Wolf Packs (Empathy Modules?)

A multi-year cohort of students at each grade-level come together throughout the year to bond, support, and learn about their community.

Photo of Geneva Hinchliffe
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If you read the comments, you'll see the idea has evolved to encompass a much broader idea of Empathy Modules (alternative names welcome.) To join me in building this idea, check out this Google Doc.

Wolf Packs:

This idea was introduced to me at a NWAIS workshop presented by Westside School in Seattle, WA.

We are an independent school, grades 5-12. The idea is to create groups of 14-18 students comprised of students from each grade plus 2-3 faculty/admin advisors. These groups will remain intact, theoretically, for as many years as the program runs. Each year the seniors and other outgoing students are replaced by new 5th, 6th, and 9th graders, as well as random new students, while the core group of students stays together. It will need at least 4 years to get into full swing and 8 years to see the true impact on the community.

Creating these cohorts will provide continuity and touchstones for acting on the mission of the school to teach responsibility, embrace diversity, and foster compassion. Some examples of the goals will be 1) to really get to know each other, share what’s going on in their lives as individuals, and reflect and process community concerns/celebrations; 2) enable older students to lead and mentor the younger ones; 3) have fun engaging in team-building sessions and friendly competitions with other packs.

For this kind of program to be most effective it needs structure and passion at the core. I envision a committee of faculty and administrators who coordinate to design activities, provide scaffolding for the adults, and oversee the logistical planning and implementation.

Lastly, I believe this aligns with an Experiential Education program – through a well-thought out “curriculum” students will learn about themselves, how they fit within a community, how to support a community, and learn to empathize with others by experiencing it first hand through real-life engagement.

Because these groups are large and diverse, and don’t meet as frequently as advisory groups, a school need not be concerned about personality clashes, in fact I think it’s better to allow for the randomness that may happen. Ideally the Wolf Packs will meet for 30-50 minutes once per month.

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Photo of Cait
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I've been thinking about a similar idea -- I love the premise of a multi-year advisory group that travels together and keeps the same advisor for several years. The relationships formed between the members of the group, as well as between the advisor and each student, are invaluable. The size of these groups makes it slightly difficult to find shared time to meet. In an ideal world, I think the groups would meet more than once per month. Maybe every other week or so?

I like the idea of representing multiple age groups as well, although the developmental disparity between a 5th grader and a 12th grade is quite large. What challenges do you anticipate with that?

Photo of Geneva Hinchliffe
Team

Thanks for the feedback and questions, Cait.
For our school, there are a number of places in the schedule when this could happen (not easily, but it's feasible). I guess I like the slightly larger size, because the smaller the group, the more interpersonal conflicts can negatively impact the whole. I'm making some assumptions based on personal experience. As Erin said in another comment, these types of things sometimes become time fillers, so I'm hoping that limiting the frequency means it's more special (and easier to schedule). As for the developmental disparity, I imagine the programming being appropriate for a group with that large of an age difference. If there are topics that can't be addressed appropriately with a 12th and 5th grader in the same room, then the Wolf Pack isn't the right place to handle that topic. I see these being one of several cohort models that a school would employ and not replace things like grade level advisory groups.

All that said, I think the idea of a Wolf Pack could manifest a variety of ways based on the needs of a school or program. That's why I've considered changing the name or adding a new idea called "Empathy Modules". Building empathy for and across students requires looking at various aspects of programming, so maybe Wolf Packs are just one way and thematic, grade-level programs are another.

What do you think?

Photo of Cait
Team

What if you had smaller cohorts that combined to create wolf packs? For example, the cohorts could be comprised of students with closer developmental ranges (5-7, 8-10, 11-12, for example). The cohorts could meet slightly more often and have their own faculty advisors. Then the wolf pack would be comprised of all of those cohorts, plus their faculty advisors. It might help with the cohesiveness of the whole group, as the smaller groups will be easier to draw connections in and will feel more "homey". It would also probably help with building empathy, because the older cohorts would remember when they were in a younger cohort and feel affiliation, etc.

To use your new terms, what if the small cohorts were wolf packs and the larger group was an "Empathy Module"?

Photo of Geneva Hinchliffe
Team

Cait, I've been giving this more thought and I really like the idea of having smaller cohorts that join to form a "pack".

Photo of Lisa Yokana
Team

Geneva:
This is a wonderful idea. I love the diverse ages. And also the coordinating of activities by the advisors. At my school, we have an Alternative School, which is focused on community. They have a community meeting once a week of all 75 students-10th, 11th and 12th graders and advisory-multi-age- with a faculty advisor, once a week as well. Every week the advisories eat at one of the members houses. And there are many other activities that promote community. Are you doing this at your school already? For how long? How might you help others to do it? I'd love to see you take this idea further on the platform so others can hop on and try it. Let me know if you have any questions
Lisa

Photo of Geneva Hinchliffe
Team

Lisa, thanks for the comment! Is the "Alternative School" a school within a school, if you will? That's an interesting concept.

We haven't started this program yet and are still in the questioning/discovery phase of our character education program. I'm keen on developing this idea in conjunction with some kind of horizontal programming that focuses on themes or big ideas relevant to a given age group. For example, students are members of their wolf pack, but they are also members of a grade-level and a division (ie. MS or US) and they are members of a small advisory group. At the level of advisory groups I see students reflecting on thematic questions that grow in scope and complexity as your move up the grade levels. And at each grade level I envision required courses on emotional intelligence and adolescent psychology. (I've always thought it's unfair that adolescents aren't taught how their brain works.) The core philosophy I'm working from is that empathy is something you can work on and it starts with really taking the time to understand our inner selves. It's difficult to expect teens to have the tools needed to empathize with others if they've never used those tools to understand themselves...

I think to help others create this sort of program I'd like to collaborate with a variety of educators including school counselors, learning specialists, teachers and administrators to develop sample structures (wolf packs, advisory groups, affinity groups, teacher training) that a school could adopt. I'd like to develop the idea into chunks or modules so that a school could adopt individual pieces if not the whole "package." In order to implement the Wolf Pack module, for example, a school would also need sample activities, lessons, role-playing scenarios, etc. However, they might be further along in their character education program and next steps.

One aspect I haven't addressed is the idea of helping schools develop empathy FOR students. In what ways can the adults on campuses develop empathy for the students? For this, my first thought is ask the students what it is they wish teachers better understood. Maybe this means creating activities for groups comprised of 50/50 students and teachers. I haven't thought this through exactly, but I imagine this could be another one of the "Empathy Modules" a school could adopt.

Maybe I should rename my idea... "Empathy Modules: A collection of character education programs to create a more empathetic community."

Photo of Lisa Yokana
Team

Geneva:
I love the idea of renaming it! While I get wolf packs, it has an interesting connotation that others might not get! And having multiple solutions in your tool kit is a great idea. Here's the link to Scarsdale High School's Alternative School: https://www.scarsdaleschools.k12.ny.us/page/454
It is a school within our larger high school-75 students to our total enrollment of over 1400. It's been around a long time and has worked with other schools to implement similar programs. Let me know if you'd like me to put you in touch with someone there.
Are you familiar with Shadow a Student Challenge? http://shadowastudent.org/
It might be interesting to take a look at what they propose as you think about ways to gain empathy for students! I love that you're tweaking and building your idea out. You might want to start a google doc and share the link in your post and invite others to collaborate with you there. That way you can get input from others. Let me know if you need help figuring out how to do that. Happy to help!
Lisa

Photo of Erin Quinn
Team

I actually REALLY love the title Wolf Packs. The connotations of this are deep - wolves are social animals that thrive with collaboration.

Photo of Erin Quinn
Team

I've been in schools where we've had "houses" or advisories like this. They can be amazing, and they can also fall kind of flat, if they become a time filler. You have clearly thought out ways they could lean towards the former, and have thought about ways this could really be about building empathy, understanding, and collaboration. I love this idea.