The Fundamentals of Duke School's Social-Emotional Learning
Victoria Goatley & Rachel Wertheimer

Every single one of our feelings is important.

Children who can name and recognize their emotions and also understand how to respond to their feelings can be adaptable and effective learners. The social-emotional curriculum at Duke School centers on the premise that teaching our students how to express their feelings, manage tough emotions, and practice strategies for building focus and calm will support them in their academic work and will help them grow into confident, resilient community members. 

Starting in preschool, students work as a class and in small groups to recognize and name their feelings and notice the feelings of others. They learn kind, inclusive language to make connections to others and contribute to a collaborative learning environment. Preschoolers also learn and practice self-regulation strategies so they can respond to the many social interactions and transitions of the day. Mindfulness practices are introduced and built upon at each grade level.

During the lower school years, lessons with classes address social skills, emotional management, and self-monitoring strategies. Students start to build a mindful awareness of themselves and notice the impact of their words and actions on others. They learn steps to resolve conflicts and navigate the fluctuations of friendship. Lower school students practice expressing their social and emotional needs in appropriate ways and making choices that are helpful for themselves and the community around them.

Once students enter middle school, social-emotional lessons in morning advisory help them build their understanding of their personal identities and emotional landscapes as well as meaningfully connect with one another. Students learn to recognize the body sensations and thoughts that indicate they may need a break and practice skills to refresh their minds, reset their bodies, and return to class. Middle schoolers gain tools for handling anger, managing stress, and assertively communicating with both peers and adults. By the time they reach eighth-grade graduation, students have an array of mindfulness practices, cognitive coping skills, and effective communication strategies for responding to their own emotions and their interpersonal relationships.  

We all go through joy and grief, happiness and anxiety. Not all of our emotions are easy to be with; frustration, anger, and sadness are uncomfortable, but we can learn to let ourselves be with these feelings and then move through them thoughtfully rather than bottling them up or pushing them away. At Duke School, we make space for our students to feel their feelings, no matter what they are. Our graduates are ready to face a complex world with self-awareness, empathy, and the confidence that they can take on life’s inevitable challenges.     


Rachel is our Middle School Counselor and Victoria our Lower School Counselor

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