Our Whole Child Approach: Social-Emotional Learning
Research into both neuroscience and education confirms that the best learning emerges when children feel emotionally safe and socially connected. Because we want children to take intellectual risks, to challenge and understand themselves, and to ask questions, our Lower School teachers create a developmentally appropriate space nurtures the development of character and fosters confidence, creativity, flexibility and curiosity in each child. Relationships among freedom, responsibility, community and environment are explored through activities that engage students as stewards in service to the school, the region and the world. Gateway uses a multi-prong approach to teach these important skills of social emotional learning.
Practicing awareness of thoughts, emotions, sensations and the surrounding environment helps children improve attention, self-control, and resilience. We give students daily and weekly opportunities to slow down and pay attention to their breath, bodies and sensations. As a county-wide leader in Mindfulness, we’ve hosted trainings for teachers from other schools, and in 2012 we brought international experts Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and Dr. Daniel Siegel to speak as part of the Speaker Series.
We use the RULER approach to help our students master the skills of emotional intelligence and to pave the way for greater well-being and better relationships. Developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, RULER gives our community a shared set of tools and language for emotional literacy. From sharing emotions to defusing conflict, emotional intelligence is a key foundation for future success in work and life.
Our mission calls for our students to develop compassion and citizenship, so we make the time for direct conversations about values and character. Whether looking at ideas like honesty and responsibility, or inclusion and diversity, our character education programs help children grow up to be respectful and courteous. In the Lower School, the VOICES curriculum uses age-appropriate literature to explore social development, social and emotional learning, and character education.
Children want to help others, and doing so builds their self-esteem and confidence. Authentic service learning begins with empathy, as we guide children to connect with the local community, and discover who lives here and the challenges they face. Next, students consider ways they can bring their skills and knowledge to find possible solutions to those problems. Students then move through prototyping and iterating these solutions, before taking them back into the field to try to make a difference. When given the chance, children can make real, tangible differences that improve the world.
Children aren’t widgets and an academic program can’t be a factory. Our program recognizes the intersection of emotional safety, social connection, and academic success. We use assessment to understand what children have mastered and what they need to learn next, and we emphasize a highly social, collaborative approach to learning in which the social context is as important as the individual development of knowledge.
One of the great benefits of having a K-8 program is that we create a strong sense of community by fostering cross-grade relationships. From collaborative writing projects to playground games, the Buddy Program gathers monthly for fun, connection and learning. It’s quite something to see 5th graders showing their 2nd grade buddies how to dissect a squid, or watching the 6th grade buddies appreciate the Reader’s Theater productions of their 1st grade buddies!
Our playground is guided by the three core principles of fun, safety, and inclusivity. We keep strong staff-to-student ratios on the playground, make sure all staff are trained in conflict resolution, and provide rich and varied activity options. It’s not unusual to see children from across the ages playing games together. Our youngest students enjoy the recess on Kindergarten Island, a special area reserved just for them!