Do you remember starting at a new school? Your first days at a new workplace? That fear of misunderstanding the local lore or specific cultural nuance and making a fool of yourself. The worry that you would not have anyone to talk to or that you would be lonely.
Seared in my memory is a mortifying moment as a young student on my first day at a new school where I sprinted down some stairs, instead of up, and found myself inside the girls’ bathroom instead of the boys’. This was, of course, exactly the worst-case scenario that I was so desperate to avoid in my integration into my new environment.
At King David we spend a lot of time talking about inclusion. This is a core value that is fundamental to the sense of belonging that we hope each of our community members feel. This is important because we recognise that we are not just teaching academic subjects here, we are also trying to assist in the inculcation of a strong ethical framework and set of values, a positive self-concept and a feeling of meaningful connection to a peer group.
This sense of inclusion is also vital to positive learning outcomes. Our emerging understanding of the anatomical structures of the human brain and its application in learning, affirms the importance of our prioritising a sense of social safety. As neuro-imaging technology has improved it has been used in neuroscience to determine the parts of the brain that are engaged when responding to different stimuli.
Repeated testing has demonstrated that when a human senses danger the amygdala in the limbic system is stimulated, triggering the well-known flight, fight or freeze response. A highly relevant corollary of this is known as the “affective state”. This explains that students who experience a range of negative emotions that undermine their sense of connectedness to a class or an environment, show excessive stimulus of the brain systems involved in emergency response rather than those which process effective learning transmission to working memory.
World expert in neuroscience in education, Dr Judy Willis, states that this reveals “that students’ comfort level has critical impact on information transmission and storage in the brain. The factors that have been found to affect this comfort level such as self-confidence, trust and positive feelings for teachers, and supportive classroom and school communities are directly related to the state of mind compatible with the most successful learning, remembering, and higher-order thinking.”
With all of this in mind our school has adopted many measures aimed at enhancing our students’ social connectedness and ability to regulate an emotional situation when stresses arise. These include the initiation of Launch Week, a specifically-designed program for the first weeks of the middle years of schooling, which focuses on team-building, social inclusion and a demystification of school practices such as the School Song, anthems, structures and locations. This enables the students who are new to a campus or the School to encounter a “soft landing” that sets them up to thrive in their learning.
Our adoption of the Emotional Intelligence model, RULER, allows for our students to develop the knowledge and skills to enable them to shift from an affective state to a more productive one for learning. Likewise, our daily inclusion of mindfulness activities in the Junior School, fosters a return to an optimal emotional state for learning before commencement of afternoon classes.
The King David School has earned a well-deserved reputation for caring deeply about our students and for provision of a warm and inclusive environment where “it is ok to be me”. We are blessed to have a supportive community which gets it – we build the environment we wish to be in. What is less understood is that this overwhelming commitment to wellbeing, corresponds to a far superior learning environment which allows our students to thrive in their holistic development.