Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is a critical component of adolescent education. Students cannot meaningfully engage in academics until they feel engaged with their emotions, their peers, and their communities. Walkabout is grounded in a research-backed SEL framework that centers around community. The primary community is the student community. This tight-knit group galvanizes students by serving as a wellspring of support for each individual. This is in stark contrast to deleterious social pressures that shut down students and result in problems like bullying, anxiety and school avoidance.
Throughout their four years, WCS students experience a gradual release of responsibility with the support of an engaged community. Each day, students start school with a community meeting, called “New and Goods,” where every student shares one thing that happened in the past 24 hours that is both new and good. This builds community and empathy by providing dedicated channels through which a student’s voice is heard. It allows the staff to model standards of behavior and to observe and proactively identify any group or individual issues as they arise. It also reinforces the message that each person has the ability to exercise agency and reframe difficult experiences.
Student self-governance is achieved through monthly town meetings where students rotate through leadership roles. This provides a forum to practice cooperation, collaboration and ownership. In this setting, staff participate as equal members of the community while modeling behavioral standards.
Goal setting is another vital component of the WCS. Students develop a clear vision for themselves as they learn to identify the skills, habits and behaviors that either support or undermine their efforts. This process is incorporated into every challenge area and allows the student to adopt an internalized locus of control. Students also work together to create group goals that forge a shared sense of purpose and responsibility, and serve as a reference point as they take concrete steps toward their fulfillment. Ultimately, the students become the architects of their experiences, learning to reframe challenges so they can be seen as opportunities rather than burdens.
Community-developed agreements serve as the WCS code of conduct. It is a staff and student generated set of guidelines and understandings, which create the framework of school governance. Introduced during orientation, and embedded throughout the year, they support individual and community goals, as well as provide clear boundaries that create a safe, inclusive atmosphere. These agreements are supportive, collegial, and provide an ambitious yet non-competitive climate for students to develop and maintain a sense of fellowship and agency.
Individual and community goals and agreements are constantly re-assessed so that they remain relevant for students. When goals or agreements are broken, the WCS uses the restorative justice model where repairing the harm caused by destructive behavior is practiced. This is accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders. Within this process, a culture based on peer review and collaboration is born, enabling students to witness how their actions affect their peers and the community-at-large.
These systems can only work when teachers have the space to become mentors rather than disciplinarians, modeling the behaviors and attitudes that demonstrate their enthusiasm for and investment in each learner. Intentionally dismantling the traditional hierarchy of authority allows teachers to become partners in learning with their students, facilitating and guiding students toward exercising autonomy in and responsibility for their learning. Staff is involved in all aspects of the curriculum, in the classroom, in the labs, in the wilderness, and visiting students on internships. This demonstrates a sense of shared commitment and a level of student engagement rarely seen in the traditional school system.
Whether it be community outreach, through service learning projects or internships, or systems that allow for shared experiences, like community meetings, the Walkabout community is inherent in every detail of the Walkabout Consilient School. Curiosity, empathy, accountability, determination, resilience, and vision serve as critical components of this philosophy of community.