Creating a Learning Community in King’s Middle School

King School students thrive, supported by strong relationships with classmates and teachers.

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King School educators, like many who research factors in academic progress, believe that social and emotional learning strengthens academic risk taking and overall success in schools. This learning is grounded in the connections students make both in and out of the classroom. Underscoring this point, Charlie Appelstein, M.S.W, youth care specialist and author, believes that “strength-based practice is, to a great extent, about the power of relationships.” Through an advisory program, small classes, robust co-curricular opportunities and a culture of kindness, Middle School students at King School are known, valued, and appreciated as they bring their full-selves to school every day.

Middle School is often seen as a vulnerable point in a school path. Brené Brown, PhD., L.M.S.W. and author, further elaborates on Appelstein’s point in that she believes “we need connections to thrive.” Additionally, Brown explores the virtues of examining vulnerability and imperfection as essential factors to growth and feeling “wholehearted.” Peer relationships begin to take on more importance and young adolescents can begin to test limits and look for role models beyond home. As these young adolescents look to expand their network of friends and supportive adults, students find ready partners in their classmates and teachers. “Working with middle school students is a rare privilege. Their insights and humor, their sensitivity as they move through these essential middle years, makes every day with them interesting and fun,” said Alex Weiner, King School Interim Head of Middle School, Dean of Faculty. “We work to ensure that every child feels well known and valued for who they are.” Fostering healthy relationships is a condition that supports vulnerability as a strength, not a weakness. At King, we embrace these vulnerabilities as opportunities to grow and thrive as we create a learning community based on a positive, strength-based culture.

Research conducted by the Raikes Foundation, The Northeast Foundation for Children, and dozens of other independent practitioners, like Appelstein and Brown, document the importance of Social/Emotional Learning (SEL) in classrooms, especially in middle schools. A strong SEL program is not just about raising test scores; strong SEL practice enhances the daily experiences of both students and teachers in schools. “During Advisory meetings each morning, we take time to get to know one another well,” said Mr. Weiner. This may mean having conversations about weekend activities or important life events, in addition to talking about schoolwork. “When we greet every child every day and take time to get to know students well, we’re letting them know their presence in school matters and we care about them.” Facilitating important conversations about all kinds of subjects builds adolescents’ abilities to widen their circle of significant adults who can mentor and support them.

Research on Mindful Education also highlights the benefits on SEL, well-being, and active engagement. At King, many teachers incorporate mindful practices into their curriculum as a method to improve student focus.  According to King Middle School teacher and mindfulness practitioner, Paola Grant, “Mindfulness practices help our students heighten their awareness and that results in greater self-regulation and increased attention.” Furthermore, students are positioned better to solve problems, resolve conflicts, and build self-esteem. The King Middle School is a place where every child is known well, as a learner and a friend. This relational foundation is essential for students’ success so they may thrive in a caring and challenging environment to be their very best.

Learn more at www.kingschoolct.org