Last month, the Yale Child Study Center’s Comer School Development Program (SDP) celebrated its 50th anniversary.
It was a lively two days at the Omni New Haven Hotel, filled with reflection, promise, and productive conversation around education and development.
Throughout the celebration, one thing was clear: the SDP has stood the test of time. By emphasizing the importance of relationships, empowerment, and community, Dr. James Comer has helped shaped the "how" when it comes to making change happen in development and learning.
Guests included Linda Darling-Hammond, EdD, president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute and Timothy Shriver, PhD, Chairman of the Board of the Special Olympics. “Comer people” — the close-knit group of leaders, teachers, parents, students, and community members who have been a part of the Comer process over the years — filled the room and diffused a contagious, fervent energy.
We know that the SDP model has been implemented in more than 1,000 schools and has experienced tremendous success. Based on the conversations at the event, here's why.
- SDP acknowledges that it is a critical time for children and families. It has stood the test of time through the cycles of school reform — and continues to lead the charge in learning and development.
- Human relationships are an essential ingredient to development — and to SDP. The program is centered around recognizing that children benefit from consistent empathetic relationships. As Darling-Hammond said, “a hug produces hormones that affect the way the brain is developing.”
- SDP encourages empowerment over punishment. The teachers, leaders, community members, and families who participate in SDP have one vision and one purpose for children: they see them as assets.
- Learning is development and development is learning. We know now that learning should be social, emotional, and academic — and with SDP, it is.
- Communication and collaboration are paramount. Families, educators, and community members working together and each thinking about their sphere of influence makes the program a success. It’s a chorus, not a solo, in ensuring each child feels valued.
- Parents are the first educators. The Comer model appreciates that parents don’t necessarily want educators and community leaders to solve their problems or their children’s problems. But they do want you to listen to them — and give them a voice.
You don’t have to be actively involved in the program to appreciate the takeaways it has to offer. Everyone can learn from the SDP model.
- Be a better listener. Children, parents, and teachers need you to hear them.
- Give yourself permission to fail — to say, “I don’t know.”
- Remember, regardless of your line of work, the children are our “why.”
- Practice love and kindness. If a child doesn’t understand the lesson, they’ll still know you care about them.
- Focus on being great humans. Instead of focusing on being great parents, great teachers, great scientists, great clinicians… focus on being better human beings.
We still have a lot of work to do. So what does SDP hope the landscape looks like by the Comer 100th Anniversary?
- Kindness, love, and development are part of the central navigation of education
- School development = human development
- At school, students can collaborate, play, and be who they are
Tim Shriver said, “the science of learning has caught up to Dr. Comer.” If we keep working, we will eventually change the culture and change the country.