The Summit’s Social Skills signature program is an intentional response to one aspect of the school’s mission statement, which calls for faculty to challenge students to develop socially and grow in both grace and wisdom.
Polishing the social skills of our children is something The Summit Country Day School has always done. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur were devoted to developing students’ social skills when they ran the school and their call to challenge children to grow in both grace and wisdom continues to be the bedrock of all that we do.
In developing the Social Skills program, faculty took inspiration from Daniel Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter more than IQ,” The idea that emotional intelligence can be taught – and that it could matter more than IQ in the success and happiness of an individual – had a profound effect on the school psyche. Faculty were also influenced by Nancy Frey’s “Purposeful Classroom: How to Structure Lessons with Learning Goals” and the work of developmental psychologist Thomas Lickona, which holds that children should be taught to be “smart” and “good.” Combining the ideals of Goleman and Lickona with the practical pedagogy of Frey, the faculty developed a program that is intentional, age-appropriate, repeatable and sustainable.
Teachers and parents identified list of social skills that are taught at home and could be reinforced at The Summit. Faculty determined which skills seemed age-appropriate at each grade level with an eye toward where they dovetailed naturally with curriculum. Once traits were assigned to each grade level, faculty determined how to connect the skills purposefully in classroom lesson plans and preparation for annual school events. For example, preschoolers are taught when to “say please and thank you,” second-graders learn “how to not interrupt conversations,” seventh graders learn “proper phone/electronic etiquette” and ninth graders learn “how to handle disappointment.”
In the Montessori kindergarten and Lower Schools, social skills are written directly into lesson plans in the classrooms. Some Lower School skills lessons are presented by the librarian and school counselor, so that children see the skills reflected by all the faculty. In the Middle School, where teachers are trained to understand the rapid changes that are taking place in the adolescent brain, intentionally taught social skills aim to instill self-responsibility and self-esteem that help students face negative societal influences and peer pressure. Middle School social skills are presented through a variety of avenues – by faculty in the classroom, in conjunction with Character Education capstones and through the leadership of students in the Knights of the Round Table. As students become more independent in the Upper School, some skills are built into lesson plans while others are connected with behavioral expectations for events and passages in their lives – such as how to dress for prom and graduation or how to greet college representatives and respond in interviews.
The idea of teaching social skills intentionally delivers on the promise in The Summit’s promise to develop children socially so they can “become people of character who value and improve the world they inherit.”
“The reason parents send their children here to The Summit is that they want to give them an advantage in life,” says Rich Wilson, Head of School. “We think these skills will help them deliver better college interviews. We think these skills will make them better communicators so they are happier in their marriages. We think they will get better jobs. We think they won’t be as easily be derailed in their careers if they are polished. We see social skills as life skills.”