FROM THE WESTRIDGE RESEARCH INITIATIVE ARCHIVE

Resources on Wellness & Balance


During the 2017-2018 school year, we highlighted current research on a variety of topics related to the year’s theme of wellness and balance. In case you missed any of them, or would like to revisit any, here is a list of the topics we addressed with links to more detailed information and resources.

Research Roundup Archive:

MAY 2018

5/19: Common Sense Media: The Truth About Tech

5/7: The Stories that Bind Us: How Family Narratives Support Resilience in Children

  • Katie Hurley, child and adolescent psychotherapist who was the subject of last week's research recommendation, cites a study which shows that "children who hear stories about how family members and ancestors overcame obstacles are more resilient in the face of challenges." This research, conducted by Dr. Marshall Duke of Emory University, found that children who know their own family history are more resilient than children who do not. More effective than narratives of overcoming adversity, however, are narratives that illustrate both successes and struggles lead to the greatest resilience in children. Read more about this research in Bruce Feiler's essay in The New York Times here.

APRIL 2018

4/30: Helping Young Girls Find Their Voice While Developing Friendships

  • In her recent book No More Mean Girls, child and adolescent psychotherapist Katie Hurley stresses the importance of learning to negotiate conflict in friendships as a source of confidence and healthy assertiveness in girls. Hurley observes, "Friendship is a process. It takes time and practice. Girls need time to work through friendship issues -- to experience conflict, negotiate, and get through the natural bumps in the road. But we have them so highly scheduled that they are not using organic friendship-making skill anymore." Echoing and updating the concerns first expressed in David Elkin's landmark 1981 book The Hurried Child, Hurley offers practical advice in helping children to take the time that they need to establish strong mutual relationships with their peers. Listen to a podcast with Katie Hurley at Digital Parent here, and read more about her and her book at KQED's Mind/Shift here

4/23: Katty Kay and Claire Shipman: The Confidence Code

  • The weekly email sent out on March 2 highlighted the publication of Rachel Simmons' new book, Enough as She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives. A new book by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman contributes additional important strategies to address the same paradox that as girls achieve greater success, their self-confidence does not always keep pace. In a pair of books, one addressed to girls 8-12 years old and another addressed to adolescent girls and adult women, Kay and Shipman provide examples and insights that encourage girls and women to be "bold, brave, and fearless." The subtitle of The Confidence Code for Girls: Taking Risks, Messing Up, and Becoming Your Amazingly Imperfect, Totally Powerful Self captures the spirit of their upbeat and empowering message. Read more about the books and watch interviews with the authors here

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MARCH 2018

3/19: Civic Engagement Improves Students' Academic and Economic Outcomes

  • Last fall, Lisa Damour, Ph.D., executive director of the Laurel Center for Research on Girls and author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, shared her research and experience with students, faculty, staff, and parents at Westridge. Dr. Damour is also a regular contributor to CBS Morning News and The New York Times. In a recent article called "Why Demonstrating is Good for Kids" (NYT, March 12), she cites a recent article in Child Development that found that students who "voted, volunteered, or engaged in activism" had higher academic and economic outcomes that students who did not. This research further supports findings on the value of purpose in adolescent development. In pursuit of its goal to support girls in leading "lives of courage, compassion, and conviction," Westridge offers many opportunities for students to become engaged in issues that matter to them. As it expands service learning opportunities and the Community Action Project, the school seeks to build significant connections across all dimensions of the program, and this research provides important evidence that civic engagement provides key benefits to the students as well as those that they serve. Watch Lisa Damour speak about the value of activism here.

3/12: Emotional Agility

  • It has been over two decades since the publication of Daniel Goleman's groundbreaking book on Emotional Intelligence. Since then, researchers have explored many aspects of emotion and documented the positive value of addressing emotions as crucial to the educational process. A new addition to this body of research is Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, by Susan David, Ph.D., a researcher at the Harvard Medical School. Dr. David's research acknowledges that setbacks and stressors are inescapable elements in every life, but that the way that we respond to these events and situations ultimately determines the level of success and happiness that we achieve. Intelligence and creativity by themselves do not equip us to overcome difficult emotions and thoughts. Instead, emotional agility, the ability to face such thoughts and emotions courageously and compassionately, provides a key resource in moving through and beyond them to bring our best selves forward. Watch Dr. David's TED talk here, and read about her work in the Harvard Business Review here.

3/5: Enough as She Is

  • In the spring of 2016, Westridge hosted Rachel Simmons, expert on girls' development and leadership, for a day on campus. Rachel spoke to students, faculty, and parents with her message of assertiveness and empowerment for girls. In the interim, Rachel has been researching issues involving the gap between competence and confidence for girls. While girls have made substantial strides in achievement, these achievements have not always led to happiness, resilience, and self-worth. In her new book, Enough as She Is, Rachel offers practical advice for overcoming self-criticism, prioritizing self-care, and seeking appropriate help and support so that girls can thrive, and not simply survive adolescence. Read more about her book and Rachel's empowering research here.

FEBRUARY 2018

2/26: Westridge Staff Takes on Social and Emotional Learning

  • As part of Westridge's commitment to supporting the social and emotional development of our students, the faculty and staff participated in a professional development workshop on Friday, February 16. While students were enjoying a well-deserved break from school, the faculty were sharpening their skills in recognizing, responding to, and supporting students through the challenges they face. Overwhelmingly, students and parents recognize Westridge as a place where students are known, but this characteristic requires informed, ongoing, research-based practices by advisors and homeroom teachers. Presented by the Institute for Social and Emotional Learning, the workshop provided practical strategies for creating a resonant space in which students are willing to share their feelings about themselves and their work. More than simply a way of responding to critical issues, SEL creates a positive space for healthy development. In the words of ISEL, SEL is "facilitated, experiential discovery" not therapy, "problem-solving" not disciplinary, and "based in neuroscience," not "soft." Watch a TED talk by Janice Toben, one of the facilitators from Friday's workshop at Westridge here.

2/19: Making Caring Common

  • Making Caring Common is a research-based project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education designed to help "educators, parents, and communities raise children who are caring, responsible to their communities, and committed to justice." Founded and directed by Dr. Richard Weissbourd, the project works with schools and community groups to develop practical approaches to nurture and enhance empathy and commitment in students of all ages. In line with Westridge's goal of encouraging students to have "the confidence and courage to stand up and speak out with convictions that embody our core values of integrity, respect, responsibility, and inclusion," Making Caring Common addresses issues that support social and emotional development. Two recent articles that reference MCC's research are "What teens wish their parents knew about social media" and "How to Teach Teens About Love, Consent and Emotional Intelligence." Find out more about Making Caring Common here.

2/12: Happiness Guinea Pigs (& Podcast) Help Us Increase Meaningful Happiness

  • The Wellness and Balance Research Roundup on December 15 presented the work on awe currently conducted by Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at UC Berkeley. GGSC launched a new podcast hosted by Dr. Keltner this week called The Science of Happiness. The goal of the podcast is to highlight "the most provocative and practical findings from research on empathy, gratitude, mindfulness, and more." Each episode asks a "happiness guinea pig" to try a researched-based practice. Through a conversation with this "happiness guinea pig," Dr. Keltner presents the science behind the practice. Applicable to adults and students alike, these podcasts provide practical resources for increasing meaningful happiness. This week's podcast focuses on "Three Good Things." You can find a link to The Science of Happiness here.

2/5: Neuroscience and Adolescent Development

  • A growing body of research seeks to understand adolescent development through the perspective of neuroscience. Many questions abound – how are observable behaviors linked to brain development as it proceeds from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood? How can this understanding inform educational practices in schools? Can neuroscience shed light on observable differences between genders? The organization brainstorms.org seeks to address these and other essential questions. In their words, "Brainstorms explores the teenage years through the lens of neuroscience. Neuroscience, for the first time in history, is beginning to understand why teenagers think, feel, and behave so differently from adults: our brains are still under construction, and function in a totally unique way. At Brainstorms, we dig into the most current research on all aspects of the teenage brain, from studies on addiction and puberty to eating disorders and sexuality. Brainstorms also asks broad questions about teenagers in society, and the role of adolescent neuroscience in everyday life."
  • Each week, brainstorms.org presents a research-based podcast focused on the neuroscience of adolescent development. Of particular interest to the Westridge community is the question of gender differences in the development of adolescent brains. To listen to the brainstorm.org podcast on this topic click here. To read a transcript of the podcast click here. For more information on brainstorms.org and to access podcasts on other topics click here.

JANUARY 2018

1/29: Perils of Perfectionism

  • In a recent article in Psychological Bulletin, Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill published the results of a meta-analysis of 27 years of data on perfectionism in college students. Their analysis shows a 33% increase since 1989. Read more about their findings in Jane Adams' informative article in The New York Times here.
  • Brene Brown observes, "Healthy striving is self-focused: 'How can I improve?' Perfectionism is other-focused: 'What will they think?' One key difference between healthy striving and perfectionism lies in authority. The philosopher Stanley Cavell writes, "without trust in one's experience, expressed as a willingness to find words for it, without thus taking an interest in it, one is without authority in one's own experience. In a similar mood, in The Claim of Reason, I speak of being without a voice in one's own history. I think of this authority as the right to take an interest in your own experience. I suppose the primary good of a teacher is to prompt his or her students to find their way to that authority." At Westridge, we seek to nurture a sense of inner authority in our students as an antidote to the invasive power of perfectionism based on the expectations of others. Read more about this topic in Dr. Jim Holland's blog post here.

1/22: Self-Respect

  • In her essay "On Self-Respect", Joan Didion identifies the power of self-respect as the ability to embrace both success and failure and to assign appropriate value to each. She concludes the essay by saying, "Without [self-respect], one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home." At Westridge, we encourage students to reflect on their experiences and to understand the role that each experience plays in their developmental journey. In a similar way, researcher Brene Brown, in her most recent book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, celebrates the power of honest reflection as the basis of belonging in a community. She writes, "The wilderness is an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it's the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand." As a community based on the strength of diverse individuals, Westridge seeks to create opportunities for a sense of belonging that nourishes the health of both individuals and the community. Read more about Brene Brown and her inspiring research here.

1/15: Supporting Girls Through Adolescence

  • In Girls without Limits, Dr. Lisa Hinkelman writes, "our goal as caring adults in the lives of girls is to understand their challenges and equip girls with the skills to effectively navigate their adolescent years and construct a life that is full of purpose, meaning, pride, and fulfillment. We want girls to perceive their options as infinite, and their abilities as expandable, and we each have a role in helping girls construct a life without limits."
  • Based on eight years of research, Dr. Hinkelman's book outlines key challenges that girls face in adolescence and suggests strategies for supporting girls as they negotiate personal growth, interpersonal relationships, and academic fulfillment. Dr. Hinkelman has founded Ruling Our Experiences, an organization "that delivers evidence-based empowerment programming for girls." As Westridge pursues our strategic goal to educate and to empower girls, the ideas in Girls without Limits provide a framework for bridging the worlds of academic achievement and social and emotional strength. Click here to read more about her book.

DECEMBER 2017

12/15: Awe is Good for You!

  • Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., founding director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, researches the effect of awe on people's lives and well-being. He defines the experience of awe as "the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world." Typically, we expect such experiences at places like the Grand Canyon or a reef full of brightly colored fish. However, everyday experiences can also elicit awe. One study found that people frequently experience awe in their daily lives, including "seeing gold and red autumn leaves pirouette to the ground in a light wind; being moved by someone who stands up to injustice; and hearing music on a street corner at 2 a.m." An unexpected benefit of such experiences demonstrates the link between awe and altruism. Keltner observes, "being in the presence of vast things calls forth a more modest, less narcissistic self, which enables greater kindness toward others." As the holidays approach, we have an even greater opportunity to be open to experiences of awe in our everyday lives. Click here to read more about Keltner's research.

12/11: Surviving the Holidays

  • Holidays can be a much-anticipated time of relaxation and restoration, but they can also create stress and anxiety for both children and parents. Balancing expectations can be challenging, as the heightened intensity of planning and coordinating schedules and events pulls families in different directions. Ellen Braaten, Ph.D. of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds offers some advice for navigating the holidays so that all the members of the family can find the company, comfort, and respite that they need. Click here for her suggestions.

12/4: Resilience and Mental Health

  • Supporting positive mental health provides a key element in Westridge's approach to health and wellness for all students. As Dr. Lisa Damour emphasized in her talks with students, faculty, and parents, adolescence is a time of turbulence for all, and every student will experience times of tension and conflict. What can sustain every student through the challenges of development are positive strategies for dealing with difficult issues and a perspective that embraces both the possibility and the experience of positive change and growth – in short, resilience. An article published by Child Trends begins, "As is true for physical health, mental health encompasses more than the absence of disorders. Researchers have considered a number of dimensions of positive mental health, one of which is resilience." This article outlines strategies and resources crucial to healthy development for all students. Click here to read the article.

NOVEMBER 2017

11/27: 6 Science-Backed Reasons to Go Read a Book Right Now

  • Some of the most effective, restorative practices have been around as long as the written word. It turns out that being "lost in a good book" has demonstrable scientific benefits, regardless of age. As students take a break from the demands of school and work, sitting down with a book, whether new or an old favorite, can sharpen their minds, help them sleep more soundly, and build empathy, among other benefits. Read "6 Science-Backed Reasons to Go Read a Book Right Now" by clicking here. Based on research published in Science, this article reminds us that health and wellness can be found close at hand, in the pages of a book.

11/20: Stress Management and the "Goldilocks Zone"

  • In her recent visit to Westridge, Dr. Lisa Damour spoke to students, faculty, staff, and parents. One key theme in all of her presentations was the acknowledgement that some level of stress is unavoidable, and even necessary, in order to grow and develop. Finding the “Goldilocks zone” of stress, neither too much nor too little, empowers students to learn challenging material and expand their understanding and frames of reference. Stress is only detrimental, she explains, if we do not allow time for appropriate rest and recovery.
  • During her time with upper school students, Dr. Damour helped students to identify effective restorative practices that they already use and encouraged them to give themselves the time and space, without judgement, to use healthy practices to rest and recover. In Westridge’s junior-year human development classes, students continue that conversation and focus on resources that they can use in moments of stress and anxiety. While the nationwide trends of increased anxiety and depression among adolescents are alarming, we can help to mitigate those issues within our own children and students by normalizing productive levels of stress, that is, stress that falls within that “Goldilocks zone.” As we help students to see that stress is not bad, not something to avoid at all costs, we equip them to become more resilient, and their ability to recognize their own resilience helps to inoculate them from the slide into more serious mental conditions.
  • Students often find themselves at the center of many competing activities and priorities – school, family, sports and hobbies, recreation, and relaxation, to name a few. At Westridge, we know that we are only one factor among many, and we cannot single-handedly remove all stress from our students’ lives; in fact, following Lisa Damour’s advice, we should not attempt to. In order to help each student find her personal Goldilocks zone of maximal development, schools and parents must work together to determine what level of challenge will best serve each individual student. This work requires that the school-parent relationship is covenantal rather than simply contractual, a distinction highlighted by John Allman, Head of Trinity School in New York, in his opening of school letter to parents. In his words, “Contract is about entitlement; covenant is about fulfillment.” Westridge seeks to enter into a covenant with parents in support of their daughters’ growth and development.
  • Two articles addressing issues of stress for adolescents can be found at the following sites:

11/13: Transitioning from Libraries to Learning Commons: The Research Behind Libraries

  • As we all eagerly anticipate the completion of the renovation of the Academic Resource Center (ARC), you may be wondering what to expect. In reviewing the issues for libraries in the 21st century, the school considered many aspects of print and digital texts, learning spaces, and the flow of information. For an overview of some of the considerations facing schools that seek to provide the most up-to-date and accessible knowledge for students, read this article from Independent School magazine. The article reviews and summarizes many of the complex issues schools address as they facilitate the transition from traditional libraries of the past to notion of a learning commons for the future.

11/6: How Much Sleep Do You Need?

  • Much has been written about adolescents' need for sleep – quantity, quality, and circadian rhythms. Most researchers agree that 9 hours is a healthy amount of sleep for adolescents. In our most recent survey in 2016 (another is scheduled for this spring), more than 2/3 of the Upper School students responding indicated getting less than 7 hours, and over 1/3 responded that they slept less than 6 hours each night. Research also shows that students' sleep decreases over the school year. Click here to read an article from the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center on Sleep and Teens. This article provides a clear and comprehensive overview of the role of sleep in adolescents' lives and healthy development. It concludes with a practical list of steps for achieving better sleep, for adolescents and adults alike.

OCTOBER 2017

10/30: Overcoming Perfectionism to Lead a Balanced Life

  • In anticipation of Lisa Damour's visit on November 1, take a look at "How to Be a Modern Parent", an article that Lisa and Perri Klass, M.D., wrote for The New York Times. Click here to read the article. The article covers some of the same issues as Untangled, though it is arranged topically, rather than developmentally, and the advice includes parenting sons as well as daughters.
  • Schools like Westridge face the challenge of inspiring students to work hard, overcome challenges, and bounce back from the inevitable bumps in the road of progress. The dramatic rise in mental health issues for students nationwide (see the recent New York Times Magazine cover story here) compels us to reflect on our role in helping students navigate the shifting landscape of learning and developing without creating a counterproductive atmosphere.
  • Researcher Brene Brown, Ph.D. has said that, "understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it's often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis." Brown's research on the role of vulnerability and courage, for both students and adults, has inspired many. Her books The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly make the case that lifelong success and happiness emerge from lives led without the burden of perfectionism. Click here for a short introduction to Brown's research in her TED talk.

10/23: Key Issues Affecting Student Well-Being from the NAISC Conference

  • The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) recently sponsored a conference on student health and well-being that brought together researchers, psychologists, and educators to explore issues that impact students today. You can watch interviews with presenter Jonathan Cohen about four key issues in independent schools: student well-being and academic achievement, school culture and climate, supporting student well-being, and choosing a college. Mr. Cohen is the president of the National School Climate Center, a psychoanalyst, and a faculty member at Teachers College at Columbia University. You can learn more about these topics in his 1-2 minute interviews by clicking on the links below. Click hereto find out more about the National School Climate Center.
    • School Culture and Climate - click here to watch.
    • Supporting Student Well-Being -click here to watch.
    • Choosing a College - click here to watch.
    • Student Well-Being and Academic Achievement - click here to watch.

10/16: Trends in Student Wellness

Each year, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) publishes a Trendbook that summarizes research and information on key topics of interest for independent schools. These topics can including economics, demographics, enrollment, and philanthropy, among others. This year's Trendbook includes a chapter on developments in Student Wellness programs, a central focus for Westridge this year. The chapter addresses issues of student anxiety, health and well-being programs, and support for transgender students, as well as links to many valuable resources. Click here to read the NAIS Trendbook report on Student Wellness.

10/9: The Science of Resilience

  • According to neurologist and teacher Judy Willis, "In schools today, the focus is not only on helping students pass exams, but also on improving their character by making them more resilient. Resilience in learning, as in life, is about being able to persevere through setbacks, take on challenges and risk making mistakes to reach a goal." Willis' article "The science of resilience: how to teach students to persevere" outlines three key factors that contribute to enhancing students' resilience – confidence building, learning from mistakes, and personal meaning. Although Willis directs her article to teachers, the concepts that she explains are valuable for both parents and students. By recognizing how these factors contribute to resilience, students can frame their learning in positive ways that help them build both the skills and the attitudes that they need for achieving their goals. Click here to read the article.

10/2: Keeping a Growth Mindset Can Help You Achieve Change

  • The concept of a growth mindset has gained prominence in educational thought – understanding that intellectual abilities are not fixed limits opens both students and teachers to the possibility of growth and change. In related research, David Yeager of the University of Texas has demonstrated that beliefs about changes in personality also play a role in managing stress. What links Yeager's research to the growth mindset research is the recognition that beliefs about the possibility of change actually enable change to take place. In Yeager's study, students who were introduced to the notion that personality is not fixed were better able to create a "mental buffer" that helped them manage social stress. Click here to learn more about Yeager's research.

SEPTEMBER 2017

9/25: Reducing Student Stress

  • As Westridge continues its focus on wellness and balance for all members of the community – students, faculty, parents, and staff – we have invited Dr. Lisa Damour, author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, to speak at school on November 1. Students, faculty and staff, and parents will have the opportunity to hear directly from Dr. Damour, who is currently researching book on sources of anxiety for students and effective strategies for coping with them. In a recent article she outlines one way of reducing student stress – the awareness and belief that people change and grow, a central idea in the concept of a growth mindset. Click here to read her article. Click here to learn more about Dr. Damour and access some of her other publications.

9/18: Stress and Well-Being

  • The Laurel Center for Research on Girls commissioned a study to explore the complex factors that both create and relieve stress for high-achieving adolescent girls, "21st Century Athenas: Aligning Achievement and Well-Being." One key finding of the study is that "girls with mentoring relationships characterized by high authenticity, engagement, and empowerment (i.e., 'relational mentoring') tended to have high levels of self-esteem and prosocial behavior." This year, Westridge is taking steps to enhance and improve the homeroom and advisory programs to strengthen the already positive relationships that students report with homeroom teachers, advisors, and other adults in the community. Click here to read more of the findings of this study.

9/11: Simple Steps to a Healthy Media Diet in Your Family

  • Today, we offer suggestions from the highly respected website commonsensemedia.org. In a world filled with smartphones, tablets, and laptops, parents often wonder how to manage the screen time for all family members. Check out the recommendations of commonsensemedia.org here. The Washington Post recently published an opinion piece by Melinda Gates on the effects of technology on kids. It includes a link to a family media planning guide from the American Academy of Pediatrics. For a fuller analysis of the effects of media saturation and how to respond, check out Catherine Steiner-Adair's book The Big Disconnect.

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