s founding, these core values have been an integral part of the WSG’s overall program, with a focus on helping students develop skills of leadership, fortitude and resilience. It is with these qualities that students will engage with the world and exert a positive influence.
Our core values are:
Confidence - providing an environment where students can positively engage and understand their gifts and talents.
Excellence - in teaching and learning develops critical thinking and a thirst for knowledge and truth.
Faith - in God is the source of our lives and strength and so we encourage each student’s deepening of her spirituality.
Goodness - encouraging each student to respect her own dignity and goodness, as well as that of others.
Joy - in the learning environment as children best learn when they are happy and feel safe.
Peacemaking - focused on teaching and modeling forgiveness to help students shape an alternative future for our world.
Perseverance - helping students to face inevitable obstacles in their own lives yet to also pursue their goals with faith, vision, resilience and courage.
Generosity - encouraging a willingness to contribute positively to our communities and the world.
Layered on top of our core values for social emotional learning are the important skills that WSG incorporates into the daily experience for students, further supporting their growth into young women.
Qualities of SEL at WSG are:
Self-esteem - ensuring that the school environment is a positive place where students are nurtured and supported for who they are.
Relationship building - focusing on nurturing positive relationships between students and adults/students including important conflict resolution.
Responsible decision making - providing the conditions necessary for students to develop independence in decision making.
Self-awareness - enhancing students’ understanding of who they are and their unique capabilities.
Motivation - establishing and maintaining a positive attitude towards school and learning.
Cultural identity - creating positive conditions for inclusion and belonging, particularly cherishing their experiences and perspectives as girls of color.
Thus, it is the combination of these two groups that makes WSG’s approach to social-emotional learning particularly unique. Blending the perspectives initiated at the school’s founding with an intentional focus on highlighting the skills needed for students to become career or college ready in their future lives are what permeates WSG’s program. In addition, by further incorporating cultural identity into effective SEL learning, WSG acknowledges the particular importance of positively embracing the cultural identifiers of Black and Brown girls.
What does this all look like in practice at WSG? An important aspect is ensuring time is built into the schedule to ensure that teachers are able to implement the strategies needed for SEL growth. With a regular schedule for community building and engagement and plentiful opportunities for individual reflection and growth, SEL is ever present at WSG. In addition, through specific aspects of the school’s pedagogy, including conflict resolution and experiential learning, WSG further supports students in developing the skills needed to be a positive member of her school community and the larger world. Finally, through regular examination of current events combined with refinement of curriculum when needed, WSG can lean into the cultural perspectives needed to positively impact students’ learning. Offering opportunities for students to reflect on, discuss and critically think about what is going on in their lives and the world can solidify their internal fortitude and is regularly included in the school day.
SEL thus is the process through which students at WSG have the experiences needed in their school environment to develop their perspectives, recognize their strengths and the gifts of others, build community, and feel good about themselves. SEL gives students insight into themselves as learners while also helping them to think about their future goals for their lives. SEL at WSG helps girls to see the unique and beautiful perspective they bring to the world, establishing a foundation for positive personal growth.