Winston Preparatory School is a community based on understanding.
Our mission is to facilitate the independence and meaningful participation of students with specific learning disorders through a Continuous Feedback System that develops skill acquisition and the Qualities of a Sustainable and Independent Learner. In order to help our students reach their potential we must understand them as a learner and person. Winston Prep teachers and leaders should work to assess each individual’s academic, social-emotional and cognitive needs on a daily basis. Further, when we endeavor to understand our students and each other we must consider their self-identity (learning profile, racial-ethnic identity, family, sexual orientation, gender preference, religion and other personal identifiers). This way of developing an understanding of each individual also creates culture and community, and allows us to be what some call the “Winston Family”. That idea of “Family” is really a reference to a deep sense of community that comes from feeling understood.
While all of these cognitive, academic, social and community elements are important now and over the life-span we are compelled to look closely at issues of equity and inclusion at this time. Appropriately, recent events have heightened awareness and focused work in our society as it relates to race, difference and diversity. Winston Prep School has always embraced these notions. In fact, opportunity for all is among the central tenants of this work. To succeed in working with those who learn differently (than conventional education understands) we must also assess, understand, celebrate, and appropriately embrace all of the many wonderful differences that we find in our community.
Our work is to help our students pursue their independence, and while we cannot be distracted from that mission we must fully embrace all the dimensions of the individuals in our community. A central construct in this endeavor to understand in the social emotional realm is from the framework of the Qualities of a Sustainable and Independent Learner (QSIL). Moreover, the development of these qualities is not just an educational tool for students and teachers, but for all of us in the community to use as a framework for self-improvement, modeling, and community building. This includes the way our QSIL factors of social responsibility and self-reflection include dimensions of diversity and difference. Working to develop the self-reflection capacities and social responsibility of our five hundred and thirty-five students not only moves them all towards their independence, but has the opportunity to make the long-lasting change that the world needs.
Self-reflective capacities are important because they help us understand others and ourselves. We want our students to be able to understand themselves so that they can make effective decisions about their choices, creations, and so that they can be confident in themselves and the path they are on. The time and guidance devoted to reflection is not useful unless it leads to understanding. Who am I? This is a natural question among developing children and teens. It is profoundly impacted for our students by some degree of struggle with learning and school and their self-identities. We seek to develop this “comprehension” of self, others, and context (family, community, society, etc.) in our students. The stakes are quite high in this endeavor because this is where our students learn to value themselves and frame their emotional response to their own strengths, weaknesses and their experience. For them to value themselves, be hopeful and make emotional and intellectual growth that is sustainable we must first value them. We must be clear and frequent in our messages of hope, value, potential and in the honest analytical feedback about how they can grow and ultimately become independent. It is the sense of shared valued goals that brings students, school, and family together at Winston Prep.
Explicitly developing our students’ Social Responsibility means we are instilling the voluntarily assumed obligation toward the good of society at large as opposed to the self alone. Here at Winston Prep School we talk about it as the ability to be an effective, understanding, participatory, and helpful member of the community: whether that community is in the classroom, school halls, neighborhood or world. A socially responsible student displays empathy for others and acts as a role model among peers. They are aware of how their behavior impacts others within their immediate or broader community. A socially responsible student understands the importance of diversity and equity.
A Look at Diversity and Equity as a Community
At the core of the WPS community is the Continuous Feedback System (CFS). The CFS is a process of developing school culture and climate, it is a process to design precisely individualized instruction, it is a process directed toward skill acquisition and independence, it is the process we use to teach our students, and it is what we teach them. It is what we do. It is both academic, social-emotional and, importantly, contextual. Moreover, the CFS is not only a system by which to create instruction and school experience, it is also a model that we seek to teach each student explicitly so that they can be a self-sustaining and continuous learner after they leave the school experience. As we think about ways to address race, difference and diversity the Continuous Feedback System should be at the forefront of our minds. This process is where we can teach students to understand themselves and each other so that their responses take diversity and difference into account.
Here are some starting points on how we can do this together:
- Ask ourselves, how do we place race, diversity, and difference in the QSIL as a grounding principle?
- Utilize the CFS as a way to address all things including race and diversity, and view these ways of working as our central and formal.
- Consider and utilize the QSIL and CFS in formal, intentional, and effective ways to deal with any issue. We must work on them everyday.
- Recognize and acknowledge how we understand each other, our students, and ourselves in a way that fully embraces difference and diversity. This should always be a central question.
- Continue to attempt to explicitly and formally measure and teach “social responsibility” and “self-reflection”.
- Seek to find ways to come together and discuss issues of diversity and inclusion.
- Identify what may get in the way of community members understanding and treating each other with respect and belonging.
WPS is uniquely designed to do this work thoughtfully and well, and has for two decades. Key to this is the intentional use of the CFS and the development of the Qualities of a Sustainable and Independent Learner.