A Safe and Supportive Environment Sets the Stage for Learning

By Barbara Applebaum, Assistant Principal

Each Monday I walk into Hillel Day School, and, as I walk towards my office, I often greet four to five people by name. I might ask them about their weekend, or if they’re feeling better after a cold, and they do the same. These small conversations make me feel known, they make me feel valued, and they even make me feel loved.

These types of interactions can similarly benefit students every day. Even though we strive to be one large community at Hillel, it can sometimes feel too big for some students. A teacher who greets students with a warm smile, and who says hello to them by name as they walk into the classroom, creates a warm micro-community. Not only does a child feel like they matter, but it sets the stage for the rest of their day. A widely cited 2007 study claimed that teachers greeting students at the classroom door led to a 27 percentage point increase in academic engagement. This research shows what we already know: social-emotional learning and support, and growth in those areas, are as important as – and tie directly to – academic progress.

Greeting students at the door is just a start to the ways social-emotional learning has a positive impact on our children. Each morning, students circle up to share with one another moments of pride, or times that they felt they wanted to give up. They laugh over games of Jenga or explore a spiritual question tied to morning minyan. As a classroom teacher for 10 years, I saw the power of these morning meetings and creating a small family within a larger grade or learning community. I have witnessed students in fifth through eighth grade share their personal lives with their homeroom/advisory groups because they felt safe and supported. As a teacher and now as an administrator, it has been an incredible gift to watch a group of students create this space for one another, especially because they are not all best friends, and may never speak outside of a particular class. Likewise, our teacher-leaders have a great responsibility and opportunity to model what it means to be a part of a community, and to value one another. 

Social-emotional learning became a passion of mine because I saw the dramatic impact it has on student learning, confidence and growth. I am excited and motivated to share this passion with the Hillel community, and I love seeing the work already being done by our teachers.

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