As the world slowly emerges from the pandemic, schools are grappling with how to approach social and emotional learning (SEL) in their programs and curriculum. I recently sat down with Kate Caspar, Associate Head of School at The Winsor School in Boston, to discuss her school's approach to these challenges.
Kate shared that throughout the pandemic and since their return to in-person learning, she and her team realized that they needed to prioritize SEL for both the student and educator community. It wasn’t possible to return to ‘business-as-usual’, and they knew that the challenge of centering wellness was also an opportunity to better meet the needs of their ambitious and driven students.
The Winsor School approached these challenges with a comprehensive, community-centered approach. They engaged in extensive discussions to determine how to strike a balance between rigor and student wellness. They reaffirmed their conviction that both DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) and wellness need to be incorporated into their curriculum conversations. And they slowed down – tabling or pausing other initiatives, to give the community space to heal and focus on the priority of relationships and connectedness.
One major strand of this work to advance SEL and Wellness was to ensure that their curriculum and course offerings do indeed promote wellness and inclusion. Each year, existing courses are reviewed, and each potential course undergoes scrutiny from the department, a smaller group of academic administrators, and ultimately academic council. They consider how each course might affect the student experience during class and beyond, looking at factors such as workload, belonging, and opportunities for integrating SEL practices. Ultimately, the school aims to empower their students by setting high expectations while recognizing their need for balance.
The Winsor School also prioritizes SEL through their advisory program. They introduced student-led conferences in the lower school many years ago and then extended them into the upper school. These conferences focus on helping students reflect on themselves as learners in the community, rather than simply presenting their academic work. The advisory program is designed to focus on connection. It is fun and engaging, while still providing students with access to an adult they can talk to about challenges they're facing.
SEL and wellness can never just be about the curriculum or particular programs however. In working to build greater balance and wellness across the community, the school also prioritizes educator wellness. This work includes educator-led wellness sessions on professional development days, and a faculty workshop led by IFSEL focusing on identifying factors that bring us in and out of alignment with our ‘best educator-self’, and how to build community wellbeing, and not just rely on self-care.
Kate is open about the challenges that remain, but it is clear that she and her team are taking a thoughtful, community-centred approach to navigating the challenges of curriculum and SEL in a post-pandemic world. Taking such a comprehensive approach, which prioritizes diversity, inclusivity, and balance, serves as a model for other schools grappling with these same issues.
The Winsor School has generously offered to host The Institute for SEL for a workshop about building and sustaining an SEL-rooted Advisory Program. The workshop is on April 21 & 22, 2023. For more information: https://www.instituteforsel.net/advisory-workshop