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Connecting Joyfully

By Briony Chown, head of Lower School
How Lower School educators help students navigate complex situations with dignity and joy.
While most of the world has moved on from the pandemic, the Lower School is very intentional about addressing its impact on our children. For some of them, it was a third of their lives. Crucial social development was deficient during these pivotal years when so much learning typically happens through interactions. Our children had fewer opportunities to play with a wide-ranging group of peers and fewer chances to make mistakes and learn from them.

Creating a solid foundation of social and emotional skills does more than simply address the gaps from social distancing. It does more than build strong relationships. It prepares our students for the future. Teaching social-emotional learning helps our students navigate complex situations and challenges with dignity and joy. 

The Collaborative for Academic Social Emotional Learning (CASEL) outlines the five fundamentals of social-emotional learning: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making and relationship skills. When children are given agency to practice and develop these skills, a deeper level of self-confidence and happiness emerges.

With these factors in mind, our Lower School educators trained to become certified in Responsive Classroom this year. Responsive Classroom is a CASEL SELect Program, the highest program designation. Rather than a set curriculum, Responsive Classroom empowers our expert educators to make small shifts in their teaching practices to strengthen those social and emotional competencies. These shifts help students develop cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy and self-control. In addition, we help children learn powerful academic competencies such as academic mindset, perseverance, learning strategies and academic behavior.

Young children are sponges; they soak up what’s around them, from conversations to news stories, and bring what they hear to school. Whether it’s an upcoming election or a global issue, children are affected by current events and the divisiveness that may be included. Teaching children how to navigate these divides, have conversations and disagree while preserving their friends’ dignity is one of the most important skills we can empower with them. These skills are useful in the playground, in the classroom and beyond.

We intentionally build time into the schedule to teach these skills. In our morning meetings, children start each day in a circle. The teacher guides the class through greeting each other by name, sharing important news, reading a personalized message and playing a quick collaborative game. 

Over the last few weeks, I have joined our students in their morning meetings. This simple structure invites collaboration. I have seen more of our children confidently addressing each other by name, making eye contact and finding shared connections. So much cognitive growth happens through social connections. The day begins joyfully, and when children make mistakes in the game or challenge, they practice being OK, moving on quickly, and learning from the experience. This daily practice follows them through their lessons so that they can work together, have the confidence to try, take risks in their learning and navigate social and academic challenges as the leaders that they are.


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9490 Genesee Avenue
La Jolla, CA 92037

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