Capabilities Approach

Capabilities Approach

Disrupting gendered mindsets.

We are reimagining girls’ education.

Why do female students tend to become less vocal as they progress through school despite success? Why do girls often steer clear of certain areas and disciplines? While myriad factors are at work, the key question is: What can schools do to address this disparity and support girls to fulfill their great promise and potential? The answer is — reimagine girls’ education.

Capabilities Approach Program

With the support of a prestigious Edward E. Ford Foundation Education Leadership Grant, Walker’s Capabilities Approach Program seeks to disrupt the gendered mindset into which girls are socialized.

The Capabilities Approach Program offers a different way of thinking about learning beyond the traditional curriculum. The capabilities represent a constellation of skills, interwoven and building on each other, with the end goal being functional mastery of each skill. The acquisition of these capabilities helps our students develop resiliency as they strive to achieve baseline proficiency in these areas, with some capabilities requiring greater stretching of limits than others. Our girls are encouraged to collaborate and bolster one another over the hurdles providing support to each other as they achieve mastery. This means that the process, not just the result, will be a goal in itself, and our intention is that this model of learning will become the “Walker’s Way” for acquiring new skills.

Collectively, these capabilities — fluencies, discoveries, international experience, agencies and self-selected — allow for challenge and failure by encouraging girls to be confident and resilient, and to embrace a growth mindset.

Girls Who Code

Students acquire digital, financial and rhetorical fluencies by doing. They code, file personal income taxes and deliver remarks to the whole community.

Girls swimming

Acquiring the ability to swim, deliver first aid and defend oneself against harm empowers girls to act on their own behalf and for the benefit of others.

International experience

Getting out into the world, seeing one’s impact on the environment and being able to feed your body and your mind allow girls a sense of independence and opens up new avenues of exploration.

Junior project presentation

Each student chooses a capability that aligns with her interests and she acquires the skills and knowledge that help her achieve mastery.


Walker’s Capabilities Approach program recognizes social justice as a primary goal, as each student is encouraged to achieve her full potential, and it will focus on 10 capabilities divided into four categories — fluencies, discoveries, agencies, and a self-selected capability. Students will stretch themselves and absorb a model of learning that is collaborative and iterative. “We are reimagining girls’ education in a way that seeks to disrupt gendered mindsets,” says Head of School Meera Viswanathan. “I was drawn to the thinking of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and his work on justice and the capabilities approach. He suggests that justice is measured by the ability of a person to engage in an array of actions … that help one realize one’s full potential according to one’s own system of values. Walker’s Capabilities Approach Program is inspired by Sen’s research and will focus more specifically on the iterative process of success and failure as necessary stages of girls’ learning.”

Read More on NAIS

Today, the acquisition of a wide range of digital skills is necessary across all disciplines. As early as 6th grade and up through advanced courses, students are immersed in projects that require coding. Our dean of academic technology and innovation explores with students a range of digital fluency topics including creating your digital footprint, digital citizenship and differentiated learning styles. One group already well-established in these areas are Walker’s Wirecats, the first all-girls robotics team from New England to compete in the FIRST FRC World Championship.

Historically, women lag behind in the acquisition of financial fluency resulting in women owning and managing fewer assets. One way our students gain an understanding of personal finances and investing is through our signature community partnership, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. In addition to providing a very important service to the community, our girls study for — and pass — an IRS training program which allows them to prepare personal income tax returns for low income families. This real world activity is enhanced with elective classroom work, giving students a first-hand look at the complexities — and understanding — of personal finance and investment.

Having the confidence and skill to speak eloquently and convincingly in front of an audience, and ensuring that your ideas are heard, are skills that all Walker’s students develop both inside and outside the classroom. Classroom work, community partnerships and affinity groups are just a few of the many stages on which you can safely test — and hone — a wide range of rhetorical skills.

By using the Capabilities Approach to enable all Walker’s students to develop a variety of capabilities, we also address divergences in backgrounds and preparation, offering a foundation for all Walker’s students to flourish as well as develop their cultural competence as global citizens. You will learn, live and grow with people of different ages, interests, nationalities, racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations, religious traditions and political affiliations.

Multiple classes and activities are offered where girls improve their knowledge and develop their desire to shape a society that is more equitable for all. Walker’s is a member of SPHERE, a consortium of 11 independent schools who collaborate on becoming and remaining culturally diverse, inclusive and responsive environments for teaching and learning.

Meet Our Capabilities Approach Program Director

Ned Edwards is the first director of Walker’s Capabilities Approach Program. Ned has considerable experience in various capacities in secondary independent education including as Chaplain, Director of Social Services, and Dean of Faculty at two girls’ schools. His commitment to girls’ schools and girls’ education is seen not only in his career choices but in his engagement with the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools where he has presented at conferences and been both a participant and a facilitator in their Headways programs. He has co-authored a peer-reviewed paper on adolescent girls’ brain development and spirituality which speaks to the unique ways adolescent girls process information and extrapolates to subjects far beyond spirituality.

Ned Edwards