An Emerging Interest in our Established SEL Program

An Emerging Interest in our Established SEL Program
Bret Barnett

Since 2011, Brewster has been at the vanguard of social and emotional learning (SEL). Originally partnering with Yale University to train teachers and initiate a program, the Academy has since evolved that program, developing unique SEL classes for each grade level, incorporating these classes into the week-day schedule, and expanding this work into the residential curriculum.  Having taken the lead in this critical area of education, Brewster is now playing a role helping other institutions build their SEL programs, and in doing so, the Academy is acting on one of its key vision points: to transform the ways other schools serve students in their care.

At the beginning of December, Brewster welcomed two educators from the Miami Valley School in Ohio. At the urging of their head of school, Elizabeth Cleary, who had served as a member of Brewster’s 2016 NEASC accreditation team, Deb Spiegel, Assistant Head of School for Academics, and Christie Kemper, Director of Student Success, arrived in Wolfeboro for two days of meetings with students, faculty, and administrators. Their goal was to understand more thoroughly how Brewster incorporates SEL in each grade level and throughout the Academy’s programming.

As Brewster has, Miami Valley School is eager to employ the central elements of SEL to help strengthen their overall school culture by clarifying for both students and parents what is expected and valued within their community. To this end, these educators were looking to see how Brewster had established a consistency of SEL language and how the Academy has incorporated that into the fabric of the institution. They were struck by how clear and consistent Brewster’s messaging is—on signs in classrooms, in discussions during team meetings, and in exchanges between students. In debriefing with Lynne Palmer, Director of External Affairs, Ms. Kemper explained that Miami Valley’s Head of School had been particularly impressed with the designated SEL classes, which happen during the school day. Ms. Kemper shared that before her visit, she was hesitant about devoting an entire class period twice a week for this work. However, after meeting with Brewster students, she was convinced of the class’s efficacy. Students recognize that the work of becoming more self-aware and more conscious of the situation of others is part of their education. By foregrounding this learning in the school day, Brewster sends a clear message about its importance--to the students and visitors alike. Moreover, Spiegel and Kemper observed how students took time in discussions with teachers and each other to “check themselves,” to access how they were feeling, how they were coming across, how they were meeting expectations or not. In short, the visitor witnessed the program in action. Finally, both Spiegel and Kemper were impressed by how connected Brewster faculty and students were and how well-cared for the students appeared.

As they began to incorporate SEL into their school, a number of Miami Valley School faculty and administrators attended the internationally recognized Institute of Social and Emotional Learning at Nueva School in California to deepen their understanding. Brewster is proud that Miami Valley School has then turned to the Academy as they seek to broaden and strengthen their program. A strong SEL program inherently enhances collaboration—among students and adults. As an institution committed to employing collaboration in the classroom and modeling it at the adult level, Brewster is eager to learn more from Miami Valley School about its distinctive Immersion Program as the Academy works to evolve its Interim Studies Program. Brewster’s eagerness to learn and openness to change have long been hallmarks of the Academy, and it is exciting to see how these very qualities are positioning Brewster as a leader in the evolving discourse of education more broadly today.

Read more about the emerging field of SEL education in David Brook’s New York Times Opinion piece:

“The good news is the social and emotional learning movement has been steadily gaining strength. This week the Aspen Institute (where I lead a program) published a national commission report called ‘From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope.’ Social and emotional learning is not an add-on curriculum; one educator said at the report’s launch, ‘It’s the way we do school.’”

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Learn more about Brewster's Social and Emotional Learning Program


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