Rowland Hall is committed to teaching the whole child. We recognize that to be successful academically, your student must also have the skills necessary for social and emotional well-being.
We offer a robust social-emotional learning (SEL) program that builds skills around empathy, identifying and managing strong emotions, peacefully problem-solving, and respectfully disagreeing. We encourage students to use these skills to show compassion, kindness, perseverance, and cooperation. Plus, students are proactively supported by teachers who have received SEL training, and by our own in-house experts: we have social-emotional support counselors in each division, because when adults meet regularly to discuss each one of their students, every child is well-known and no one slips through the cracks.
Social-Emotional Learning & Support: Why it Matters
Social-emotional skills empower students to make friends, resolve conflicts, and step confidently into new experiences. As students mature and enter our middle and upper schools, these skills help them decrease their anxiety, so that they can increase their academic performance.
Teaching social-emotional skills is the cornerstone of Beginning School work. Our dedicated faculty help our youngest students learn the following:
How to feel valued and secure in their relationships
How to identify and regulate their emotions, and express their feelings in appropriate ways
The importance of community and what it means to be a community member
How to engage with trusted adults as resources
In 3PreK, children are becoming independent. They learn how to enter play and invite others to join them, and they begin to take turns and share with one another. The students practice resolving social conflicts and look at each others' faces for emotional cues.
In 4PreK, students are introduced to Second Step, a social-emotional curriculum which focuses on empathy, controlling strong emotions, strengthening focus and attention, being kind and compassionate, and problem-solving, especially in social situations.
In 4PreK and kindergarten, students attend monthly chapels, which focus on building cultural competence and celebrating differences. Emotional Support Counselor Danielle Thomas also visits kindergarten classrooms several times throughout the school year, delivering lessons targeted to this special age.
The social-emotional learning (SEL) program in the Lower School is centered around the Second Step curriculum, a nationally recognized, research-based program focused on empathy, controlling strong emotions, and peaceful problem-solving. Second Step complements and builds upon our Responsive Classroom principles, including cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control. Emotional Support Counselor Danielle Thomas leads relevant lessons weekly. SEL is further supported through the following:
Mindfulness practices in the classroom
Monthly chapel program
Virtue of the month
Bucket filling, or making kind words and actions visible by asking students to recognize peers who have filled their bucket
Social-emotional learning (SEL) is critical during the middle school years—a time for increased freedom, making mistakes and learning from them, and laying the neuro-groundwork for a successful future. SEL permeates grades six through eight, from advisory groups to curriculum, and from field trips to service learning. In classes, examples of social-emotional learning include maintaining a growth mindset in math, examining a character’s motives in a novel, and analyzing historical figures.
Middle schoolers are grouped in supportive grade-level advisories, where they build on social and emotional competencies through hands-on activities. The advisor is a point-person for connecting with students and their parents/caregivers. Advisory lessons are carefully planned to ensure continuity, fresh perspectives and activities, and research-based practices. Our Middle School community also comes together for an assembly every Monday where we share important updates, learn from one another, talk about ways to strengthen our community, and celebrate students. Plus, middle schoolers attend monthly interfaith chapel sessions to build community and discuss important values.
Every year, we invite prevention specialists from Freedom from Chemical Dependency to talk to middle and upper schoolers. These specialists are trained professionals who have achieved long-term recovery from alcohol or other drug addictions, and their unique perspectives enhance their credibility and provide students with role models for happy, healthy, drug-free living.
We prioritize prevention and evidence-based learning surrounding drugs, alcohol, and mental health. We value growth, progress, and discipline over punishment. Therefore, we encourage struggling students to advocate not only for themselves but for their peers and community. Our middle and upper school social-emotional support counselors are licensed clinicians available to support students one-on-one. Plus, through our implementation of the SafeUT app, middle and upper schoolers can report problems anonymously or in person with a trusted adult. SafeUT is a confidential crisis text and tip line. It's a statewide initiative run through the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute providing real-time crisis intervention to youth and adults right from their smartphones or computers. The app is installed on all Middle School iPads and students are trained on its appropriate use.
Rowland Hall’s Upper School proactively addresses student stress. Since 2017, we’ve partnered with Stanford University’s Challenge Success to survey students and, based on their feedback, make adjustments to prioritize their well-being and engagement. We piloted sleep-friendly schedule changes in 2017 and officially launched the changes the following year. We also added an advisory program in 2019. All of this work also empowers students to take action: for example, in spring 2020—spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic—upper schoolers launched a Peer Mental Health Educators group to help build community and promote wellness among their classmates. These students lead their peers in discussions around mental health topics ranging from study skills and time management to anxiety and depression.
We’re proactive in discussing the addiction risks that teenagers face. Every year, we invite prevention specialists from Freedom from Chemical Dependency to talk to middle and upper schoolers. These specialists are trained professionals who have achieved long-term recovery from alcohol or other drug addictions, and their unique perspectives enhance their credibility and provide students with role models for happy, healthy, drug-free living.
We prioritize prevention and evidence-based learning surrounding drugs, alcohol, and mental health. We value growth, progress, and discipline over punishment. Therefore, we encourage struggling students to advocate not only for themselves but for their peers and community. Our middle and upper school social-emotional support counselors are licensed clinicians available to help students and parents/caregivers with crises and provide referrals. Plus, through our implementation of the SafeUT app, middle and upper schoolers can report problems anonymously or in person with a trusted adult. SafeUT is a confidential crisis text and tip line. It's a statewide initiative run through the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute providing real-time crisis intervention to youth and adults right from their smartphones or computers. Upper schoolers are trained on its use.
Finally, like our other divisions, the Upper School has an interfaith chapel program that builds community, fosters positive peer interactions, and helps students, faculty, and staff identify important values. Upper schoolers regularly speak and perform at chapel and use it as a creative outlet to express their feelings surrounding a given topic.
That’s what a group of students in Lynelle Stoddard and Camilla Rosenberger’s 3PreK class were trying to determine one cool November day, as they looked through each other’s personal photo albums.
Weston, as a baby, looks like he’s crying, one student observed. Another thinks he must be mad because he’s in a crib, and cribs are not fun. Weston can’t remember what he was feeling, and he really wants to look at his other pictures.
We use this year to work on how they treat each other and deal with situations.—Camilla Rosenberger, 3PreK assistant teacher
What the students were doing on this late fall day is a central goal in the 3PreK classroom: they were learning to name and hold their feelings, and how to turn those feelings into positive actions—life skills that will support them long after they leave the preschool classroom. To build these skills, the teachers have provided a selection of books for the students to read, including Silly Sally and When Sophie Gets Angry—Really, Really Angry…. They have also been singing songs such as "If You’re Happy and You Know It," and have explored feelings while reading We’re Going on a Bear Hunt as a class and then searching for a stuffed bear hidden in the Nature Yard. And along the way, there have been many conversations about how feelings play out in different ways.
“This is such an important time for their social-emotional progress,” said assistant teacher Camilla about the three- and four-year-old students. “We use this year to work on how they treat each other and deal with situations, through their education.”
Lead teacher Lynelle agreed. “We want them to learn strategies to manage their feelings, like taking big deep breaths to calm their bodies. When they’re angry, we encourage the strategy of ‘pretend to sniff a flower, and then blow out the candles on a birthday cake.’”
And, as illustrated on that November day, it’s important to the teachers that their students aren’t only dealing with their own feelings. The children are also learning how to identify what others may be feeling, and they interact with each other based on those cues. “Feelings photos” are part of these lessons. Every child has a set of photos taken of them displaying different emotions, and then the children look at their own faces before putting an emotion to each expression. This practice helps the students learn how to read each other’s faces, and to read the faces of those outside of the classroom as well.
We do activities like looking at your neighbor and asking them, ‘How are you feeling today?’ Or we will identify what emotion we see them displaying and we ask how we can help them deal with or work through that emotion.—Lynelle Stoddard, 3PreK lead teacher
“We do activities like looking at your neighbor and asking them, ‘How are you feeling today?’” said Lynelle. “Or we will identify what emotion we see them displaying and we ask how we can help them deal with or work through that emotion.”
Determining appropriate actions for emotions is another part of the students’ social-emotional growth. The teachers help the children work through which actions can help improve a situation and which ones may cause more problems. They may have conversations about sharing, consideration of others, and the importance of being a first-time listener—that is, following instructions without being asked multiple times.
“We have a lot of books that are based on turning feelings into actions,” said Camilla. “No Biting, Louise is a favorite one, lately. Books like these help the kids discern what are good actions and what are not.”
The 3PreK students may be little, but their emotions are big, and by helping them name emotions, understand them, and maybe control them (even a little bit), their teachers are giving them a foundation on which to learn, grow, and become people the world needs. Even if the individual lessons aren’t remembered, and the book titles fade from memory, the central message will remain.
At the beginning of June, rising Rowland Hall senior Samantha Lehman began an internship for the Utah House of Representatives majority staff. She spent two weeks sitting in on appropriations and caucus meetings, communicating important information through social media, and researching everything from local procedures for foreign diplomats visiting Utah to water and transportation policy (did you know that 32,933,228,764 miles were driven on Utah roads in 2019? Neither did Samantha!).
While working at the capitol, Samantha was approached by Harry Hansen, communications manager and podcast host, who asked to interview her for the Utah House of Representatives Podcastabout her experience attending high school during a pandemic. She said yes, and when Harry asked if there was anything specific she wanted to talk about, Samantha immediately answered, “Mental health.” Below, Samantha, a Rowland Hall mental health educator and this year’s student body president, reflects on why she chose to focus that discussion on the toll the pandemic is taking on students' mental well-being.
Mental Health and the Pandemic: A High Schooler’s Perspective
By Samantha Lehman, Class of 2022
The movies don’t lie when they say that high school is tough.
I, and many other students, found it hard to stay motivated and to care about things we were previously interested in. I felt alone, helpless, burned out, and like I was a failure for not being more engaged. It was as if Earth’s gravity had suddenly increased: everything looked the same, but it was harder to lift myself up.
Homework, studying, and the epic highs and lows of extracurriculars are enormously stressful, so a balance between friends and work can help make school manageable. However, the pandemic meant students were isolated in their rooms, unable to be around their friends, making school feel more strenuous and boring. Additionally, in-person class is hard to replicate on Zoom. There’s just not the same energy, and focusing is near impossible when a) you have been staring at a screen for hours at a time, and b) the world of the internet is at your fingertips (I’ll be fully transparent here: I definitely watched The Office instead of paying attention in class more than a couple of times). As the year went on, many students found it harder and harder to keep up with work and make themselves pay attention to what they were supposed to be learning, even if they were able to be in person at school some of the time. I, and many other students, found it hard to stay motivated and to care about things we were previously interested in. I felt alone, helpless, burned out, and like I was a failure for not being more engaged. It was as if Earth’s gravity had suddenly increased: everything looked the same, but it was harder to lift myself up.
Another problem with school during a pandemic is repetitive thoughts. When you’re stuck at home all day in front of a computer with nothing but your brain to keep you company, repetitive thoughts become a real problem. My brain kept telling me, “You should be doing better at school,” or, “You’re a horrible student and don’t deserve to be here,” and, “You’re a failure.” After hearing those things again and again, I started to believe them. Unfortunately, many of my classmates had this experience as well, and they struggled with school and their mental health as a result.
For some students, having their routine dramatically switched up by the pandemic was a huge challenge. For others, they enjoyed being online for school, perhaps because they are uncomfortable in many social situations, so going back in person towards the end of the year was a hard adjustment. Maybe a student lost a relative or a friend during or to the pandemic and didn’t get the community support they needed. Regardless of the reason, the pandemic impacted every student’s mental health in some way, and that may have long-lasting effects, even if this school year looks a little more normal.
I think it’s important to realize that mental health is not a reason a person isn’t strong. You can be strong and still struggle with your mental health.
I think it’s important to realize that struggling with mental health is not a reason a person isn’t strong. You can be strong and still struggle with your mental health. Take Simone Biles, for example. She has 31 Olympic and World Championship medals and pulled out of the Olympic team competition to prioritize her mental health. That’s strength if I’ve ever seen it. A person also doesn’t have to be diagnosed with something like anxiety, OCD, or depression to need to take time to prioritize their mental health. Brains are weird and life is hard.
As we continue to navigate the pandemic, the advice I’d give to parents and guardians is to remember it’s important to realize that kids need time to recharge and get their heads on straight to succeed. It’s OK for kids to feel tired and want to take breaks from work, and caregivers should encourage them to prioritize their mental health as well as support their kids in times of struggle. My parents support me by reminding me that they are there for me and by never judging or criticizing me for struggling with mental health.
Additionally, as students, we need to remember to support each other. There is never a bad time to tell a friend that they are doing great and that you are there for them. As a community, we need to continue to uplift each other and give each other the space to put mental health first.
2020 may well be remembered as the year of overwhelming stress, and research shows that it’s not only adults feeling the pressure—students feel it, too, and it plays a big role in how they learn.
Schools have long known that they play a critical role in supporting students’ mental well-being. Even before 2020, a heightened understanding of how mental health initiatives contribute to students’ welfare and their ability to learn shifted curriculum and priorities at Rowland Hall. Today, a strong social-emotional learning (SEL) thread runs through all school divisions, and a variety of resources that support students’ mental well-being—from trained counselors, to grade-level advisories, to SEL-based curriculum—are in place. Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund explained that the shift toward this support structure began in 2010, as educators across the country began to better understand how an overly anxious mind affects learning.
You're not learning if your brain is engaged in worry and stress—learning is a higher-order thinking skill.—Ryan Hoglund, director of ethical education
“You're not learning if your brain is engaged in worry and stress—learning is a higher-order thinking skill,” Ryan said. “We knew we needed to focus on the whole child, giving them tools to free their cognitive load so they can give greater attention to learning and social connections.”
Upper School Social-Emotional Support Counselor Dr. Mindy Vanderloo said that a good way to think about this approach is to remember the phrase “Maslow before Bloom,” which underscores the theory that human beings must have their basic needs met before they can take on higher-level desires or thinking.
“If you don't have your basic needs—home, security, food, mental health—then you can't do those things that are higher up on hierarchy,” said Mindy. “Research has demonstrated the relationship between academics and mental health. We understand the importance of identifying and treating mental health problems; we also know that incorporating SEL can improve mental health.”
And while this is true in any academic year, it has become even more important in 2020, when heightened anxiety around issues including COVID-19, the election, and social unrest can further impact students’ mental well-being—which was already concerning mental health professionals. Mindy pointed to American Psychological Association research released in 2019 that found that the percentage of young Americans experiencing certain types of mental health disorders—serious psychological distress, major depression, or suicidal thoughts—has risen significantly over the past decade. Though there isn’t a clear cause why, she said, issues like social media, political divisiveness, and climate change may play a role.
“Mental health disorders have increased over time, and there isn't a known cause,” Mindy explained. “Prevalence rates are going up—and it could be we feel more comfortable talking about it now, and so we notice it more—but there is something categorically different that has changed over generations. Schools, appropriately, have responded and said, ‘This is a bigger problem than it used to be, for whatever reason, and we need to address it.’”
Resources that support students’ mental well-being are available in all Rowland Hall divisions, starting in the beginning and lower schools, where a supportive SEL foundation is first established. Guided by Emotional Support Counselor Chuck White, Rowland Hall’s preschool- and elementary-aged students begin building their social-emotional skills through programs like Second Step and Responsive Classroom. Faculty and staff also cultivate strong partnerships with caregivers during these years, providing resources that advise adults on how to talk to young learners about issues such as COVID-19 and social unrest or the election, as well as how to have healthy conversations around topics such as race.
As students move to the Middle School on the Lincoln Street Campus—and begin a phase of life known for a great deal of change—educators take even more action to help them understand and manage their own mental wellness.
“It's important to remember that in middle school brains are changing at a high rate,” said Middle School Social-Emotional Support Counselor Leslie Czerwinski. “Then on top of brain changes, hormones start to change.”
At the same time, students are learning to navigate the world in new ways, with an increase in online time—including, for many, access to social media, which can add new layers of pressure, such as the need to present perfection. It is therefore important to help these students find healthy coping strategies that they can practice in Middle School and carry into their Upper School years, and beyond.
That notion of productive struggle is that if I'm not stressed, I'm not learning; if I'm overstressed, I'm not learning. What we really want to find is that yellow zone where I'm challenged. I've always used this canoe analogy: I want you to rock your canoe, but I don't want your canoe flipping.—Ryan Hoglund
“The goal is not zero stress; that's really important to emphasize,” said Ryan. “Stress is normal—it drives us to deadlines that keep us accountable. But how do you keep it productive?” To do this, he said, Rowland Hall focuses on productive struggle, also known as the zone of proximal development, a sweet spot for each learner where the student has found balance between being too comfortable and too overwhelmed.
“That notion of productive struggle is that if I'm not stressed, I'm not learning; if I'm overstressed, I'm not learning. What we really want to find is that yellow zone where I'm challenged,” said Ryan. “I've always used this canoe analogy: I want you to rock your canoe, but I don't want your canoe flipping.”
Productive struggle not only prepares students to build resilience and succeed under the pressures of life, but to learn how to head off more serious issues, like chronic anxiety, that can develop under too much stress. In the middle and upper schools, this skill is purposefully encouraged by faculty and staff in classroom conversations as well as in advisory, a program designed to help build community and promote student wellness. Advisory now plays a major role in the Rowland Hall experience—one that is so important that sixth graders’ placement into their advisory groups is a thoughtful process handled by the middle and upper school counselors, principals, and assistant principals, who understand that identifying the best advisor for each student can lead to strong relationships that support mental well-being throughout their years on the Lincoln Street Campus. This is necessary, Mindy noted, because research shows that one of the biggest ways to protect students against mental health problems is to give them access to consistent, healthy adult mentors.
“Individual connections to supportive adults is one of the best things we can provide for students as a school,” she said.
Healthy adult role models also help students discover their own leadership capabilities. During their time at Rowland Hall—particularly as they move from sixth to twelfth grade—students are given more autonomy and ownership of their learning and self-governance, which builds their confidence.
During their time at Rowland Hall students are given more autonomy and ownership of their learning and self-governance, which builds their confidence. This includes giving students opportunities to support their own and others’ mental well-being by letting them lead critical conversations, make essential connections, and even help to develop curriculum.
“In the Upper School, what we want to do is build self-efficacy and empower students to take care of themselves. They've learned skills in advisory through informal discussions with teachers—and so how do they take the next step?” Mindy said. “We shift from a focus on adults teaching students to what students can teach each other and take into their own hands.”
This includes giving students opportunities to support their own and others’ mental well-being by letting them lead critical conversations, make essential connections, and even help to develop curriculum. In support of this goal, in 2019 Mindy created a student group called the Mental Health Educators, whose mission is to help build awareness of and combat stigma around mental health issues. Since its founding, Mental Health Educators has played a vital role in normalizing mental health discussions on the Lincoln Street Campus—members address peers at chapels and morning meetings, and they build long-term relationships with students through advisory groups, where they lead discussions around topics like stress and anxiety, as well as offer tips on areas like healthy coping mechanisms.
“The school’s been doing a good job trying to reduce stigma around mental health,” said Samantha Lehman, a Rowland Hall junior and Mental Health Educator. “The Mental Health Educators are working to improve mental health resources, and I think we’ve already seen a lot of improvements and a lot of good feedback from the student body.”
They’re also continuously finding new ways to bring their mental health training to their peers. For example, Samantha used some of the topics the group discussed—like motivation, relationships, and the importance of mental breaks—to create Instagram challenges that engaged and connected students during the long weeks of quarantine this spring. Senior Mena Zendejas-Portugal applies her mental health knowledge to her work as a member of the student Justice, Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion Committee. And this fall, the entire Mental Health Educators group partnered with Dr. Carolyn Hickman, English Department chair, and Mike Shackelford, political science teacher and debate coach, to present Deliberate Dialogue, an initiative Carolyn and Mike designed to help reduce student stress during a contentious election season by giving them opportunities to practice civil discourse. Over two weeks in October, the Mental Health Educators taught the five skills of Deliberate Dialogue—open-mindedness, speaking, listening, responding, and reflecting—to all students in grades nine through eleven, as well as helped them practice constructive conversation techniques, which center around exchanging perspectives openly, challenging viewpoints respectfully, and building empathetic understanding. Samantha said the initiative fits in well with the Mental Health Educators mission “because you’re coming to the conversation seeking to understand, seeking to listen.”
We are making meaning, we are creating purpose, and those are the things that are going to help prevent us from being completely demoralized by stressors such as COVID.—Dr. Mindy Vanderloo, Upper School social-emotional support counselor
Mena added, “Once you learn how to have Deliberate Dialogue in your everyday life, that really helps you better your mental health and your relationships. The conversation turns toward building bridges and relationships, which then translates into how you perceive yourself and others.”
And this is a big deal, said Mindy, because by taking action to fight the stressors that affect their well-being—like a divisive election within a global pandemic—students feel a sense of purpose amid chaos.
“We are making meaning, we are creating purpose, and those are the things that are going to help prevent us from being completely demoralized by stressors such as COVID,” said Mindy. “If you can take a difficult or tragic event, take action, and decide to make change, it is so good for not only your mental health, but other people's mental health.”
Mena agreed. “You see students confront problems in such an elevated manner—they’re incorporating all these skills we’ve taught them, and they’re able to relieve themselves of so much stress,” she said. “It makes you feel a sense of joy and pride, not only in yourself, but in your community and in those students.”
Banner photo: Junior Remy Mickelson presenting Deliberate Dialogue skills during an advisory class.
On a Thursday in November, Susanna Mellor’s first-grade class was seated in a circle, ready to begin their morning meeting. That day, they started with a pinky greeting: everyone hooked fingers, forming a chain, and then Susanna turned to one of the students next to her. “Good morning, Thomas,” she began. The salutation passed around the circle, ending with a hearty, full-group welcome: “Good morning!”
Morning meeting is one of several practices recommended by Responsive Classroom, a student-centered approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) and effective classroom management. Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus explained that the division started utilizing Responsive Classroom in 2016 as a way to support Rowland Hall’s long-standing commitment to SEL, which is associated with higher academic achievement, improved teacher-student interactions, and higher-quality instruction.
Responsive Classroom gives teachers the tools to create truly joyful, safe, and inclusive classrooms. More importantly, it gives students more responsibility and ownership in the process of building a community of kindness, respect, and learning.—Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus
“Responsive Classroom gives teachers the tools to create truly joyful, safe, and inclusive classrooms that help our students thrive,” he said. “More importantly, it gives students more responsibility and ownership in the process of building a community of kindness, respect, and learning with their classmates.”
Morning meeting achieves this by engaging young learners in a welcoming atmosphere at the start of each school day. In addition to an inclusive greeting, the meeting includes a moment of sharing, a group activity, and a daily message. Whatever the day’s focus, teachers use the meeting to make sure each child is recognized and participating in the class.
“Responsive Classroom practices help build confidence and ease anxiety by fostering a sense of belonging and significance,” Susanna said. And, she added, as the school year progresses, its rewards multiply. “When they listen to each other, students feel that they matter. I see new friendships begin to bud, classmates work comfortably and easily together, and students take risks as they share ideas in class discussions.”
The Responsive Classroom Approach
Responsive Classroom, first developed by the Center for Responsive Schools in 1981, creates safe, nurturing learning environments through four key domains: engaging academics, positive community, effective management, and developmentally responsive teaching. Because Rowland Hall is focused on integrating SEL into our academic and co-curricular programs (we formally added it to goal 1 of our Strategic Plan in November 2018), incorporating Responsive Classroom into the Lower School curriculum was a logical choice. And it has made a difference.
“It's given our teachers more clarity and alignment when they consider how best to support students, structure learning activities, and promote positive behavior expectations,” Jij said. “Students, in turn, experience more consistency and are clear on why their actions matter for their own learning and for the learning of others.”
Rowland Hall is focused on integrating social and emotional learning into our academic and co-curricular programs; we even formally added it to goal 1 of our Strategic Plan in November 2018.
To drive student success, Responsive Classroom also emphasizes interactive modeling to teach the skills, strategies, and procedures that help kids thrive at school.
“Interactive modeling has made my classroom a more calm, efficient, and productive learning environment,” Susanna said. “When students watch and comment on what I do as I role-play a procedure, they actively deduce the steps by verbalizing them and listening to peers do the same. As a result, they have a firm and clear understanding when it comes time for them to begin the task at hand.”
Integrating Responsive Classroom into Established Practices
Responsive Classroom has helped Rowland Hall refocus many classroom practices toward the school’s overarching SEL goals. One example occurs at the beginning of each school year: developing classroom agreements. Unlike traditional lists of rules, classroom agreements are created in partnership, giving teachers and students buy-in on how their classrooms will run. While the agreements have been a part of the Lower School for many years, Responsive Classroom added another layer to the process.
“Using the Responsive Classroom approach has allowed my students to delve deeper into the process of exploring their own hopes and dreams, and how we can work as a group to help each other achieve our goals,” Susanna said. She explained that students become engaged, thoughtful, and passionate as they determine what will help them do things like learn how to read, try harder math problems, or even score soccer goals. “I notice students putting much more thought and reflection into this process, making it more meaningful and effective,” she said.
Collaborating on classroom agreements also makes it more likely that children will follow, and reference, those agreements during the school year.
“Students refer back to these agreements when obstacles arise and really demonstrate ownership of them,” said Susanna. “For example, when having a class discussion about erasers being damaged intentionally, several children commented, ‘That’s not following our agreement. We said we’d take care of our materials this year so that we could become better writers.’”
Classroom agreements are referenced regularly by instructors too. In Susanna’s morning meeting, for instance, students are asked which agreements they want to focus on and what actions they can take to make sure those agreements are honored. One student reminded classmates that they can meet their goal to keep calm in the classroom by walking; another observed that they can fulfill the agreement to try harder math problems by listening respectfully during instruction.
Using Responsive Classroom in New Ways
Responsive Classroom also inspires new methods to empower students. This fall, the Lower School used the foundation of classroom agreements in a new way: to create school-wide Winged Lion Agreements.
On September 6, 17 student delegates from grades one through five—one from each class—gathered in the McCarthey Campus parlor for the first-ever student constitutional convention. Delegates shared their classes’ newly developed classroom agreements with the group before beginning a discussion on agreements that could be applied to the whole school.
When students help make decisions about how the school runs, they understand their voices are valued and that they play a role in making school enjoyable for everyone.—Lower School Specialty Principal Linda Tatomer
Lower School Specialty Principal Linda Tatomer—who has completed all Responsive Classroom courses, including the Responsive Classroom for Leadership conference—led the discussion and was impressed by how the process unfolded. “When students help make decisions about how the school runs, they understand their voices are valued and that they play a role in making school enjoyable for everyone,” she said. “And because each student was a stakeholder in the convention’s outcome, they were serious about identifying meaningful goals.” She was also thrilled by the inclusion she saw in the room, especially by the way fifth graders mentored the first graders. “They really made connections and made them feel valued,” Linda said.
After thoughtful discussion, the group decided on five agreements for the year:
• Be kind
• Work hard and never give up
• Be safe
• Have fun
Each item was purposefully selected, down to exact words—for instance, the delegates chose the word “respect” because of its ability to encompass a wide range of areas, from personal behavior to how students should treat their surroundings.
Designing Better School Days with Responsive Classroom
Responsive Classroom further helps the Lower School team continuously reevaluate how to best meet students’ needs. One recent change to the school day occurred as a result of a February 2019 meeting with a Responsive Classroom consultant, who was sent to observe a full day at the school after Linda completed her training in the approach.
“One thing the consultant noticed was that our dining hall is very noisy,” Linda remembered. The consultant recommended a proven solution she thought would benefit the division: moving recess before lunch, an idea that the Lower School student support team had been considering for two years prior to the visit.
“The change would have numerous benefits,” said Linda. “Children could focus on eating, noise would go down, and no one would be racing to get outside.” After presenting the idea to an enthusiastic Lower School faculty in the spring, Jij and Linda began working on making the change for the fall. When it was time to introduce the schedule adjustment to students during the second chapel of the year, Jij, Linda, and Chuck White, the McCarthey Campus emotional support counselor, were thoughtful in their approach, using a similar style students had already experienced in the classroom.
“We asked, ‘What should lunch feel and sound like?’” Linda said. The team also emphasized the why behind the discussion so students would understand both the reason for change and its related benefits. “We talked about how we can all follow agreements to make school more enjoyable for everyone,” Linda said.
Using a dining table that had been brought into the chapel, Jij, Linda, and Chuck then modeled for students proper lunch behavior: entering the dining hall respectfully, staying seated facing the table, and talking at an appropriate volume. Each child was also given the chance to practice at the table.
Children have adjusted well to the change, Linda said. It was, she explained, an extension of the discussions students have become accustomed to—and, importantly, it reminded them that they each play a part in creating a respectful, safe, and joyful school for all.
“I’m really proud of them,” she said.
Responsive Classroom Resources for Parents and Caregivers
Responsive Classroom has been an influential tool in helping Rowland Hall meet SEL goals in the Lower School. Because we are committed to partnering with parents and caregivers in their children’s education, we have made many Responsive Classroom materials available in the parent section of the McCarthey Campus’ Steiner Library for those who are interested in more information about the approach.
In late October, Katie Williams’ and Vicki Smith’s kindergarten class buzzed with the noise of pint-sized architects and construction workers busy assembling miniature versions of their family homes. With printed photos as their guides and wooden and foam blocks as their materials, the children were hard at work building walls, adding stories, and brainstorming methods for constructing tricky architectural features.
This activity is one of many that makes up the unit of study on community that takes place every October and November. Katie explained that the unit—which begins after the first month of school, when students meet one another, and concludes before the family-centered Thanksgiving holiday break—is a fantastic way to help children discover more about themselves, their classmates, and their families, as well as how everyone fits into the communities around them.
By helping students see the bigger picture of how lives intertwine, they begin to learn how to balance the needs of themselves and others.
The class began the unit by reading Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day?, which explores the animal inhabitants of Busytown and how they work together to provide food, housing, and clothing for their families. The story started a kid-friendly discussion on the interconnectedness of communities, and because it also identifies children as helper workers, it opened the students’ eyes to their own place within their communities. “They’re still identifying who they are,” Katie said. By helping them see the bigger picture of how lives intertwine, she continued, “they begin to learn how to balance the needs of themselves and others.”
The class built on their discoveries. After identifying what makes them special individually, they expanded the discussion outward: from a person to a classroom community; from the classroom to the school community; from the school community to the surrounding neighborhood; and so on, up to the global community. The class took a walking field trip to 9th and 9th, where students identified what the Salt Lake City neighborhood and Busytown have in common (a bakery, a salon, and a fire station, among other things). The trip ended at Rowland Hall’s Lincoln Street Campus, where the children enjoyed exploring the middle and upper schools they may one day attend.
Each person is one of many and responsible for helping their community.—Kindergarten teacher Katie Williams
While the unit’s activities are definitely fun, they also stretch young learners developmentally. For example, collaborating with peers on community maps sharpened the children’s social-emotional skills, while solving problems—like how to replicate the particularly difficult slope of a roof—built cognitive skills.
The unit also guided them toward the goal of balancing their needs with those of others. On that October morning, the students who first completed their homes began helping those who needed assistance, and after construction was complete, they connected their creations with roads, turning the classroom into a mini-neighborhood. It was a reminder that every student contributes to making kindergarten an enjoyable place. After all, as Katie said, each person is one of many and responsible for helping their community.
When Rowland Hall’s youngest students face academic or social-emotional challenges, Chuck White and Lori Miller are there to lift them up.
What strategies will help a third-grade student stay focused during class? How can a group of children on the playground resolve a conflict? How do you support the emotional needs of a first grader who has just lost a pet? What are the best ways to challenge a nine-year-old reading at a middle school level?
In Rowland Hall’s beginning and lower schools, we encourage a growth mindset with an intentionally crafted student-support program to evaluate and nurture each child’s development.
If you’re a parent, there’s a good chance you’ve grappled with questions like these. As children develop throughout their preschool and elementary years, unexpected challenges often arise—and those challenges can turn into learning opportunities and positive outcomes for students. In Rowland Hall’s beginning and lower schools, we encourage a growth mindset with an intentionally crafted student-support program to evaluate and nurture each child’s development. If you haven’t already, you should get to know the powerhouse duo leading this effort: Chuck White and Lori Miller.
Lori Miller has always loved reading. She grew up in a small town without a public library, so when the bookmobile came by every two weeks, Lori and her sister would check out seven books apiece—the maximum allowed—and each read one book per day until the bookmobile came again. During a visit to her college’s career center, Lori watched a short film of a teacher helping children learn to read and knew immediately: that’s what she wanted to do. Lori recalled thinking, “I love to read so much, and if I can give that gift to other kids, that’s exactly what I want to do.” And for the next 15 years, she taught first grade—the age at which most children learn to read.
Throughout her career, Lori has worn a variety of educational hats: elementary school principal, literacy-intervention specialist, and director of curriculum and instruction. She earned a master’s degree in gifted education from Utah State University and an administrative certificate from the University of Utah. When the position of academic support counselor at Rowland Hall opened up in 2007, Lori jumped at the chance to join a community she’d always admired. “I knew it was an amazing place,” Lori said, “and I really felt I could make a difference here.”
Lori spends her days on the McCarthey Campus serving three core constituencies: students, teachers, and parents. She oversees reading assessments and helps teachers ensure that all students are meeting benchmarks in reading, writing, and math. If there are any red flags for learning differences, she can observe the student, offer strategies to differentiate instruction, and develop a support plan, which may include tutoring. “I feel like a shepherd, with my little flock,” Lori said. “I’m just making sure they are all heading in the right direction.”
I feel like a shepherd, with my little flock. I’m just making sure they are all heading in the right direction. —Lori Miller
The joy Lori derives from her job is most evident when she speaks about visiting the kindergarten writer’s workshop. “It’s like a watching a miracle, to see how they’re figuring it out,” she said. “They have something they are excited about, and they want to put their ideas into words, and they have to think: How do I do that?” It’s a vital step in literacy development, Lori explained, since writing and reading work as opposite processes in a young brain: the former involves encoding one’s own thoughts into sounds and symbols, and the latter is a decoding process that starts with symbols on the page. “It’s really awesome,” she said.
In Chuck White’s office, one bookshelf is full of small figurines, dolls, and gadgets that, he explains, are part of an engagement strategy. Students can bring in a small toy from home and exchange it for something off his shelves. “It’s about making them feel welcome and comfortable in the counselor’s office,” he said.
Chuck joined the Rowland Hall community in 2008, one year after Lori arrived. School counseling is a second act for him, having spent 25 years working for Information and Referral Center—now 211 Utah—a private nonprofit that connects people who need help with the appropriate programs and agencies. Seeking more face-to-face interaction, and citing his love of education, Chuck earned his master’s degree in school counseling from Utah State University, then spent a few years working in the Salt Lake City School District before landing at Rowland Hall.
A significant portion of Chuck’s time is spent in the Lower School classrooms, teaching social-emotional learning (SEL) through the Second Step curriculum. “We teach skills,” Chuck explained, “such as how to look at and understand another person’s feelings, or how to control strong emotions, or how to be an effective problem-solver.” These lessons begin in 4PreK—where they are delivered by assistant teachers, under Chuck’s tutelage—and continue all the way through fifth grade. The language and approach evolve as children age, but the concepts remain the same.
Chuck reaches every Lower School student through chapel service as well, where he introduces a virtue of the month such as kindness, service, and respect—all to reinforce core values and encourage good behavior. Those virtues can be individualized, too: “We try and find various ways of helping kids own that virtue, understanding that it may mean something different for one student than another,” Chuck said. He and Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund also recently created the Kindness Club, a voluntary opportunity for Lower School students to practice kind acts, often anonymously.
Like Lori, Chuck is always a resource anytime a student needs individual support. “I can provide a listening ear, help set goals or strategize, or just check in on them,” he said. He loves being able to witness the growth of students during their Lower School years. “It’s a real privilege, and an honor.”
The Whole Child
As the two faculty members devoted full time to student support in the beginning and lower schools, Chuck and Lori think often about a core component of Rowland Hall’s mission: educating the whole child. For Lori, that means considering the social, emotional, and academic components of being part of a learning community, and how they must effectively combine in order for a student to succeed. Chuck agrees: “A child cannot do well academically if they are not doing well emotionally or socially.”
Chuck and Lori often work as a team—along with division principals, teachers, and parents—to support a student in need. Chuck’s SEL curriculum teaches resilience and strategies to deal with academic challenges, too. He gave an example of how he might approach a struggling student: “If you’re at your desk feeling super frustrated because you’re not understanding the math piece in front of you, what do you with that frustration? You can give up, which is one strategy, which is not good learning. Or you can flip the script and say, ‘Yeah, I am feeling frustrated. Maybe I need to get some help.’ That’s controlling your strong emotions. That’s you being in control.”
Chuck and Lori focus on the whole child, for each individual child—which means everything from identifying early signs of dyslexia to running a support group for children of divorced parents to helping classroom teachers recommend books to foster a love of reading.
Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman joined the Rowland Hall community last summer, and she already marvels at the work Chuck and Lori do for students and faculty—particularly how they problem solve. “There’s love and respect for children at the foundation, always,” she said. “It’s really about figuring out what does this individual person need to be his or her best learning self, and how can we match what we're doing with what that learner needs.”
Chuck and Lori focus on the whole child, for each individual child—which means everything from identifying early signs of dyslexia to running a support group for children of divorced parents to helping classroom teachers recommend books to foster a love of reading. Working with a diverse group of children with different academic, social, and emotional needs is part of what makes the job so rewarding, though. “Kids with all kinds of learning differences thrive at our school,” Lori said.
The Big Picture
Ryan is passionate about SEL, citing the many benefits to student performance and long-term success, including a significant economic impact that extends far beyond the field of education. Furthermore, research has shown that every minute spent on the social-emotional development of children translates to increased instructional time.
We’re in an environment where you have these two amazing individuals who get kids off the sidelines and back in the game.—Ryan Hoglund
Rowland Hall recently solidified its long-term commitment to SEL, adding a bullet point to the strategic plan about integrating social-emotional learning in support of Goal 1, enhancing the student learning experience. For Ryan, having the resources to keep children on track when they face inevitable challenges—at any point in their education—is part of what differentiates independent schools. "We’re in an environment where you have these two amazing individuals who get kids off the sidelines and back in the game,” he said.
Chuck said he’s grateful to be in a place where it’s part of the culture to talk about supporting the whole child, and where there’s a robust professional-development program to keep staff and teachers at the top of their game. When it comes down to it, the daily motivation is simple for Chuck, Lori, and most educators: they hope to impact children’s lives for the better.
“We want each of our kids to maximize their potential and their skills,” Lori said, “because that will unlock a lot of doors for them.”
High school students are stressed. A 2013 survey conducted on behalf of the American Psychological Association reported that teens’ stress levels exceed those reported by average adults.
Research published by Frontiers in Psychology in 2015 looked specifically at the stress levels and coping mechanisms of eleventh-grade students at independent schools. The study found that students perceived their primary purpose in high school was to earn admission to a selective college or university, and the accompanying stress put them at higher risk for substance abuse and other mental health problems.
Educational leaders have long been aware of the pressure students feel to achieve in high school, and in 2007, Stanford University held a gathering of experts to brainstorm ways to improve child and adolescent well-being. The result was Challenge Success, a program that partners with schools to encourage healthier behaviors and learning environments for students. According to their website, "Challenge Success recognizes that our current fast-paced, high-pressure culture works against much of what we know about healthy child development and effective education. Our work helps to foster learners who are healthy, motivated, and prepared for the wide variety of tasks they will face as adults."
Rowland Hall has already taken measures to improve the health of our community, including implementing late starts once a month, introducing First-Year Experience for ninth graders, and evaluating homework practices. So when the opportunity arose to participate in Challenge Success, Upper School Principal Ingrid Gustavson didn't hesitate. Along with Dave Samson, Upper School assistant principal, she created a team to represent our school community—Ingrid especially appreciates how Challenge Success includes perspectives from students, teachers, and parents, not just administrators—and last September they attended a conference at Stanford with other partner schools. In addition to attending panel presentations from schools who have already used the program's feedback to make changes, the Rowland Hall team had valuable time together to discuss the school's most pressing areas of concern, according to student participant Sidney Hare.
Shortly after the conference, Rowland Hall surveyed all Upper School students, collecting data about sleep patterns, engagement in extracurricular activities, social media use, program perceptions, and other factors that contribute to student health. While the survey was not mandatory, approximately 90% of students participated. When the results came back this winter, Ingrid said they mostly confirmed what school administrators suspected to be true. The representatives from Challenge Success helped Rowland Hall interpret the data and gave it meaningful context, especially in areas where we are performing over or under the national curve among independent schools.
Key takeaways from the survey include:
Rowland Hall ranks off the charts for teacher support. Our students consistently report that their teachers care about them and want them to succeed.
Students consistently reported that they see their academic courses and assignments as worthwhile.
The time Rowland Hall students spend on homework is consistent with the national average.
97 percent of students reported participating in extracurricular activities.
There is a subset of high-achieving students who take more Advanced Placement or Advanced Topics courses, spend more time on homework, and participate in more extracurricular activities than their Rowland Hall peers. However, they do not necessarily report feeling more stress.
Ingrid indicated two areas for particular focus among the survey data: the stress level among Rowland Hall girls is higher than boys, and we are above the national average for students reporting physical manifestations of stress such as headaches, eating disorders, and illnesses that result in missing classes.
Some ways Rowland Hall is already responding: a student-driven lunchtime program called Courageous Conversations offers the opportunity for dialogue and relationship-building in the community, along with recently formed support groups for teens who might be struggling with schoolwork or personal issues. Upper School Student Support Counselor Donna Booher said the groups focus on developing positive behaviors and practices in students, such as self-compassion, problem-solving, and empathy for their peers.
The efforts to analyze survey data and discuss possible improvements will continue for several months—if not years—but Ingrid has identified two potential changes that, in addition to increasing student support, could benefit our community as early as next fall. The first is altering the structure of morning break in the Upper School, which takes place every day from 9:15 to 10:05 am. While activities like morning meeting and chapel would still regularly occur, there could be two days a week reserved for student-teacher consultation time, make-up work, and similar student needs. This shift would alleviate the demands on after-school time, and increase flexibility for students and teachers alike.
The second possible change pertains to graduation requirements, which are sometimes difficult for students to meet, particularly if they are heavily involved in the performing arts, athletics, or debate. Additionally, senior Sidney Hare believes Rowland Hall can more clearly communicate graduation requirements, and help students schedule such classes starting freshman year. "I still do not fully know every requirement," Sidney said, adding that she and her friends have had to find ways to meet certain requirements in their last two trimesters of high school because they weren't previously aware of them.
Ingrid acknowledged the scheduling challenges associated with Rowland Hall's current requirements, and said, "We need to look at things differently, and make sure what we're asking of kids is meaningful." She and Dave plan to involve students like Sidney and fellow Challenge Success participant David Chortkoff, a junior, in the ongoing conversations about course requirements and possible changes to program offerings. Ingrid explained the need for overall balance, adding, "We're looking at what's best for our students from a wellness perspective and a learning perspective."
For parents and guardians interested in learning more about Challenge Success and what steps Rowland Hall is taking to improve the health of our school community, Dave and Ingrid will be presenting at different forums this spring, including grade-level college counseling meetings, a coffee chat, and parent-teacher conferences.
In 2011, Rowland Hall's Board of Trustees approved a diversity mission that affirmed the school's commitment to building cultural awareness, cultivating an inclusive environment, and appreciating how our differences create a stronger community.
The school's Inclusion and Equity Committee—first created in 2008, and strengthened with the board mandate in 2011—has been hard at work implementing an action plan to bring the values of this diversity mission to the forefront. According to Upper School English teacher Kate Taylor, who co-chairs the committee with Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus, a significant long-term goal is "to provide more consistent and across-the-board training opportunities in inclusion and equity topics for our faculty and staff."
Enter Rosetta Lee, a Seattle-based educator, diversity consultant, and nationally recognized speaker on issues of inclusion and equity in schools. Rosetta visited Rowland Hall August 16–17 as the Julie Ashton Barrett Teaching and Learning Fellow, an endowed award which funds an annual visit from a master teacher or learning consultant. For two days, Rosetta led workshops for faculty and staff on issues of cultural competence, identity development, and inclusive classroom practices. With a mixture of humor, compassion, and conviction, she brought home the message that developing cultural competence is an educational imperative for the 21st century.
What does it mean to have cultural competence? Rosetta shared the definition written by subject expert and long-time researcher Terry Cross: "Cultural competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, institution, or individual, and enable that system, institution, or individual to work effectively in cross-cultural situations." Rosetta advocated that teachers demonstrate cultural competence by embracing anti-bias frameworks in their curriculum and ensuring that physical learning spaces reflect the needs and identities of all students. She stressed the difference between equality and equity: equitable treatment eliminates "barriers that prevent the full participation of all peoples," she said. While giving every adult in the room a shirt to wear might demonstrate equality, giving everyone a shirt that fits is an example of equity.
Rosetta advocated that teachers demonstrate cultural competence by embracing anti-bias frameworks in their curriculum and ensuring that physical learning spaces reflect the needs and identities of all students.
All faculty and staff attended a Wednesday session on cultural competence, and on Thursday, faculty separated into morning and afternoon groups in order for Rosetta to provide age-appropriate material to teachers in specific divisions. Lower School and Beginning School teachers learned about supporting positive identity development in our youngest students. This includes allowing curiosity-based questions, and answering those questions in a way that offers gentle guidance while expanding a child's definition of what is possible in the world. Rosetta spoke to Middle School and Upper School educators about the distinctions between feeling safe and comfortable: while the former is critical for everyone in a school environment, there is room for discomfort when dealing with sensitive topics related to identity and culture.
During one workshop, Rosetta told teachers "we need to create a loving, accepting—safe and wonderful and welcoming—environment for children, and also prepare them to engage with folks who are not as intentional about creating this type of environment." She spoke of teaching and practicing curiosity, something Ryan Hoglund, director of ethical education, affirmed. "I want students to develop a cross-cultural sense of curiosity and empathy, a disposition where judgment is not their first response to each other," he said.
Along with offering strategies for inclusive classroom practices and recommending online resources, Rosetta answered an array of faculty and staff questions, including how best to represent student diversity in school publications, and how to partner with parents on their children's identity-development journeys.
We need to create a loving, accepting—safe and wonderful and welcoming—environment for children, and also prepare them to engage with folks who are not as intentional about creating this type of environment. —Rosetta Lee
Rosetta's advice resonated with teachers and administrators, and in the weeks that followed her visit, many spoke of heightened awareness regarding the language they use and how it impacts students. Lower School physical education (PE) teacher Anna Ernst and her colleagues implemented Rosetta's "Bug and a Wish" framework for conflict resolution in their classes. Anna refreshed a peace corner where students air out their feelings: now, instead of simply complaining in the corner, students use props and phrase their discussions as, "It bugs me when you..." and, "I wish you would..." Anna believes this seemingly minor adjustment requires students to be more thoughtful and open. She also encourages them to extend their palms while speaking to each other, a body language that invites collaboration and empathy.
Rowland Hall's work to increase cultural competence is right in line—if not slightly ahead of—national trends. A recent Independent School magazine article on the importance of hiring for cultural competence echoes Rosetta and similarly describes the subject as an imperative for our modern, multicultural society.
Ryan and Kate see Rosetta Lee's teachings as part of an ongoing goal that we might never fully achieve, but can continuously strive for. Ryan added that he hopes increasing cultural competence in adults will create an environment where, for students, a "good day" at school doesn't just mean nothing bad happened. Rather, it means students "saw themselves positively represented in the curriculum and in the community."