Monday, September 7, 2015

Social-Emotional Skills - As Important as Academics

Recently, Peter DeWitt shared a blog about a recent experience. "You know what does suck?" he asks. "It's the way we talk about school."  Peter does not hide the struggles he faced as a student, and I am sure his decision to become an educator is directly correlated to those school experiences. Many of his blogs in Finding Common Ground speak of school climate, treating others with respect, and listening to what others have to say. I value his ideas and insights.

Recently, our school team discussed two articles/studies at our quarterly Triage Advisory meeting. This group includes our school team, District staff, and military partners from Tripler and US Army Garrison. The first was a longitudinal study which showed that military-connected students who had experienced multiple deployments of their soldier-parents during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were more at-risk for problematic behaviors. The second was a study that indicated that a child's social skills at age 5 were highly correlated with their success in adulthood.  These studies were timely because this year, one of our strong focuses as a school is on continuing to improve our Positive Behavior Intervention Support System so that all students can be successful socially and emotionally as well as academically.

What do we have in place now to address the teaching of social skills and improving school climate?

  • We share a Project Wisdom message over the intercom daily.
  • We have school-wide agreements based on Tribesand students can describe what each one means in the classroom or in the school.
  • We have a conflict resolution process where students reflect on the causes and effects of their behaviors on themselves and others.
  • Our school teams work together to review data and create behavior support plans for those students who may need more support to be successful in school.
  • Our PBIS cadre meets regularly to review disciplinary data and to come up with school-wide activities to address areas of concern. We regularly update our PBIS booklet, and all teachers have a copy. 
  • We emphasize the General Learner Outcomes, and some students set goals based on these GLOs.
This appears to be a pretty good list of things we already do to address the teaching of social skills, but we can do much more.  In this age, schools are rated based on high stakes testing scores. As the aforementioned studies indicate, however,  a school culture focusing on positive social and emotional skills is perhaps more important than just focusing on academics. So what can we do to improve what we already have in place at our school?
  • Sharing the Project Wisdom message is not sufficient. We need to make sure students are discussing the message in their classroom and at home.  We should share the message with our teachers and with our parents so they can follow up the discussion and perhaps set goals together.
  • Tribes and the General Learner Outcomes are important, but if students do not buy into them, they will just be another top-down mandate. If students co-construct criteria for what a Tribes classroom or school looks like or what the GLOs mean, they will be more apt to hold themselves responsible for being part of a positive community of learners. 
  • I've noticed a lot of teachers using an app to communicate with parents about student behavior during the day. Technology is great, but it must have a purpose. Do we really want to inform parents every time their child needs to be redirected or did not follow the teacher's instructions? Do all students need to have an individualized account or is it more effective to work together as a class towards a common goal based on Tribes, the GLOs, or whatever the class agrees on?
  • We have been in classrooms where students co-construct criteria and hold themselves and each other accountable.  It is wonderful to see and feel the positive climate in those classrooms, and students take responsibility for their actions. It is a safe environment, and when there is a problem, the whole class problem-solves together. In those classrooms, social and emotional skills are at the center, and academic learning revolves around it. 
As Peter DeWitt shares in his blog post, "What Holds Us Back From Focusing on School Climate?
"There is no doubt that school climate is vitally important.  When I work with educators in schools or school districts, school climate comes up as an important element to the social-emotional and academic growth of children.  I feel that school climate is the plate for which everything else, including academics, sits on.  But too often it falls to the wayside and it becomes something where leaders act reactively rather than proactively."

As a military-impacted school, we have an obligation to ensure that our students are successful wherever they may move to in the future.  Teaching academics via the Common Core State Standards is important, but perhaps we should be doing more to teach social and emotional skills which can lead students to be more successful in the future. 


  1. This blog really hits home as I this is my focus for my IDPD this school year. I feel as though I have the just to maximize their efficiency within the classroom. Teaching CCSS only one small aspect of our roles as teachers. As you and Peter Dewitt mentioned, school/classroom climate is the platform that academics sit upon. What could be more integral in our day to day routines! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Nicole, for your comments. I look forward to seeing what you're learning and researching as part of your IPDP!