Leading the Way
Why confident and empathetic girls are more likely to succeed
It’s no secret that BSS staff want their students to succeed. From the moment a girl enters Junior Kindergarten to the day she graduates, the adults around her (from teachers to counsellors) make it their business to support her in every way possible – academically, physically, spiritually, emotionally and socially.
“The philosophy of our school has really been around teaching the whole girl,” says Catherine Hant, Vice Principal of the Junior School. “We need to teach emotional and social skill development in the same way we teach spelling, adding, subtracting and multiplication.” A girl may be great at algebra, but if she can’t work well with others, organize her time or manage stress, she’ll struggle to do well overall.
Studies show that emotionally intelligent people (those who are able to identify and manage their emotions and the emotions of others) are more likely to succeed both in school and later in the workplace. A 2008 report conducted by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning in Chicago found that teaching students social and emotional learning skills boosted their academic performance by 11 to 17 per cent.
According to Tiia Birkenbaum, Student Services Counsellor at BSS, girls who have emotional intelligence are “more responsive to feedback, better able to deal with stress, overcome challenges, deal with failure, and manage their time and expectations.” In other words, they become well-rounded high achievers with impressive executive functioning (e.g., organization and planning) skills.
Another study, this one published in the April 2015 volume of the Journal of Advances in Medical Education and Professionalism, found a direct link between emotional intelligence and positive self-efficacy (a person’s belief in her ability to succeed). Once a person has a healthy balance of both, researchers found, she is more likely to flourish in school.
The BSS team has implemented a bevy of emotional teaching strategies, starting as young as Junior Kindergarten. In the Junior School, for instance, each grade explores one of the attributes in the Signature of a BSS Girl to help foster social development (everything from curiosity to self-awareness). Growth mindset is taught in Grade 3 and remains a constant theme throughout a student’s time at BSS. This concept (conceived by Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck), encourages a person to see difficulties as challenges instead of obstacles and helps her to “realize that [she] can do anything with hard work and perseverance,” says Junior School Learning Resource Teacher Marion DePiero.
Researchers of the 2008 study mentioned earlier found another key to emotional health is a feeling of connection. Ms. Birkenbaum strongly agrees. “When people feel connected to one another through mutual understanding and empathy, they are less likely to misbehave or treat each other disrespectfully.” That’s why the Junior, Middle and Senior Schools offer lunch-time clubs and the entire school participates in house-themed events like Crazy Sports Day.
To encourage friendships across grades, and ages, Grade 5 students help the Grade 2s with math and reading. Grade 6 girls create and lead events for Field Day. They are also responsible for organizing a food drive with the nearby Flemingdon Community. Helping others, Ms. Hant says, inspires students to “think about how they can develop reciprocal relationships with people outside of the community.”
In the Senior School, a few Grade 11 and 12 students become Grade 9 mentors (aka Lynx) to help ease the transition from the Middle School. “Lynx are friendly, helpful students who are ready to lend an ear, give advice, or just take a few of their ‘little sisters’ in Grade 9 out for lunch,” says Ms. Birkenbaum. Older girls also help younger students in a peer tutoring program, guiding them through homework after school. Those who struggle with organization or academics can attend study skills and other workshops put on by the Learning Resource Centre.
When bad things happen in students’ lives, there are plenty of resources to help. No matter if the issue is big (a death or divorce in the family) or seemingly small (a best friend who’s chosen to play with someone else), students are assured extra support. “Right from the get-go, we’re really emphasizing to parents the importance of partnership between home and school,” says Ms. Hant. “We have clear communication with all the people who interact with that particular student to talk through what strategies we are going to use, what language is appropriate. We might be pulling in our Chaplain,” she explains. If they feel the child needs further help, parents may be referred to an outside expert.
“Sometimes kids do get overwhelmed,” say Ms. Birkenbaum, “but we help them realize that this is a normal part of life
and remind them that they have the coping skills and support (parents, teachers, counsellors, Teacher Advisor Groups
(TAG), the Chaplain, Chapel dog, friends, siblings, etc.) that they need to get through challenging times.” Girls in Grades 9 through 12 meet weekly with their TAG advisors and are welcome to approach any teacher or counsellor with their worries.
In the Junior School, girls identify two trusted adults to support and guide them, says Ms. Hant. Some prefer to join the ever popular tea parties hosted in Ms. DePiero’s office. Here, students are encouraged to talk through their concerns with a member of the Junior School Learning Resource Department over a warm cup of herbal tea.
As Ms. Hant says, “it takes a village to raise a student.” The BSS village is progressive and close-knit, comprised of caring adults who want every student to know she is not alone.
By Shandley McMurray
Shandley McMURRAY ’95 is a freelance writer based in London, UK. Her latest book, Under Your Nose, which she co-authored with her mother, Judith, was recently published by Firefly Books.