High-stakes testing in education has led many schools to focus on reading and math instruction as the centerpiece of the CORE curriculum. But what if social and emotional skills are just as crucial for ensuring a child’s success in life? A recent study by researchers from Pennsylvania State University and Duke demonstrates that children who scored high on social skills were four times as likely to graduate from college than those who scored low.
So what is social and emotional learning? The Collaborative for Academic and Social Learning defines (SEL) as the “process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” Many models view SEL in a holistic sense likened to the “container” metaphor that suggests nothing happens in a vacuum. When educators and parents mindfully invest in community-building to create a healthy “container” for learning they provide positive conditions for resilient young people to flourish. Besides better grades, effective SEL has been attributed to better interpersonal relationships amongst youngsters, higher self-esteem, and avoidance of risky behaviors.
Public figures who have taken note of the above study and see the need for SEL have therefore begun to make the case that it’s not enough for schools to myopically focus on academics, particularly teaching solely to the test. David Bornstein from the New York Times recently wrote an opinion piece in which he quoted Mark T. Greenberg, professor of Human Development and Psychology at Penn State as saying, “These early abilities, especially the ability to get along with others, are the abilities that make other kids like you, and make teachers like kids. And when kids feel liked, they’re more likely to settle down and pay attention, and keep out of the principal’s office, and reap the benefits of being in a classroom. And this builds over time; it’s like a cascade. They become more bonded with peers and healthy adults and they become more bonded to school as an institution, and all those skills lead them, independent of their I.Q., to be less at risk for problems.”
The wisdom of valuing SEL that Bornstein and Greenberg trumpet is not lost on the Oakland Unified School District. According to their site, SEL is not separate from academic learning, but is in fact critical to the effectiveness of teaching academic content through the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. The Oakland Unified School District takes this educational component so seriously that it emphasizes five key skills and competencies as part of its curriculum: Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision Making.
Based on the need for SEL as a powerful educational tool backed by studies, columnists, and proactive school districts, it is heartening to see it being rolled out as early as preschool in many communities. Parents who are interested in discovering if their young child is developing age-appropriate social and emotional skills can visit Get Ready To Read to monitor their progress. Other helpful sites containing SEL information for older children can be found at Edutopia and the Independent Day School’s website that specializes in resources for middle schoolers.