Learning Beyond the School in English Class with Kristin Jaffe

Holly Caldwell
Upper School English and Interdisciplinary Studies teacher Kristin Jaffe has three major goals for students enrolled in her Gender Studies courses—raise awareness, engage with the issues at hand, and feel empowered to use their voices. In a recent unit on gender around the world, she challenged them to explore how gender is understood, perceived, and portrayed through multiple lenses, such as religion, society, and politics. Students were able to explore their own interests, which culminated in a research project that they then used to teach their classmates.

Allowing students to research topics of personal interest is a central part of Shipley’s model, which blends academic rigor with critical thinking. As she implements these methods, Ms. Jaffe acknowledges that it is important to strike a delicate balance when examining complicated social and cultural issues. “I do my best to provide students with the lexicon they need to engage responsibly with the material without directing them toward any conclusions. The objective is to provide the tools so that they can formulate their own opinions.”

Topics for discussion run the gamut. Covered in detail, for example, are the ways in which social media influences body image, self-perception, and self-esteem; the role of gender quotas and how they might affect representation in political office; and the portrayal of womanhood, manhood, and transgenderism in U.S. history. Debate and disagreement are bound to occur when tackling potentially polarizing issues, but the key is to provide students with a framework so that they can challenge each other’s views but do so in a respectful way. By expanding their global understanding and honing their cultural fluency, a course like Gender Studies helps students foster respect for diverse viewpoints—especially when disagreement arises. These essential skills will equip them to succeed in an ever-changing world once they move beyond Shipley’s walls.

When asked why she loves teaching this course, Ms. Jaffe reflected, “I just love it when they come back to visit and remember something we discussed. Or, maybe they connect it to something they are studying in college, like Shakespearean literature. For me, that’s one of the most valuable parts of teaching a course like this. It’s about the big takeaway… the schooling that goes beyond the school.”


The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.