Defining Success in Community Partnerships

Frederique Schmidt, Community Engagement Coordinator

“Max has surprised me at our Community Partnership. I know him from class, but I love the opportunity to see him in a different light. He’s engaged and attentive to the people we work with. He’s so kind and patient. I’m really impressed!”

I’ve heard versions of these comments countless times from Upper School teachers. This fall has been no exception. As several teachers have recently made similar remarks to me, I’ve found myself reflecting on how our partnerships in the local community allow students to demonstrate learning beyond their acquisition of academic knowledge. Of course, academic knowledge is important; I want students to learn the facts about opportunity gaps in school readiness, food insecurity, gender disparity in STEM fields, and the effects of social isolation on our elders (to name just a few opportunities for social change). But academic knowledge is insufficient alone. Success also takes caring, compassion, and self awareness. Knowledge without caring can look like someone preoccupied with their own status and achievement but indifferent to the plight of others. Or like someone who cheats and cuts corners to get ahead, disregarding how their actions may negatively impact those around them. Through Breck’s social and emotional (SEL) curricula, we explicitly teach life skills and social competencies (which some refer to as “soft skills” or emotional intelligence, and which research shows again and again helps equip us for success throughout life). I believe our Community Partnerships provide a unique positive feedback loop for students to demonstrate and further develop these SEL skills.

Let me explain what I mean. At our partnerships, we ask students to reflect on and act from a place of self-awareness (observing and naming their feelings in new situations, navigating new relationships that bridge cultural differences,) and social-awareness (listening with intention, taking the perspective of another, sensing what others are feeling.) The pay-off comes when students employ these skills in real-life situations and experience a sense of connection and accomplishment. In other words, they experience success when they negotiate solutions to conflict, ask and receive help when they need it, anticipate others’ needs, and experience positive relationships built on cooperation and respect. As students practice these skills and experience social competence at their Community Partnerships, they increase their capacity to engage in meaningful and collaborative community-based work. The motivation to lean in and improve stems from an intrinsic sense of accomplishment in doing that work well, which in turn reinforces buy-in, skill development and additional success.

Our Community Engagement program is set up to meet each student where they are and allows them to develop these skill at their own pace. Success looks and feels different to each student. We’re not teaching to an “SEL test,” we’re cultivating important skills for a just life of meaning and purpose. Whenever I hear from faculty about a student demonstrating aspects of their social and emotional skill set, I’m reminded that we are not just striving to reach our students’ minds, but their hearts too.

Frederique Schmidt
Community Engagement Coordinator

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