Our Plan in Action: SEL Curriculum Enters Its Second Year

As we head into the holidays, Burke’s girls may seem like they have their heads in the clouds — clouds made from construction paper, that is. At this time last year, leaves of gratitude were posted on the walls of the Lunchroom, whereas this year, they feature a display of puffy multicolored clouds.

In them, each girl has finished the sentence “A friend is…” with words or pictures to finish the phrase. More visual interpretations like these will be used throughout the year in this second cycle of Burke’s newly refreshed Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum.
The Burke’s Strategic Plan recognizes that educating the complete Burke’s girl goes beyond teaching literature, grammar, math, and science in an isolated vacuum, and this curriculum is addressing the goal of developing the whole child. It’s also treating each year as a separate building block, with each year’s focus building on the last one.
Four of last year’s SEL themes (Hopes & Intentions, Gratitude, Being an Ally, and Problem Solving) have been carried over and enhanced with the overarching theme of friendship/relationships to add more depth. For instance, what are a Burke’s girl’s hopes and intentions for her friendships (what she wishes for and what she intends to do to realize her hopes)? What are Burke’s girls grateful for in their friendships? How can they be allies to their friends (and how can their friends be allies to them)? What can they do to solve problems in their friendships?
Thanks to a Dovetail Learning TOOLBOX professional development workshop this summer, attended by Lower School art teacher Yara Herman and Director of the Lower School Alice Moore, a new element has been introduced to provide a common language for students, teachers, and parents to promote understanding and empathy. Twelve tools serve as reminders for self-awareness and relationship skills, and posters are now hung around the Lower School with pictograms as shorthand for strategies that students can use to interpret their feelings.
Assemblies are planned for this year to introduce some of those tools that can specifically help with friendships. The first SEL assembly of the year demonstrated how three of them (Garbage Can, Listening, and Breathing) can help with hopes and intentions for friendships this year. Problem-solving in friendships is the focus for November, December and January. Three more tools the girls can use include Patience, Cooling Off, and Please & Thank You.
According to Lower School counselor Jessica Nenner, the Upper School will also feature common language and themes with K-4, while keeping the content relevant for the older students. Working collaboratively and across disciplines, teachers will share books, lessons, and links as they are developed.
Jessica herself took part in another workshop over the summer that’s contributed a new element of this year’s Social Emotional Learning curriculum. For younger students, Kimochi plush stuffed toys are being used to communicate and express feelings. Appropriately, the word kimochi means “feeling” in Japanese, and the various characters in the set demonstrate personality traits. Jessica has used two of them so far with the first graders. “When I introduced Cat, they understood right away that because Cat is a strong leader and feels passionately about her ideas, she often gets into conflict with her friends when they have different ideas,” she says. “Cat is working on being flexible and listening to other’s ideas.”
Jessica ponders how to integrate SEL into every classroom without it becoming an “add on” or “extra thing.” She says it’s a challenge to synthesize the wealth of material into a relevant, meaningful curriculum. But, she adds, “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Revisiting the same themes allowed us to go deeper and develop more activities and ways to talk to the girls about the same topics.”
Burke's mission is to educate, encourage and empower girls. Our school combines academic excellence with an appreciation for childhood so that students thrive as learners, develop a strong sense of self, contribute to community, and fulfill their potential, now and throughout life.


An independent K–8 school for girls
7070 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94121
Phone: 415.751.0177 Fax: 415.666.0535
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