Tara stood up in the center of a circle of classmates at a middle school last spring, looking a little nervous. It was her turn to relay the progress she had made on several goals.
Shanice Brown, a teacher and “goals coach” for this group of fifth-grade girls at Achievement First Aspire Middle School, a public charter in Brooklyn, N.Y., gently coaxed her to speak loudly and clearly: “Everyone wants to hear what you have to say because it’s so important.”
When Tara—with some help from her classmates—finished running through a list of commitments, a classmate rose to stand facing her to say she “resonated” with Tara’s pledge to have courage, adding, “I see you showing up with courage a lot; when you’re having a tough time, you stick with it, and you persevere.”
The circle—where words like “commitment” and “resonate” are used deliberately—is designed for students to build confidence in, and awareness of, themselves and others. This is part of a comprehensive social and emotional learning program called Compass, developed by Valor Collegiate Academies, a public charter network in Nashville.
That a relatively new program created by a four-year-old charter network in Tennessee is showing up in another leading-edge charter school in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood shows how educators—backed by a new breed of philanthropists as well as investors—are taking chances to disrupt education as it has long been practiced. The goal is to create better academic results, and fuller, more successful lives for all kids, especially in tough, low-income neighborhoods like East New York.