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Why Social, Emotional, and Character Development is So Critical

Two children reading and talking to each other

The Problem

As businesses rely ever more heavily on collaboration within their own companies as well as with other companies, there is a growing emphasis on interpersonal communications. Unfortunately, according to LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, this critical job skill, interpersonal communication, is sorely lacking in many American employees.

In recently published research, LinkedIn analyzed skills deficiencies and shortages based on data culled from job postings and member profiles from 100 major American cities. Weiner told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that, “somewhat surprisingly, interpersonal skills are where we’re seeing the biggest imbalance.”

Of these interpersonal skills, “Communications is the No. 1 skill gap across those major cities in the United States.” This, despite the fact that “this skill is critical, especially in jobs like sales development and project management,” the CEO said.

These findings by LinkedIn’s CEO were corroborated in a study published in the Journal of Education in 2016. That study found that managers and HR personnel pay particular attention to both analytical and communication skills when determining if candidates should be considered for positions.

In analyzing over 900,000 job listings, Monster found that, regarding the “soft skills” that are most sought after, effective communication skills ranked near the top. Management coach and author of “The Art of Change Leadership” Cheryl Cran found that, “Master communicators have solid listening skills, the ability to tune into a person with focus and the ability to articulate clearly. As technology continues to infiltrate how we work, our human interaction skills need to be upgraded.”

An Important Discovery

While in business, deficient communication skills are an increasing impediment; undeveloped communication skills are actually symptomatic of a much broader deficiency in social interaction skills. And social interaction skills or the lack thereof generally find their roots in something even more fundamental – social and emotional learning and character development, or SECD.

Improving SECD has been on the education priority list for decades. But it wasn’t until recently that its importance gained a wider following. The growing demand of businesses for upgraded interpersonal skills has been the catalyst. As employers seek people who can communicate and interact well with others, it has become apparent that the lack of social and emotional learning and character development is the real culprit.

A recent report by The Aspen Institute contains mounting scientific evidence that success in life in general, and school in particular, closely parallels healthy social and emotional development. This healthy development includes the ability to understand, manage, and express emotions.

In fact, it is becoming apparent that SECD deficiencies are not confined to minorities nor low socioeconomic status. Tim Shriver, an educator, and advocate for SECD programming noted, “Today, the most elite independent private schools are looking for social and emotional learning programs in the same way most challenged urban high schools are.” This problem is impacting students from all walks of life.

What is SECD Instruction?

SECD involves teaching children how to identify and manage emotions, effectively solve problems, being sensitive to and considering another’s perspective and establishing mutually beneficial and empathic relationships with others. Competency in every one of these areas is essential for a student to be successful in both school and life.

Mastering SECD is the key to students engaging both peers and adults, feeling vitality, thriving in an institutional setting, reducing violence and bullying, civilly conducting discourse, preventing substance abuse, learning how to be a valuable citizen in a democracy, and experiencing greater motivation for creativity and learning.

What Does The Research Show?

Research shows that success in school is highly contingent on the student feeling engaged and committed to the school. This is predicated on the student perceiving the school as a place that is safe, supportive, respectful, and caring. It has been shown that such a favorable climate yields both higher achievement and fewer behavior problems.

One study showed that students who were provided with systematic, continuous, and coordinated SECD saw an 11% rise in standardized test scores and noticeable reductions in classroom disruptions, bullying, and school dropout rates.

It was found that bullying is less likely to occur in those schools that are perceived by the students as respectful environments. While many schools disseminate prevention messages of eliminating harassment, bullying, and intimidation, those messages resonate more in schools where the teachers and administration are seen as genuinely caring and when students are more engaged in the school.

Perhaps it was Maurice Elias, Ph.D. Professor of Psychology at Rutgers and Director of Rutgers SECD Lab, who summed it up best, “Promoting social-emotional and character development of children is, paradoxically, the best opportunity for innovation in education. It is accessible, feasible, sensible, cost-effective, within our grasp, and supported by evidence.”

Specific Objectives

It has been shown that, the earlier SECD skills are taught and reinforced, the more beneficial they will be for the students’ educational career and beyond. An integrated SECD approach addresses five core competencies. Teaching these skills to children presumes that the school environment as a whole will provide a moral compass for the development of students’ positive character. The five skills are:

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Self-Management
  3. Responsible Decision Making
  4. Relationship Skills
  5. Social Awareness

This may seem like a heavy load for a young child. But it has been shown that, when these basic principles are integrated into stories, activities, and become part of the curriculum in any number of ways, children really “get it” as there is a resonance deep inside the child’s being.

But before the “SECD Revolution” can find its rightful place in our schools, crucial gaps in policy and teacher training/credentialing standards need to be filled.

Put it this way. If you stop to consider what will make our society stronger replace anxiety, fear, and insensitivity with creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit; it’s not going to be business or politics, but rather education. And when we integrate SECD into the curriculum, we are well on our way to lasting change.

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