When I first entered the field of education, schools had computer labs, and teachers would sign up for our students to spend an hour word-processing essays, looking at photos of museum artifacts, or playing Oregon Trail. At that time, the biggest issue with students being online was how often the Internet connection would be sluggish or crash due to the traffic created by 15 desktop computers being online at the same time! (Does this make me feel ancient? YES.)

More recently, the use of computers in schools has expanded. Students are assigned their own laptops, and in the course of a regular Science or Humanities class, they can code an app for a phone, explore the National Archives, follow a camera into someone’s circulatory system, or chat with a peer on the other side of the country or the world. 

They can also follow the social media accounts of influencers with values that contradict their own families’. They can read wildly inaccurate, unmoderated “data” about climate change or medical issues. They can spend hours watching hamsters spin in wheels (and they do!). They can use AI tools to do their homework for them. And they are constantly judging themselves based on what they see and hear online.

Many schools offer “digital citizenship” courses that admonish students to be kind online and approach the Internet with a critical eye. What we know as educators and parents is that the line between our in-person identities and online identities have become blurred. “Digital citizenship” is no longer a discrete realm of existence and decision-making. Today, it’s ALL citizenship. 

And our children – especially our girls – need help and consistent messaging about the relationship between their real-life selves and their online worlds. Social-emotional learning must expand to include all the ways in which girls interact with others, make decisions, and regulate their responses. As we sought materials and tools for Middle School advisors to teach social-emotional skills, we knew those resources had to include ways of guiding our students to understand the complexities of the Internet and make wise, intentional, and informed choices both online and offline.

I learned about The Social Institute through colleagues at other independent schools, including several member schools of the International Coalition of Girls’ Schools. Their #WinatSocial curriculum provides compelling, age-appropriate, relevant lessons, integrated games, digital technologies, and peer interactions are developed by educators and social media experts who get feedback (including “cringe testing”!) from Student Ambassadors in grades 3-12. GSA’s Middle School advisors have already led their grade level groups in the first lesson, on the impact of pop-ups and digital distractions on students’ ability to concentrate.

Another reason we are excited about this program is the incredible parent resources they offer. Even though we are using the #WinatSocial curriculum mainly in the Middle School for now, all GSA parents have access to these resources, and I encourage you to take advantage of them! When you click on the link in this document, you will be directed to complete instructions for creating your own login. When you do, you will have access to the Playbooks, Family Huddles, and Wall of Wins. You can use this link to get a more thorough overview of those features and retrieve the access code and the link to create your account and explore The Social Institute’s Parent Toolkit. Once you’ve had a chance to dive in, I’d love to hear what you think!