In a recent discussion with a edu-nerd friend, she shared with me the 6 pathways of child and adolescent development that were developed by Dr. James P. Comer, associate dean of the Yale School of Medicine and founder of the Comer School Development Program. As my team and I design a new progressive high school in Atlanta, this framework is a powerful guide.
Often in schools, our instructional program focuses primarily (and understandably so) on the academic, but Comer argues that in order for students to truly be successful, we need to also focus on the enrichment and social/emotional development of our students. We need to create school cultures that support the holistic development of students as children and adolescents in these six areas.
This pathway addresses a student’s physical freedom and health. How often are students able to move? How much access do they have to clean water, healthy food, and fresh air? What are students learning about how their bodies are developing and what space do they have to process/discuss these changes?
This pathway is where we generally spend most of our time when designing learning environments. This pathway addresses how students are learning and solving problems. How are students developing as critical and creative thinkers? What kinds of problems are they solving? How are they learning to set, work towards, and reflect on goals? Do students enjoy learning? How is the community engaged in the assessment of student learning?
How do students express their thoughts and feelings? This applies to both academic spaces (e.g. classroom discussions) and non-academic spaces (e.g. parent/student conferences). How do students engage with the ideas of others? Does your school have a common language around goals and values?
This pathway has to do with how students and teachers form responsive and appropriate relationships. What kinds of relationships do students have with one another? with teachers? with students and adults outside of the school community? What happens when a student forms an unhealthy relationship with someone? How are students developing an understanding of what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like? When do students interact with others from different backgrounds or life experiences? How are they learning to navigate a diverse world?
This pathway addresses a student’s sense of justice and appropriate behavior. How does your school approach discipline? What qualifies as acceptable behavior? How consistently is reward or punishment applied across the student body? What conversations are students having about equity and justice in the school, the community, the country, and globally? Does your school’s curriculum reinforce (or counter) stereotypes and inequities in the larger society? What does that look like?
This pathway addresses a student’s sense of self and ability to express and control his emotions. Are there students/personalities that are prized higher than others? How are reward/punishment/grading systems designed and how do they impact students’ sense of self worth? How often do students get feedback on their work? on their character? When and with whom do students get to discuss what’s happening in their lives outside of academics? Do students have tools/language for describing their feelings?
So curious to hear how you are addressing each of these areas in your school, program, or classroom!