Havergal’s Developmental Approach to Building Personal and Social Skills
Confidence is gained through experience, which is why Havergal’s liberal arts approach provides opportunities to try new things, learn in different settings and ask deep questions. This includes encouraging students to diversify their interests academically, co-curricularly and personally by trying out a little of everything. The self-confidence gained when learning an additional skill, discovering a hidden talent or finding a new passion is paramount for young people. Imagine knowing you have the ability to work through just about anything because you have been taught not to fear the unknown, how to ask the right questions and what to do with the answers. The possibilities for your future would seem endless!
This focus on personal development is what we call a “growth mindset,” which yields curiosity, experimentation, adaptability, empathy and deep-seated skill development. A growth mindset is essential for developing self-confidence and a strong sense of agency, which is a feeling of control over actions and their consequences. Why? Because students who focus more on the progress of learning rather than its outcomes are willing to tackle challenges in place of avoiding them, are able to track their own development against benchmarks and have the ability to feel empowered to reach their goals. It’s that sense of progress that builds self-efficacy in our girls, which is the belief in their own ability to shape their learning experience, their life and the world around them.
So much of what happens at Havergal every day is deliberately designed to develop that sense of self-efficacy through a growth mindset. “How do I identify the steps from here to there? What do I need to know and do to advance? By what criteria can I assess my progress? How do I know if I have a valid solution?” With a progress focus, students attain the best possible outcomes—precisely by not fixating on outcomes.
This is the thinking behind Junior School STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lessons, during which students engage in scientific research, experimentation and design processes in order to carry out formal investigations, devise solutions to problems and communicate their findings. For example, Grade 4 students followed this process to design, build and test amusement park rides made with LEGO gears and pulleys. Grade 6 students used the engineering design process to collaborate with Bloorview School (affiliated with Holland Bloorview Hospital) to co-create and build midway-style games intended to work with children who have physical or cognitive disabilities. In both cases, our girls begin with the view that there is not just one answer, first ideas are not necessarily best ideas and their unique contribution is an important part of a larger goal.
Students in Grade 5 participate in math learning groups, which emphasize that learning is not always linear. They focus on understanding the problem, creating a model to solve it, reflecting on their solution and sharing their result. This process allows them to collaborate with their peers, take risks and develop a mindset of “We can do hard things, even if we hit obstacles along the way.” With all of these learning activities that emphasize process and progress, students come to understand the “front-loaded” and iterative nature of acquiring new skills and knowledge—that there are many foundational and structural steps to be taken, both forward and backward, before achieving mastery.
That approach to mastery continues in the Middle School when life becomes more complex and students have new opportunities to learn who they are and to further develop a sense of belonging. For example, during Tuesday Form periods, our girls are provided with short practice lessons on foundational skills, such as how to use an agenda, write and respond to emails, or make a blocked study schedule. Lessons are flexible and responsive, addressing the gaps teachers are seeing in real time. Wednesday’s Form periods are equally responsive, dedicated to working through “case scenarios” that Guidance Counsellors and teachers have seen or heard students talk about. Topics include discovering personal values, how to be a good friend and how to stay healthy—such as getting enough sleep—to best support learning and growth. A developmental approach to building personal and social skills helps our students gain confidence in themselves.
The Middle School leadership model provides additional opportunities for students to better understand who they are, where their passions lie and how they can build community. Rather than student leaders occupying one role over the course of the school year, there are now expanded offerings during a second election halfway through the year. This makes it possible for students not yet ready in September to gain leadership experience in the second term. Athletics and arts opportunities are also carefully designed with entry points for all students, including those who feel they lack the experience or confidence to join a sports team, become a member of the choir or be involved in the play, either front or back of stage. All are welcome to immerse themselves in activities that help develop the strong sense of identity and confidence that comes from developing new competencies.
Broader leadership opportunities are also available in the Senior School and in the Boarding School, with a similar emphasis on personal progress, not perfection. Director of Student Leadership, Fiona Marshall, has helped to design a Senior School strength-based leadership program that leverages each student’s assets, rather than trying to improve their deficits. With leadership sessions offered through the advising program, students learn to lead from their strengths starting in Grade 9 and have access to newly expanded opportunities in each grade when it comes to peer tutoring, clubs, teams, activities and service. This approach capitalizes on the wide range of personality strengths, executive functioning and people skills within our students and helps them to take progressive steps toward occupying more and more demanding roles.
Similarly, the Boarding School provides an urban boarding experience for our students, who learn how to plan and lead culturally-enriched activities around the city during their free time. They manage budgets, transportation and navigation as they model how to participate in the outing, whether at the Art Gallery of Ontario, one of our many theatres or, like this past fall, at Nuit Blanche. Our girls lead the way from ideation through to execution, applying feedback they receive from their peers and mentors throughout the process and also afterwards at debriefings. This way, they are able to learn from mistakes and improve their skill set for their next venture.
Also at the co-curricular level, Senior School students are offered unique opportunities to expand their learning in niche areas of particular interest. Digital micro-credentials have recently been offered to students in Grades 9 to 12 by HC-X, Havergal’s innovation hub for the development and delivery of future-ready learning. Micro-credentials are mini-courses in topics such as Artificial Intelligence, Pre-Med and Contemporary Finance that allow students to explore and gather insights without the commitment of a year-long course, which helps them to better understand themselves and maybe even develop a new passion while acquiring critical knowledge. In November 2022, we were fortunate to have two Spot robots visit our campus. This was an opportunity for students who are not familiar with artificial intelligence to see the robots in action, ask questions of the engineers and better understand the benefits of these kinds of robots in factories and other workplaces.
As a part of Havergal’s Advising program, students in Grades 9 and 10 participated in a session with a mental health and wellbeing organization called YouthSpeak, where program leaders Lolita, Carson and Krysa presented an interactive session on making good choices and staying safe at parties, sharing their personal stories and actionable strategies. Later that evening in Boarding, this learning was extended beyond the academic day when the students met to discuss how the session relates to their lives in Boarding as they set personal goals around their safety.
Programming at all levels of the school, whether curricular or co-curricular, is intentionally designed to cultivate a sense of progress as our students advance, step-by-step, through various stages of learning and development. As a result, they come to see that their greatest source of strength lies inside themselves. That is the journey of self-confidence.
Published April 2023