The Hartsbrook School

Blog Author — Heather Damon

Social Curriculum

Dear Elementary School Families,

I am writing today to give you an update on the good work the elementary department has been doing thus far this year – in addition to the teaching you know that happens everyday.  As I shared with you at the start of the school year, we have been undergoing a study of our elementary school’s social culture, with a goal of creating a social curriculum.

In a Waldorf school, there is a rich, pedagogical curriculum from which to draw as teachers.  At Hartsbrook, the relationships we build and develop are as important as the academic learning we offer.  We are striving to build an inclusive and positive school culture, while giving our students the skills they need to take care of themselves, as well as others.  We want our students to be socially aware and emotionally intelligent.  But, how do we to teach the children in our care to be kind, safe, and helpful citizens, as our Code of Conduct conveys?

Our task in our work together as teachers is to be united in how we work with students to create a positive and inclusive community.  We began this school year by following the outline of goals provided by the Responsive Classroom in The First Six Weeks of School to establish how we work together in our classrooms, as well as in common spaces and how we move between them.  Each class created a class version of rules for their work together – e.g. take turns, raise your hand, speak kindly, stay in your place, etc.  In many classrooms, you can see this list displayed on the wall.  We also practiced how we move together in the hallways and coming in from recess; we adopted a department wide signal for attention – a single hand in the air with each digit reminding to check that body is still, hands are free, mouth is quiet, listening is happening, and eyes are watching.

As teachers, we are aware that words and tone are powerful tools for promoting children’s active learning, sense of community and self-discipline.  We strive to model positive behavior in our interactions with students and other adults.  Our physical spaces are set up in ways that encourage students’ independence, cooperation, and productivity, and we introduce classroom materials using a format that also builds independence, creativity, and responsibility.

Yet, no matter how carefully we teach positive behavior, children will still, at times, be children. They’ll forget the rules, their impulses will overcome their self-control, or they’ll just test where the limits are. These are all opportunities for learning.  Our approach to discipline is to help each child regain their self-control.  This fall we agreed to a system of verbal or nonverbal reminders, warnings and consequences to support appropriate behavior that is consistent across the elementary school.

We know that physical contact is important for the healthy development of children, and most children love the rough and tumble of physical interaction.  However, we are concerned that there are too many times when these physical interactions do not lead to positive social behavior, especially in settings like recess.  In the classroom, we sometimes offer guided forms of physical contact or wrestling, appropriate for the age and for the curriculum of that class, that may be undertaken under direct teacher supervision.  We are in agreement that roughhousing is not permitted at school, however and this includes overly rough play, and the violation of the personal space of individuals, such as unwanted touching, pulling on clothing, or “stealing” hats.  We are also not tolerant of words or actions intended to cause emotional or social harm, including disrespectful, rude, or obscene language, or verbal or nonverbal put-down’s.  To curb these impulses during recesses, we see that our students need more constructive opportunities for play.  This has inspired a group of teachers to begin the work of looking towards safe, creative, and fun ways to develop the playground in small ways to enhance its possibilities for creative and constructive activities.

Meanwhile, there is still much work to do.  We continue, on a weekly basis in our department work, to develop clear expectations for various areas of school life.  We will continue over the course of this school year and into next summer to establish a social curriculum, akin to the curriculum we have for Math or English, that meets the child developmentally.  It is an exciting task to join in this work with our colleagues, to be united in how we build our community from within.  We look forward to sharing more with you as the year progresses.

Thank you, parents, for your support and constructive feedback as we continue the good work of bettering our community.  If you have any questions, thoughts, concerns, or ideas, feel free to contact me by email.  May you stay warm in this increasingly cold season, and may the light within each of us guide us through the darkest time of year.

With warm regards,

Heather Damon

Elementary Department Chair