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Crofton House News

For the 2021-2022 school year, Crofton House School is prioritizing Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) as an important part of our approach to educating the whole girl. It’s also part of the province’s guidelines—we’re proud that BC is one of the first places in the world to call for SEL integration in the K-12 curriculum. We are excited to give special attention to working with our staff and students to weave these skills throughout CHS programming going forward, especially as the effects of the pandemic on our mental health are revealed. This approach complements what we’re already doing through EDI training, trauma-informed practice, and Ivy Compass learning. 

What is SEL? 

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as “... the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

Practically speaking, it is a set of skills that help students develop positive relationships, apply their compassion, and stay open to learning throughout their lives. SEL helps normalize emotions, and teaches tools and strategies to share how we’re feeling, and how to self-regulate. It includes learning how to communicate effectively, resolve conflicts, be respectful, and feel empathy. “We need to show students real-life situations so they can apply these skills on the playground, or in communicating when they need support in the classroom,” said Chantal Eady, Coordinator of Student Well-Being & Social and Emotional Learning. “It’s really giving them the power to advocate for themselves and be comfortable in their own skin.”

“We used to focus on intervention; but SEL shows us we can help students avoid problems in the first place,” said Dr. Kim Schonert-Reichl, an Applied Developmental Psychologist and a Professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC), who spoke to CHS staff earlier this month. “It’s like comparing a life vest to a life preserver. These are tools that can help students build resilience.” 

Why do we need it? 

In a landmark study—CASEL’s 2011 meta-analysis of 213 studies involving school-based, universal SEL programs including over 270,000 students in K-12—it was shown that SEL helps students gain: 

11 percentile-point increase on standardized tests scores
Social-emotional skills including kind behaviours
Improved attitudes about self, others, and school 
Positive classroom behaviour 

SEL is core to student wellbeing, but we can see it is also a key contributor to academic achievement. When students feel safe and secure, they are more open to learning and creativity. Studies also show that these skills can rival IQ in predicting educational attainment, labour market success, health, and criminality. 

“Imagine people were able to vocalize what they were feeling and then ask for what they need,” said Ms. Eady. “To be able to identify what's happening for them and to know that we don't have to be happy and feel good all the time—we're supposed to feel uncomfortable sometimes. I wish I’d had this message when I was younger, but I’m passionate about sharing it now.” 

Crofton House and SEL 

To emphasize our commitment to SEL, Crofton House School has brought on two coordinators of student wellbeing & social and emotional learning: Chantal Eady in the Junior School, and Jo Kimmel in the Senior School. Together, they’ll lead the CHS community in applying SEL. In this first year, they aim to help teachers get to a place where they can explain with confidence and certainty what SEL looks like, and what it feels like for our students. 

Ms. Eady (left) and Ms. Kimmel (right) are leading the coordinators of SEL at Crofton House School

“We’re going to start with the adults because we need them to model what we’re looking for. But we’re really determined that this doesn’t feel like an ‘add-on,’ or one more thing for teachers to put on their plate,” said Jo Kimmel, Coordinator of Student Well-Being & Social and Emotional Learning. “It is the plate.”

Ms. Eady and Ms, Kimmel hope that over the next three to five years, SEL is fully integrated in the learning and physical contexts at Crofton House School. "We wouldn't expect students to learn how to do calculations in math without being taught the fundamental skills. The same applies to SEL,” said Ms. Kimmel. “We have been given an amazing opportunity to upskill students by teaching them how to be effective communicators, talk about their emotions and build healthy relationships."

“I dream that one day, girls get into a disagreement in the school yard, and they're able to work through it with respect. They're able to share what they're feeling by saying, ‘it really frustrated me when you said that,’” said Ms. Eady. “If they're able to resolve conflicts without disrespect and without outside support, we are succeeding.”

Starting in Senior Kindergarten, students at Crofton House School are learning about drama, as part of an integrated curriculum that helps them deepen their learning through play. “Drama is a natural part of childhood,” said Karen Taylor, Teacher, Design & Drama. “So we have been showing them that we can use some of the elements of drama—exploration, character development, movement, tableau work, story telling, oral speaking skills—all helping them connect to content in a different way.” 

Ms. Taylor works with teachers in the Junior School to plan ways lessons can be enriched using these dramatic elements. As an example, in one Grade 5 class, influential women were a topic of research in social studies and language arts. Ms. Taylor assigned students a “hot seat” activity; students were asked a series of questions about their influential woman persona and had to answer in character. Most questions were assigned in advance, but they knew there would be one “ad lib” question at the end, where there was no right or wrong answer. For example, if they researched a dancer, Ms. Taylor might ask, ‘how do you feel when you’re dancing?’. If their character was a shark researcher, she may ask ‘Why did you choose this ferocious creature?’. Using inferring and drama skills, students answered deeply and beautifully. “I was so proud of them,” said Ms. Taylor. 

In another example, students studied immigration and Pier 21 using old photographs and thinking about what the physicality in the images could tell them about a person’s story. They empathized, inferred, and then created a poetry piece that they performed together. “It’s play, and they’re excited about it but at the same time, they’ve just been researchers of history, written a piece of poetry, spoken in front of their peers, and they have done it in a thoughtful way that honours the people in the photos,” said Ms. Taylor. “Through that play and that fun, they’ve done the things a research piece might do and with enriched connectivity.”

Throughout the Junior and Middle School years, the program grows with the students. Grade 1 students begin by performing a single line of poetry, and Grade 7s are now working on a monologue about a difficult decision, using prose (requiring character backstory, memorization and presentation) or poetry. Grade 7 students also got to put their skills to work in their production of Backstage Drama, written by Ms. Taylor and Jasmine Hare, Teacher, Ivy Compass Program. 

Students use these skills in everything from presenting scenes in French class, to novel studies, and even lessons on food chains or weather patterns. They are learning how art and social justice can come together to create a conversation. “There are important lessons: public speaking for example,” said Ms. Taylor. “Can you use phrasing? Can you project with volume? These are technical skills, and that’s what we’re embedding through this program.” Drama integration also includes kinesthetic learning. For example, while exploring the water cycle, dancing or moving as falling rain, or hardening snow and ice, and swirling fog allows them to play and understand these tricky concepts in a new way. 

Drama integration has been part of the CHS approach since 2018. This year, Ms. Taylor is seeing ever-more clearly how the program has been augmenting our values. Our three Cs of course—Courage, Creativity, and Citizenship—and also critical thinking, open mindedness, and empathy. “The beautiful thing about drama is that it’s a little different. It’s fun, it’s play, and you can keep that play even in Grade 7,” said Ms. Taylor. “Beautiful work happens when their guard is down and the stakes are low. They’re playing, but they’re strengthening their grasp of the material by diving into the curriculum and expressing that deeper understanding in unique ways.” 

Grade 6 and 7 classes have spent time over the course of two weeks learning from this year’s Writer in Residence, Georgia Heard. Ms. Heard is a poet and educator, with several books published and more on the way. We are very pleased to have welcomed her back to Crofton House School—she was a memorable guest in the late 90s as one of our very first Writers in Residence. The program has run annually for 25 years, and is offered to all Junior School students. This year, we were happy to welcome Ms. Heard for two weeks to work with our Grade 6 and 7 students—though COVID-19 safety guidelines limited the scope of the program in 2020-2021, it was another tradition we found a way to keep up. 

“One of the things that she’s done that is really powerful this year is to help middle school girls through feelings of self-consciousness by teaching them to think introspectively,” said Jill McClaren, Teacher, Grade 6. “That’s important at this age, to ask what’s important about you? What do you remember? What’s significant to you? It’s amazing how they have embraced that and it dovetails into our social-emotional learning really nicely.” 

In Grade 6, students created heart maps containing words and images of things they hold dear to their heart. Ms. Heard invited them to draw or write memories, people, experiences, small things, places, small moments, feelings, and important items inside their hearts. 

In Grades 6 and 7, Middle School students used a “Six-Room Poem” template to break down a specific memory into imagery, light and shadows, sounds, wonder, emotions, and a repetitive element. “It’s really helpful to have someone like Ms. Heard,” said Emily, Grade 7. “Our regular teachers can teach us how to write, but her teaching on poetry has been really helpful.” 

She helped students realize that their words don’t have to be perfect right off the pencil and instilled in them the importance and enjoyment that comes with revising. She teaches how to write using rich, figurative language and has inspired them to become wordsmiths in and out of the classroom. “I think a lot of us are talking about beaches and things that are calming because they’re good to write poems about,” said Ella, Grade 7. “They have a lot of poem aspects like sounds, or emotions so it’s really easy to use figurative language when you’re describing them.” 

Ms. Heard was an enthusiastic guest, offering students plenty of feedback, private and group conferences, and encouragement. “Our job as writers is to polish things that people might see as ordinary,” said Ms. Heard. “It’s our job as writers to make them extraordinary.”

When families choose Crofton House School for their middle schoolers, they are joining a caring community of educators and parents who are uniquely attuned to the academic and social needs of these students. Crofton House School’s Middle School program meets girls in Grades 6 and 7 with a comprehensive, inclusive, interdisciplinary program that promotes personal growth and intellectual challenges during a distinct period of development. We believe a successful Middle School program is responsive, challenging, empowering, equitable, and engaging. Teachers and staff are striving to create an environment where students feel a sense of belonging, and the groundwork is laid to form healthy attachments with trusted adults. 

A middle schooler is changing physically, intellectually, morally, socially and emotionally. It is a pivotal time in a young person’s life—the school experience must keep pace. The only other time when developmental changes and brain capacity growth are happening as rapidly is between birth and two years of age. “At this age, they start to discover who they are and naturally they will start to push themselves in a positive, normal way away from their parents,” said Kerry Harding, Program Coordinator, Grade 6–7, Junior School. “So what we want to do is partner with parents to make sure they still feel aligned with what their child is going through in terms of social-emotional wellbeing, and in terms of what they’re doing at school in academic programming.”

Middle School years can also be a vulnerable time in a students’ inner world. Deeper connections with others can sometimes lead them away from their sense of self, and their values. “These are critical years for parents to help kids take risks, and we have to do that at a time when they are mercilessly self-critical and risk-averse,” said Phyllis L. Fagell, a licensed clinical professional counsellor, certified professional school counsellor, journalist, and author of Middle School Matters. That’s why Crofton House programming nurtures self-confidence and a “whole girl” approach as they head into the Senior School program. And we know that girls in single-gender schools are more academically adventurous, openly curious, and engaged in their communities. 

Crofton House faculty address wellbeing first with the understanding that until a child is in a well-regulated headspace, learning can’t happen optimally. That’s why CHS has a strong social-emotional program that includes eight specific lessons and also provides a supportive framework for students. The school day begins with a “soft start” that supports students with a relaxed arrival, and the chance to mingle with peers and the same teacher every day before transitioning into their regular schedule.  “Some days, teachers are delivering curated social and emotion lessons that focus on the growth and development of the students' sense of self—be it writing poetry to further explore their self-identity and/or deep discussions on our multicultural identity and recognizing the different lenses and perspectives we come to school with,” said Sarah Edington, Grade 6/7 Humanities Teacher. 

“Other days, students might be given the opportunity to explore different sensory stations set up around the classroom, to play, wonder, and explore without constraints of learning objectives or assessment influencing their creativity. This time can be community-building activities such as talking circles that investigate what make positive and healthy relationships and friendships. Or it can be dance parties and bad-joke telling competitions, as laughter can be the fastest and easiest way to set up a middle school student for a day of motivation and success.” “When teachers can connect with things middle schoolers enjoy doing out of school time, the 'buy-in’ to the learning they do is more authentic,” said Alexis Mauricio, Teacher, Grade 7, Junior School. “In other words, if teachers 'get' their students at this stage, it helps to facilitate the learning going on in the classroom.”

To support the wider community, Crofton House has also enlisted the help of experts to help educate and inform each part, from students to teachers, and parents. In the 2020-2021 school year, CHS held multiple audience-specific sessions with the following guests: 

  • Dr. Theresa Newlove: Trauma-Informed Practice (presented by CHS Parents’ Auxiliary)
  • Phyllis Fagell: Middle School Matters
  • Dr. Jeff Hancock: Technology Use and Wellbeing
  • Lisa Dion: Resolving Conflict and Self-Regulation
  • Stephanie Dang: Healthy Relationship with Food
  • Dr. Tina Payne Bryson: Parenting in a Pandemic  (presented by CHS Parents’ Auxiliary)

It is empowering for students and parents to know that these changes are normal and to give them a better understanding of how to manage and integrate them, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has meant students have a greater need for help to support connecting, managing workload, and navigating social restrictions. “If there is an issue, we treat each situation based on that individual child and what’s going on with them in their life,” said Ms. Harding. 

Through the social-emotional program, daily check-ins, awareness, and whole-girl approach, Crofton House teachers and students have helped bring a level of resiliency to our Middle School students that stands out. Parents complete the picture, and we’re proud of our entire community for aligning in support of these extraordinary students. We look forward to welcoming new students into our Middle School to contribute to this dynamic community.


Crofton House School and the CHS Parents’ Auxiliary hosted parents, alumnae, staff and guests from KidsSafe and Kerrisdale Annex School at a virtual event with Dr. Tina Payne Bryson—a parenting expert, best-selling author, psychotherapist and founder of the Center For Connection.

Well-attended, and with lots of engagement in the Q&A session, the topic “Parenting in a Pandemic” was welcome and timely; Dr. Payne Bryson helped the audience understand some practical strategies to help parents in these extraordinary times, pulling from her latest and fourth book with Dr. Dan Siegel: The Power Of Showing Up. The book shows how a quality of presence can help children on their way to happiness, academic success, leadership skills, and meaningful relationships. “The book came out before the pandemic hit, and when COVID-19 arrived, I was flooded with questions about how to make sure the kids are okay and how to get them through this without a lot of damage,” said Dr. Payne Bryson. “The answer is in the book, and it’s based on 50 years of cross-cultural research. The best predictor for how well children turn out is that they have secure attachment with at least one person, ideally a caregiver or parent.” But how do we provide secure attachment in tough moments? In response, her presentation followed their concept of the “4 S’s”: 

The first of the S’s is the most important. We want to create a secure base from which our kids can explore. Think about making yourself and your home a safe harbor. The world will toss them around on seas of uncertainty, but with you and in your home, there is calm. One way you can do that is by introducing predictability. Try a morning playlist, or a special games and pizza night on the same evening each week. And if you become unpredictable (we’re human, it’s normal if we sometimes flip our lids), it’s important that you repair and apologize with your kids as soon as you have calmed down. Having a sense that you will apologize is also a form of predictability and shows our kids that they can overcome the messiness and discomfort that comes with close relationships. 

The second S is about looking at the mind behind the behaviour. What is your child’s internal experience? Focus on that, and respond in ways that match, remembering always that telling kids not to feel (e.g. “don’t cry!”) doesn’t help. By naming what they are feeling (and what you are seeing), it helps reduce the reactivity in their brain. Try phrases like, “It seems like …” and asking, “Is that right?” And remember: tuning in doesn’t mean you become permissive. Boundaries and rules help make children feel safe. You can say ‘no’ to the behaviour and still say ‘yes’ to their emotional experience. 

The third S is how it sounds: comfort, and connection. Before the brain is receptive to learning from what’s happened, it needs to be comforted and calm. From there, parents and caregivers can address the behaviours in questions. “Keep in mind that attachment science tells us that when we are at our worst, no matter what age, that is when we most need connection,” said Dr. Payne Bryson. Try physical comforts, like hugs, or wrapping a towel around a kid after bath time. Offer a snack, or a safe place to cry. The key phrase and feeling you want to impart is, “I’m right here with you. I’m with you while you feel it.” Resilience comes from being supported while we deal with difficult emotional situations. 

The final S builds on the three before it. When your brain wires to know that, based on your repeated experiences, you can expect to be safe, seen, and soothed (even imperfectly), what’s how you get to “secure.” A child has a sense that their grownup is going to see the threat or distress, and respond to it. The beauty of the 4 S’s is that when we model them for our kids by showing up for them, they are also learning to show up for themselves. They learn to keep themselves safe, because they’ve seen you do it. That’s why the 4 S’s are always the right thing to do, and it gets easier the more you practice it. 

“You don’t have to be perfect, just be present; what your kid needs most from you, is you— flawed, imperfect, trying-your-best you,” said Dr. Bryson. “History isn’t destiny in terms of how our parents raised us, or even in how we’ve been parenting so far. Because our brain wiring with respect to attachment is based on repeated experiences, when we provide the good ones, our children’s brains begin to change right away. We really can influence how our children develop just based on the experiences we provide.” She shared that even the most attuned parents are only mastering the “4 S’s” about 30 percent of the time. It is just as important that we show up for ourselves as for our kids, and that means having compassion for ourselves as we learn and grow on our parenting and caregiving journey. 

Thank you to the CHS Parents’ Auxiliary for joining us in presenting an informative, reassuring evening to help us continue doing the best we can taking care of our children—and ourselves—through these times, and all times. 

Tina Payne Bryson shared a message of thanks and links to further reading for anyone who would like to learn more about attachment and parenting. Her presentation to our CHS community, “Parenting in a Pandemic” is available for review until Wednesday, July 7. Throughout her presentation, she shared more resources for anyone who would like to learn more. They are: 

  • The Opposite of Worry: The Playful Parenting Approach to Childhood Anxieties and Fears, by Lawrence J. Cohen 
  • Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, by Daniel J. Siegel
  • The New Adolescence: Raising Happy and Successful Teens in an Age of Anxiety and Distraction, by Christine Carter PhD 
  • Wildhood: The Epic Journey from Adolescence to Adulthood in Humans and Other Animals, by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers
  • Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World, by Devorah Heitner
  • The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives, by William Stixrud, PhD, and Ned Johnson 

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