Why Social and Emotional Skills matter just as much as Academic…
Study after study shows that a child who can empathize, knows how to regulate their emotions, possesses social skills, works hard, and has a growth mindset will more likely overcome obstacles and become great successes in school and life.
So many parents and educators are beginning to realize that EQ (emotional intelligence) is just as important as IQ or a report card grade. In fact, as a parent my first glance at a report card isn’t about if my children are at standard or have a high percentage, it is to see how they are doing socially and emotionally. This means I look for the part of the report card to see if they are respectful, kind, responsible, ready, care about others, show effort, can regulate their emotions, can work well with others, etc. – the skills that will create success for them for a lifetime. And you know what the research shows over and over, these children who do have strong social and emotional skills do well academically. Research is also showing us that schools who have strong social and emotional teaching have high gains in academics. These social and emotional skills are keys to success and help our children become great people, not just great at school and in life. I want my children to succeed at school and in life. I believe all parents want this. So, how do we do it?
As parents we are flooded with information all the time about how to help our children succeed. We worry, read, and doubt our effectiveness, and believe it or not educators do this as well. Every child is so unique, so we are trying our best to constantly figure out what will help each child. It isn’t just about teaching children their ABC’s anymore and excellent and effective educators know this. Educating a child is about teaching the whole child and that means academics along with helping them to learn these important social and emotional skills to become independent, motivated learners, and good people.
In education we have seen it over and over where there is a child who may be able to read or compute math problems at a high level, but when they get frustrated they just melt and can’t go on. They give up, they give themselves negative self- talk, and/or they just conclude they are “no good” at something. Nobody wants this for their child and so school has become not just a place where we teach academics, but a place where we teach these social and emotional skills. Carol Dweck calls this “a fixed mindset”- where one believes they just weren’t born good at something and tried once and then give up. She calls the “growth mindset” the thinking that the harder you try the better you’ll do and being good at something is highly based on effort. There are studies that are showing children with growth mindsets who believe that if they just work harder and put their mind to it (practice) become resilient even against poverty. There are low poverty schools teaching growth mindset that have seen their academic achievement sky rocket just by implementing this “growth mindset” thinking into their everyday teaching practice. For example if a child says, “I am just not good at math”, a teacher may respond, “not yet, but keep practicing those double basic math facts and you will be”, instead of “yes, I am not a math person either”.
Research is telling us that social and emotional skills are best taught integrated into subject areas throughout the day instead of say in a lesson once a week. For example, if a teacher is reading aloud a story, she/he is modeling the author’s point of view, how that character must be feeling, asking the students to also turn and talk elbow to elbow, knee to knee about their connection to their story and how it made them feel. Being aware of feelings and able to identify feelings are the first step in building a solid foundation of social and emotional skills. Along with this is being aware how others are feeling- empathy. This is crucial.
I loved observing a math lesson the other day in a classroom where the emphasis was just as much on what it means to be a “good partner” than it was to understand the concepts being taught. As we integrate social and emotional teaching more and more we will grow people who are team players and possess great social skills along with high achieving motivated learners.
Resolving conflict in a healthy manner is one of the best social and emotional skills we can teach our students. How many adults have you known that lose their temper or say things they wish they wouldn’t or become reactive? I have known many. If we teach our children early on how to talk out their issues and express how it made them feel when someone said or did something hurtful, it is healthy for that child and more likely the other child will learn that their actions have an effect on others. At Winans we have been learning about restorative justice and discipline and instead of becoming punitive and all about punishment (which we know from research does not change behavior) we are helping children hold restorative conversations where they listen to each other’s perspective and try to make it better. We are facilitating the work of children solving their conflicts in a healthy manner, holding children accountable for their actions, and teaching students strategies to use next time. We teach the use of Kelso choices if they are upset such as walking away, asking to please stop, going to a different game, breathing to cool down, instead of reacting… all strategies they will need their whole life when someone upsets them. Obviously, for reach child there is a spectrum of how much support they need with this learning. Just like a child with a math disability, who needs more support in math, we have children in our school who need a lot more support in social and emotional skills and will take longer to learn these important skills. But we must continue to work hard to model these healthy conflict resolution skills and teach these skills in everything we do beginning the minute school begins!
Morning meetings are an important way to start the day and integrate social and emotional skills. For as we gather together as a classroom community and check- in by sharing how we are feeling, we are helping children to identify their feelings from the beginning. All feelings are welcome and not judged and this is crucial to this social and emotional development. There are somedays we are sad in the morning (we didn’t want to get up because we were tired and kids feel the same way). Many teachers at Winans are doing these morning meetings to start the day and even end the day! One of our teachers even has integrated a mindfulness “pebble practice” where students prepare to learn by moving rocks from one side to another each day. The students just love it and have shared how “calm” and ready to learn it makes them feel. There are so many different ways to do morning meetings.
At Winans many of our teachers have been using the Four Zones of Regulation as a check-in during these morning meetings. I observed a teacher the other day having each child pass the actual color cards (red zone, blue zone, green zone, and yellow zone) around the morning meeting circle and each one was able to share what zone they were in and how they were feeling. This is huge! Then they would even go on to describe why they were feeling “sad” or “angry” or “happy”. There are many adults who have these feelings and can’t even express why, so this is incredible work happening in our school for our students! They are being taught that all feelings are ok and given strategies then to help them get back into the “green zone” so they can be ready to learn. Some strategies are taking deep breaths, getting a drink, going to the calming zone for a few minutes, stretching, moving, journaling, etc. As you see all of these strategies are ones you can teach and encourage at home as well! How amazing if our children were being taught and supported in these skills at home and at school.
It is exciting to know that our school district is looking closely at more social and emotional programs that will help our children become even more successful in the coming years. For the research is clear and for over 40 years has discovered that modeling these social and emotional skills, teaching these skills of understanding how we are feeling, why we are feeling, and knowing what can help us get to a better place helps build resiliency as well as strong emotional intelligent children and adults who can withstand the struggles of life. These children who learn these skills grow up to be strong confident individuals who can get along with others, succeed in the workplace, grow deep friendships with others, and have a stronger sense of happiness and purpose. Isn’t this what we want for our child?
Here are some more articles to read if you want to learn more and are interested on this topic!