Kindergarten teachers’ assessment of children’s “social competence” — cooperation, helpfulness, “understanding feelings” — predicted their future education, employment and arrest records, according to a long-term study.
The researchers had statistically controlled for the effects of poverty, race, having teenage parents, family stress and neighborhood crime, and for the children’s aggression and reading levels in kindergarten, writes David Bornstein in a New York Times blog.
Helping children develop “core social and emotional strengths like self-management, self-awareness and social awareness” would have big payoffs, he argues.
But how much can schools do to improve children’s social competence? If parents aren’t doing their job, can schools make a difference?
The Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (Casel) is working with school districts across the country, writes Bornstein. A 2011 meta-analysis of studies on school-based social and emotional learning programs found significant gains in students’ social skills, attitudes, behavior and academics.
Cleveland uses Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies to teach children “how to recognize, communicate and manage their emotions, read others’ emotions, solve problems and change patterns of negative thinking.”
School suspension rooms have been replaced with “planning centers,” where students work through problems or practice how to better handle conflicts. Schools have staff teams to lead social and emotional learning efforts and work with families.
Three years ago, graduating seniors said safety was the number one problem in high school, says CEO Eric Gordon. Two years ago, safety fell to second place. Last year, it dropped to number three.
I have mixed feelings about social and emotional programs. Schools should teach students how to behave in school, which includes self-control, cooperation and resolving conflicts peacefully. But emotional strength comes from being raised by good or good-enough parents. I don’t schools can do much there. For good or ill, it’s the parents.