A+ Advice for Parents

Kids' Social Skills Key to Success Later in Life

Q: Our school's parent council reviewed the Common Core State Standards and found they don't include teaching study skills and habits that help kids become good students. Is there any research on this?

A: Your parent council deserves an A for raising this important question. Kids who lack the ability to set goals, finish tasks on time or work on a team -- who disrespect teachers or throw up their hands when they face a challenge -- will find school difficult no matter how smart they are or how high a district sets its academic standards for math, reading or science.

There is an encouraging body of research on the skills you're looking for -- called "social and emotional learning" (SEL). They are sometimes referred to as non-cognitive, or "soft" skills.

Much of the research comes from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), led by Roger P. Weissberg, Ph.D., at the University of Illinois at Chicago. CASEL evaluates SEL programs and helps states and districts integrate effective ones into the curriculum.

The SEL movement is gaining momentum across the nation thanks to strong evidence that when educators explicitly teach SEL skills, it can improve students' positive behavior and reduce negative behavior.

Data from schools that include SEL instruction show that these students have stronger academic success, health and well-being. SEL programs can boost students' grades and improve their attitudes toward school. One study showed that students who received SEL instruction improved an average of 11 percentile points on standardized achievement tests compared to students in the control group.

And there's even more reason to look into these programs: They can help prevent a variety of problems such as alcohol and drug use, violence, truancy and bullying, says Weissberg. (Find SEL programs at casel.org.)

What do effective social and emotional learning programs teach? CASEL describes five core competencies:

-- Self-awareness: Accurately assess one's feelings, interests, values and strengths; maintain a well-grounded sense of self-confidence.

-- Self-management: Regulate one's emotions to handle stress, control impulses and persevere in overcoming obstacles; set and monitor progress toward personal and academic goals; express emotions effectively.

-- Social awareness: Take the perspective of and empathize with others; recognize and appreciate individual and group similarities and differences; recognize and use family, school and community resources.

-- Relationship skills: Establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships based on cooperation; resist inappropriate social pressure; prevent, manage and resolve interpersonal conflict; seek help when needed.

-- Responsible decision-making: Make decisions based on consideration of reason, ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, respect for self and others, and likely consequences of various actions; apply decision-making skills to academic and social situations; contribute to the well-being of one's school and community.

Parents have a key role in teaching and reinforcing these skills. Find a list of "10 Things to Do at Home" at casel.org and other resources at edutopia.org.

When kids learn these five "soft" skills early in life, they're less likely to visit the school of hard knocks later on.

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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