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Protecting Youth Mental Health: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Report

In his December 2021 report, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a new Advisory to highlight the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis. This important report has recommendations for individuals, families, employers, and others to improve the mental health of children, adolescents and young adults.

“Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread. Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide — and rates have increased over the past decade,” said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy

Murthy continued, “The COVID-19 pandemic further altered their experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating. The future wellbeing of our country depends on how we support and invest in the next generation. Especially in this moment, as we work to protect the health of Americans in the face of a new variant, we also need to focus on how we can emerge stronger on the other side. This advisory shows us how we can all work together to step up for our children during this dual crisis.”

The report is a call to action for various groups. Here are some key takeaways that highlight social-emotional learning as part of the solution.

We Can Take Action

Support the mental health of children and youth in educational, community, and childcare settings. This includes creating positive, safe, and affirming educational environments and expanding programming that promotes healthy development–social and emotional learning being a prime example. Also, as a society we need to provide a continuum of supports to meet the social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health needs of children and youth. To achieve this, we must also expand and support the early childhood and education workforce.

What Young People Can Do 

Since many of the challenges young people face are outside of their control, we need a whole-of-society effort to support children’s mental health and wellbeing from birth to adulthood. That said, below are important steps children and young people themselves can take to protect, improve, and advocate for their mental health and that of their family, friends, and neighbors: 

  • Remember that mental health challenges are real, common, and treatable.
  • Ask for help.
  • Invest in healthy relationships.
  • Find ways to serve.
  • Learn and practice techniques to manage stress and other difficult emotions.
  • Take care of your body and mind.
  • Be intentional about your use of social media, video games, and other technologies.
  • Be a source of support for others.

What Family Members and Caregivers Can Do

Families and caregivers play a critical role in providing the safe, stable, and nurturing environments and relationships young people need to thrive. Below are recommendations for how families and caregivers can engage with kids during this youth mental health crisis, helping them become more resilient and addressing emerging: 

  • Be the best role model you can be for young people by taking care of your own mental and physical health. 
  • Help children and youth develop strong, safe, and stable relationships with you and other supportive adults. 
  • Encourage children and youth to build healthy social relationships with peers. 
  • Do your best to provide children and youth with a supportive, stable, and predictable home and neighborhood environment. 
  • Try to minimize negative influences and behaviors in young people’s lives. 
  • Ensure children and youth have regular check-ups with a pediatrician, family doctor, or other health care professional. 
  • Look out for warning signs of distress, and seek help when needed. 
  • Minimize children’s access to means of self-harm, including firearms and prescription medications. 
  • Be attentive to how children and youth spend time online. Digital technology can help young people connect with friends and family, learn about current events, express themselves, and access telehealth and other resources.
  • Be a voice for mental health in your community.

What Employers Can Do

Employers can play an outsized role in supporting the mental health of children and young people. They can directly help younger employees, such as high school students working part-time jobs or young adults starting out in the labor force after high school or college. For example, employers can provide affordable health insurance that covers mental health needs. Employers can also support children and youth indirectly. Below are some recommendations for how employers can support the mental health of young people:

  • Provide access to comprehensive, affordable, and age-appropriate mental health care for all employees and their families, including dependent children. 
  • Implement policies that address underlying drivers of employee mental health challenges, including both home and workplace stressors. Employers should: Offer paid family leave and sick leave where feasible. 
  • Create a workplace culture that affirms the importance of the mental health and wellbeing of all employees and their families.
  • Regularly assess employees’ sense of wellbeing within the workplace.

Want to do more in response to the youth mental health crisis? Find out how.

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Five Benefits of an Education that is More Than Grades

In education today, academic and social-emotional issues are often considered separate. Anything that doesn’t directly relate to students’ academic performance must be dealt with outside the classroom. 

Barely 25% of schools offer a comprehensive approach to Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) along with academic learning. This even though applied knowledge accounts for just a quarter of the skills employers desire. The other three quarters? Well, those are Emotional Intelligence (EQ) skills that are taught through SEL curriculum.

SEL provides an education in emotional life skills that is more than just grades. It can benefit individuals, societies, and even nations on a larger scale. Here are just five of SEL’s many benefits:

SEL Lowers the Mental Health Crisis Among Students

According to the National Alliance of Mental Health, nearly three in 10 parents (29%) say their child is “already experiencing harm” to their emotional or mental health because of social distancing and closures, lack of routines, and other recent and past traumatic stressors. Untreated or undiagnosed mental health conditions are likely to affect a student’s emotional wellness and their ability to learn, develop, and grow.

SEL can equip students with the emotional life skills and competencies they need. It helps kids to develop resilience and effectively manage their behavior, emotions, and relationships with others. An important focus of a social-emotional learning curriculum is the promotion of positive development through fostering social skills. Positive social skills give children feasible tools to regulate their emotions and make good choices about their behavior. 

Research indicates that focusing on social-emotional needs can help reduce anxiety, suicide, substance abuse, depression, and impulsive behavior in kids. This concentration can also help to increase test scores, attendance, and prosocial behaviors such as kindness, personal awareness, and empathy. Teaching kids coping skills, mindfulness, effective communication skills, and self-regulation gives them the resources needed to address various social, emotional, and mental health challenges that hinder learning.

SEL Enhances Personal Career Success

In order for students to achieve success in school, career, and life, children must be taught social and emotional skills—just as they learn reading, math, and science—through instruction and practice. 

Research shows the skills taught in SEL curricula have wide-ranging benefits that affect children’s success in school, career, and life. For instance, kindergarteners with stronger social and emotional skills are more likely to graduate from high school and college and have stable, full-time employment and are less likely to commit crimes, be on public assistance, and have drug, alcohol, and mental health problems.

SEL Benefits Business and the Economy

SEL and employability skills benefit businesses by helping provide qualified job candidates who thrive in their positions. The Harvard Business Review reports that 90 percent of career success comes from emotional intelligence, not academic intelligence. Google found that their most successful teams were ones with psychological safety, not geniuses. 

Self-motivation, time management, communication, problem-solving, and relationship building—some common aspects of SEL—are the types of skills employers often look for. Employers want to hire and retain employees who have the ability to think critically and work effectively with others. Employability skills matter and school-based SEL programs are a way to begin building them. If individuals, businesses, institutions and policy makers declare a full-fledged support for SEL, it will not only benefit the overall economy but even pay for itself many times over.

SEL Reduces School Violence

Violence in schools is a complex societal issue and must be addressed in comprehensive ways. Schools need to implement universal approaches to promote physical and psychological safety. Research has found that social-emotional skills can lead to safer schools. 

A landmark meta-analysis examined 213 studies of K–12 school-based SEL programs and found that students in schools that implemented such programs had significant improvements in social-emotional skills (such as identifying emotions, perspective taking, and conflict resolution) and fewer conduct problems. These schools also reported less aggression and delinquent acts, showing a direct link between SEL and safer schools.

Parents Prefer SEL

There has been a positive change over the past couple of years. Recent research indicates that more than 80% of parents support education that grows their child’s emotional life skills. Parents believe working through social-emotional issues productively within a specific curriculum has many positive outcomes for students. They regard education to be more than just academics, to be more than grades.

SEL guarantees many more benefits. What’s needed now is for policy makers and the education system to give SEL the priority required to support an education that is more than grades and to ensure the success of an emotionally and socially equipped U.S.

Written by Devyani Nagbhirey

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Empathy Is The Most Important Leadership Skill According To Research

Empathy contributes to positive relationships and organizational cultures and it also drives results. Empathy may not be a brand new skill, but it has a new level of importance and the fresh research makes it especially clear how empathy is the leadership competency to develop and demonstrate now and in the future of work.

 

Read the full article

 

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The Business Case for Social-Emotional Learning & EQ

The US economy is as strong as its workforce. To this end, it’s vital we equip students with the skills they need to succeed in an economy with changing and evolving needs. This need to prepare future workers for their careers was the driving force behind the rise of STEM education in the early 2010s. However, focusing solely on technical skills still left a substantial skills gap between what students were learning and what employers needed from their workers. 

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is the way to bridge this gap and teach kids the skills they need to succeed in their careers, as well as lead happier, more fulfilled lives in general.

SEL is the process through which people learn skills to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve goals, feel and show empathy, build healthy relationships and make responsible decisions. 

In other words, social-emotional learning teaches emotional intelligence and how to be happy. 

So what does SEL and emotional intelligence have to do with the current skills gap faced by recent graduates and the companies looking to hire them?

The Current Skills Gap

The National Network of Business and Industry Associations has identified a set of skills someone should have to be considered employable. These “common employability skills” fall into four categories

  • Personal skills
  • People skills
  • Workplace skills
  • Applied knowledge

You were probably quick to notice that three of those four skill  groups are what many would consider “life skills”. Meaning, they’re skills that aren’t related to technical knowledge or competence. 

These personal, people and workplace skills are, instead, related to a person’s ability to function as an individual, as part of a team and as part of a larger organization. 

However, many US businesses are struggling to find candidates for open jobs that possess these skills. In fact, in one survey, half of employers struggle to find qualified recent graduates to fill their job vacancies. Despite possessing the necessary technical skills, these recent grads lack the ability to communicate, adapt, make decisions and solve problems. 

We are not doing an effective job of preparing young Americans to start their careers and many of these prospective workers are ill-equipped for the workplace:

  • 31% of employers find it difficult to find qualified workers
  • More than half of manufacturers and business CEOs have serious problems finding workers with skills necessary to succeed in the workplace
  • According to manufacturers, the number one skill deficiency is problem solving

What’s more, the number of skills required to be successful upon entering the workforce has grown over the past half decade and will likely continue to grow.

  • In 2016, a survey sponsored by Microsoft of online jobs boards identified 62 skills required for “high opportunity” (high-growth/high-wage) jobs
  • This is up from 37 skills needed in 2013
  • “Oral and written communication skills” and “problem solving” are most sought-after skills for high opportunity jobs
  • Of the top 20 skills identified, only two (Microsoft Office and Microsoft PowerPoint) are technical skills or applied knowledge

All of these stats and figures add up to one simple conclusion: 

Our education system is not preparing students to be successful personally or professionally upon graduation

In order to prepare students to meet the needs of employers, we need to ensure:

  • They are equipped to work and communicate with a diverse range of customers and coworkers
  • They are able to self-motivate, self-direct and adapt to changing employer-employee relationships
  • They see beyond specific tasks to the “bigger picture”
  • They work well independently and as part of team and often with limited guidance from higher-ups
  • They are willing and able to take initiative to function effectively in a complex business organizations and structures

SEL Offers Benefits for Employers & Employees

Fortunately, if we look at all of the most in-demand skills employers want from workers, as well as the needs of graduates as they enter the workforce, we see a significant overlap between those skills and the five core competencies taught by social-emotional learning.

Let’s take a look at the five core competencies of social-emotional learning:

  • Self awareness: Can you recognize your emotions and their impact on your behavior?
  • Self management: Are you able to regulate your thoughts, feelings and behaviors in different situations?
  • Social awareness: Do you understand social norms for behavior? Can you empathize with people from diverse backgrounds? Are you able to recognize sources of support in your life?
  • Relationship skills: Are you able to establish and maintain healthy relationships with different people? 
  • Responsible decision-making: Can you realistically evaluate the possible consequences of an action and make decisions based on social and ethical norms? Do you consider the impact of your actions on the well-being of others as well as yourself?

Now, let’s consider some the key skills identified by the Department of Education as necessary for success in the workplace:

  • Sound decision making: Students differentiate and assess multiple approaches and options.
  • Understands teamwork: Students are able to work with a partner or in groups, contributing fairly to the assignment and showing respect for team members by listening to and considering all ideas. Students negotiate to resolve conflicts.
  • Demonstrates self-discipline and responsibility: Students actively participate, asking and answering questions and completing assignments.
  • Responds to customer needs: Students help others understand tasks, find resources and fulfill roles.
  • Respect individuals: Students respond supportively to team members’ ideas and contributions and work well with others. Students engage in active listening.

Compared to the core skills taught by social-emotional learning, it’s easy to see the clear convergence between the two groups. 

In fact, the ability to work as a team is the top quality businesses look for in recent college grads, ahead of analytical and quantitative skills. And since 1980 there has been a strong, steady decline in jobs requiring high math and low social skills. Almost all job growth in that time has been in occupations requiring high EQ and social skills.

These skills that are so key to employability and success in business are directly taught in SEL curricula.

Investing in SEL Brings Success

So how do we support SEL so that students are graduating with the skills businesses need from their workers? 

We do this by treating SEL today like we did with STEM back in 2011. 

In the decade following the US Chamber’s Case for Being Bold report, corporations invested more than $1 billion funding STEM awareness and education. If that money were spent developing SEL programs and curricula, that would return up to $10 billion (more more) in economic growth.

The groundwork for bringing SEL into schools exists today in a developing industry of researchers, technology companies and service providers. Business leaders, like they were in 2011, are in the perfect spot to provide these advocates the resources and support they need to bring SEL education to schools at all levels.

Photo by Charlotte May from Pexels

Social-Emotional Learning Boosts STEM Education. Here’s How.

Back in 2011, the US Chamber of Commerce released a report called The Case for Being Bold. This report famously led to a decade-long effort to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in K-12 education and a huge investment of resources from governments and corporations:

  • More than $1 billion dollars spent over the next decade funding STEM education and awareness.
  • Business-led campaigns to lead and amplify the effort to support STEM education.
  • Vital Signs metrics track and evaluate students’ academic performance in STEM subjects.
  • The STEM is Cool! campaign highlighted innovative and exciting work in STEM jobs
  • “STEM salons” popped up across the country, selling STEM-centric courses, after school programs and even birthday parties for kids K-12 ages.

However, despite this massive investment of resources, the effort to promote STEM education has fallen short in some key areas.

While the candidate pool for technical jobs increased, overall diversity of people working STEM jobs still lags behind other fields. Moreover, overall scores in math, science and technology in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (known as “the nation’s report card”) haven’t improved over the last 10 years.

Essentially, people and organizations directly involved in STEM activities benefited from this billion-dollar investment, but everyone else saw little profit.

SEL: The Missing Piece of the Puzzle

Social-emotional learning, or SEL for short, is the process of teaching people skills to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve goals, develop empathy, build healthy relationships, and make responsible decisions.

SEL also teaches important life skills such as how to analyze and solve problems, set achievable goals, and embracing challenges as part of growing and learning.

Practically speaking, incorporating SEL into a curriculum has been shown to help improve students’ overall academic performance. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL):

  • 83% of students made academic gains when participating in an academic program with an SEL component.
  • Students improved by an average of 11% on standardized tests after participating in an SEL program.
  • Students increased their GPA by an average of 11% when participating in an SEL program.
  • SEL programs help improve student behaviors and attitudes while preventing substance abuse.

SEL Boosts Skills Important to STEM Success

ntegrating social-emotional learning with STEM education enhances the academic program by teaching five key competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and decision-making skills.

Self awareness

Self awareness is the ability of a person to identify their emotions and the impact of those feelings on their behavior.

Self management

Self management is the ability to regulate thoughts, feelings and behaviors in different situations. This skill is critical to setting and achieving goals, something that is a real challenge for students as well as adults.

The fact is, in STEM education students will inevitably face numerous challenges and failures. Science is, after all, an iterative process. So strong self management is required to deal with and overcome the feelings of frustration and inadequacy that sometimes come with STEM education.

SEL teaches how to learn from past failures and incorporate those insights into future efforts.

Combining SEL with STEM education allows students to persevere and “fail forward” until they reach their ultimate goal.

Social awareness

Social awareness is understanding social norms and empathizing with people from different backgrounds. Strong social awareness results in students who are more creative and able to incorporate alternate viewpoints to solve problems and overcome challenges.

Social awareness not only makes STEM education more effective through improved teamwork, the ability to empathise and see things from another’s point of view is the most important skill in innovation, invention and design.

Take, for example, the market-leading personal finance tool Quicken, created by Intuit, Inc.

Quicken was created by Intuit founder Scott Cook in the early 1980s after his wife complained about struggling to balance their checkbook and keep their bills organized. Cook realized a product centered around simplifying personal finance would help not only his own family, but others as well.

Quicken’s success, driven by Scott Cook’s ability to empathize with challenges faced by other people, helped establish Intuit as one of the most successful companies in the world.

A second example is a product called The Embrace Care.

embrace backpack
Image from Embrace Innovations

The Care was created by a team of Stanford postgraduate students challenged to invent a new incubator for use in developing countries. However, after meeting with mothers living in remote areas without easy access to hospitals, the team realized that a traditional incubator wouldn’t be practical for these mothers and babies.

The team’s ability to take on the perspective of people with a far, far different background than theirs allowed them to reframe the challenge from “invent an incubator” to “help mothers keep babies warm in far-flung locations without access to hospitals or electricity.”

Without that shift in perspective, the team may have simply created a traditional incubator that cost less, had a rechargeable battery or was more portable. It was their empathy that resulted in the inspiration to design a product that has helped to save thousands of lives.

Relationship skills

SEL teaches critical relationships skills that allow students to build and maintain healthy relationships with a diverse range of people.

STEM activities, projects and challenges usually take place in groups or in a team environment. And nearly all jobs in the STEM field rely heavily on collaboration and teamwork. Strong relationship skills and the ability to listen to multiple different perspectives are an absolute must for any success in a STEM education program.

Decision-making skills

Responsible decision-making relies on the ability to understand and anticipate the consequences of actions and make choices based on social norms as well as the well-being of others.

Social-emotional learning teaches responsible decision-making skills as well as focusing on promoting curiosity, open-mindedness and critical thinking skills.

Success in a STEM setting, either academic or in a related job, relies heavily on a person’s ability to analyze data to make a judgement, identify solutions to a problem, and anticipate the impact of an action. Even “small” decision-making skills, like time management and focus, are key to performing well in STEM subjects and challenges.

Next Steps: Time to Invest in SEL

The benefits of pairing STEM education with social-emotional learning is clear and the steps needed to helping today’s students reach their full potential is evident. The time is now to invest in SEL researchers, publishers, services and program providers just as we did for STEM education in 2011.

Learn how you can help bring social-emotional learning to your community today.

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It’s Time to Invest in SEL like STEM

Back in 2011, the US Chamber of Commerce released a report called The Case for Being Bold. This report famously laid out the need for not just increased investment in STEM education, but also the need for the business community to take a leadership role in the movement (as opposed to merely providing resources and support).

What happened next was a veritable decade-long explosion in STEM education:

  • Corporations spent more than $1 billion dollars over the next decade funding STEM education and awareness.
  • The business-led Change the Equation launched several campaigns to lead and amplify the effort to support STEM education.
  • Change the Equation created the Vital Signs benchmark to track and evaluate students’ performance in STEM subjects.
  • The STEM is Cool! campaign highlighted innovative and exciting work in STEM-related jobs
  • Privately-owned, for-profit “STEM salons” popped up across the country, selling STEM-centric courses, after school programs and even birthday parties for K-12 students.
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The business community’s dedicated campaign helped lead to a marked increase in awareness of STEM, the importance of STEM education and opportunities in related fields.

So this brings us to the next big opportunity in education: social-emotional learning and emotional intelligence.

Teaching Happiness: EQ and SEL

Emotional intelligence, or “EQ” for short, is defined as a person’s ability to be aware of, control and express their emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically”.

Social-emotional learning, better known as “SEL”, is the process of learning the knowledge and skills that allow people to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve goals, feel and show empathy for others, build supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.

social-emotional learning chart

Image courtesy of casel.org

SEL focuses on teaching five “key competencies” identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning:

  • Self-awareness: Being able to recognize emotions and their impact on behavior
  • Self-management: The ability to regulate thoughts, feelings and behaviors in different situations.
  • Social awareness: Understanding social norms for behavior, the ability to empathize with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures, and recognition of where there are sources of support.
  • Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy relationships with a diverse range of people. These skills also include the capability to not take others’ behavior personally as well as engage in “active listening”.
  • Responsible decision-making: Being able to realistically evaluate the consequences of actions and make decisions based on social and ethical norms and the well-being of others and themselves.

SEL also helps kids learn how to analyze and solve problems, set goals and embrace challenges and setbacks as part of the growth process.

In other words, social-emotional learning equips kids with skills they can use to practice happiness throughout their lives.

The Need for Social-Emotional Learning

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But why do we need to promote SEL and emotional intelligence?

The simple fact is that the overall mental health of Americans leaves a lot to be desired and kids today are exhibiting frighteningly high levels of negative behaviors.

The need for improved emotional intelligence is simply undeniable:

  • Violence: In 2015, 22% of students reported bullying and 10 million children experienced domestic violence. The US suffers the highest rates of murder and violent assault among developed countries.
  • Mental health: In 2015, an estimated 3 million adolescents experienced at least one major depressive episode. That represents 12.5% of kids aged 10 to 17 years old, and rates of reported depression and anxiety are increasing. And half of surveyed parents have described their kids as “over stressed” since the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns.
  • Suicide: Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24 years old, and suicide rates have been increasing each year over the last decade. And the COVID-19 pandemic increased the rates of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts even higher.
  • Academic performance: In 2013, 65% of all US fourth graders tested as “below proficient” in literacy, with 80% of low income students falling into that category. After years of intense focus on reading, those results remained largely flat as students suffer high rates of disengagement and lack motivation.
  • Criminalized behavior: Though popular, “zero tolerance” rules have served mostly to fill a “school-to-prison” pipeline as schools suspend, expel or prosecute students for relatively minor offenses – 2 million students are incarcerated each year. Communities of color bear the brunt of these outcomes.
  • Chronic stress: The chronic stress and trauma growing up in poverty or near-poverty takes a major toll on the academic climate and performance of more than 20 million kids each year.

The fact is, many kids today are unhappy. And these children carry this experience into adulthood.

Today’s adults report high levels of worker disengagement, on-the-job bullying and harassment, loneliness, domestic violence and lack of civic engagement.

Simply put, we are not teaching kids the skills vital to becoming happy, well-adjusted adults.

Practical benefits of social-emotional learning

young people on laptops

Investing in SEL to boost emotional intelligence brings benefits that  support society. That much is clear. This investment pays practical returns on investment to corporations and businesses:

It’s Time to Invest in SEL Like STEM

The need to boost investment in social-emotional learning is apparent and business leaders, much like they were with STEM education a decade ago, are in prime position to provide the necessary resources and support.

A broad ecosystem of SEL researchers, publishers, technology companies and service providers already exists. What they lack is a strong base of demand for their services.

Corporate demand and investment will drive schools to adopt comprehensive SEL programs, just as business demand and dollars drove them to adopt a comprehensive STEM curriculum.

And the best part is that we won’t need to wait 10 years to start seeing returns on this investment. High school students with just one year’s experiencing social-emotional learning will be better prepared to enter the labor force than workers without any SEL experience.

Just like with STEM education in 2011, the infrastructure for improving EQ through social-emotional learning is there. What’s needed now is the support from the business community that will lead schools to adopt SEL education at all levels.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

The Power of SEL

Social-Emotional Learning  empowers children to manage their own behavior in positive and productive ways, shifting control to the child.

This counters the “compliance model” widely used in U.S. schools, where adults hold all the power in classrooms and children are passive participants, not drivers of their own development and learning.

Being active in their own development is fundamental to children’s Emotional Intelligence learning, along with acquiring the ability to manage one’s emotions. Managing one’s emotions is hardly a given for a large segment of the population that, without this learning, is beset with remarkably high numbers of people suffering from anxiety or depression, anger issues, or high degrees of interpersonal conflict, violence and suicide.

In fact, most of us experience more emotional upsets and their consequences than we would prefer – in relationships, work, friendships, and in the everyday course of life.

This may be good for the bottom lines of pharmaceutical companies and therapists but is hugely costly in infinite ways to the common good and to the pocketbook of the society as a whole.

Neuroscience readily supports the positive effects of Social-Emotional Learning. Emotional reactions have been found to reside in the primordially-earlier lower brain around the amygdala while more sophisticated learning, thinking, and creativity occur in the later-in-evolution frontal lobes or “higher brain.” Brain scans show that when the lower brain is activated by emotional upset it lights up while the higher brain literally goes dark in activity.

The implications for students can’t be overstated – all learning stops while students are emotionally agitated, with their minds either distracted or full of negative thoughts about themselves, others or the situations they are in(Read more about Neuroscience.)

Conversely, academic learning takes place on a rapid scale once students are taught to manage their emotions and responses. Surveys of student and teacher satisfaction often soar into the 90 percentile after a school prioritizes Social-Emotional Learning.

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An important note: Social-Emotional Learning should not be confused with what educators call “Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS),” a widely implemented system based on “carrot-like” tangible rewards.

Moreover, in uninformed reports, some EQ goals and subset practices are mistakenly taken for the entire complex of EQ learnings students experience. Examples are “violence prevention,” “anti-bullying,” “grit,” “resilience,” “mindfulness” and “growth mindset” practices – the latter a training to be able to take on challenges and failures as normal and educational in themselves rather than as obstacles and defeats.

One other note: Education is littered with competing terms for Social-Emotional Learning, among them “emotional literacy,” “non-cognitive education,” “character education,” and “ethical and moral development.” By whatever name, schools adopting such learning should include the core competencies explained here and their goal should be the other term popular with educators: “Whole Child Development.”

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A Short History of Emotional Intelligence

The concept of EQ sprang from the landmark work of Harvard Education Professor Dr. Howard Gardner’s 1983-published theory about the “multiple intelligences” that humans possess. Specifically, EQ falls into a category he defined as ”inter- and intrapersonal” intelligence.

Building on this, two researchers – then Yale psychology professor Peter Salovey (now president of Yale) and University of New Hampshire psychology professor John D. Mayer – published an influential paper in 1990 introducing the term “Emotional Intelligence,” which Goleman cites in his work.

The term EQ over time often became coupled with the term “social intelligence,” meaning the ability to understand, empathize with, and influence the emotions of others.

From Goleman: “In practical terms, this means being aware that emotions can drive our behavior and impact people (positively and negatively), and learning how to manage those  emotions – both our own and others – especially when we are under pressure.”

Marc Brackett, Director of Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence, and Susan Rivers, protégés of Salovey, put it this way: “The process of integrating thinking, feeling, and behaving in order to become aware of the self and of others, make responsible decisions, and manage one’s own behaviors and those of others.”

Psychology Today dives in with this definition: “The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problems solving….[and] the ability to cheer up or calm down another person.”

Youth-focused approaches that combine EQ development with other life skills have now come to be defined by the term Social-Emotional Learning by educators and in child development and psychology realms, as well as in certain business quarters that apply such learning to adults.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, the nation’s leading SEL practice, policy, and research organization, defines SEL as “the process through which children (and adults) acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

CASEL pointedly notes that for SEL to be highly effective it needs to “nest” and be practiced in all school environments by all staff, including integrated in academic classes and non-class activities, in community service by students, and with parents integrated at the school level.

CASEL believes that SEL, correctly implemented, is the platform and process for a potential revolutionary leap forward in educating the “whole child.”