HundrED and The LEGO Foundation have joined together again to create the Social & Emotional Spotlight Report to identify impactful and scalable solutions that help parents and educators support the development of children’s social and emotional skills.
“Social and emotional learning is good for the child, good for the workforce, and good for society.”
Anne-Birgitte Albrechtsen, Chief Executive Officer at The LEGO Foundation.
Citing mounting evidence of ongoing harm, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy on Tuesday issued a public health advisory on the mental health challenges confronting youth, a rare warning and call to action to address what he called an emerging crisis exacerbated by pandemic hardships.
Some groups are now targeting an educational approach that recognizes the connection between a student’s academic achievement and his or her social and emotional skills. This agenda is especially troubling as research has demonstrated the severe impacts of the pandemic on student social and emotional well-being.
In an interview, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stated that empathy is the one trait that is more important than talent or experience. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of other people. Having empathy means you can focus first on the people and their needs. However, all too often it is an afterthought.
The return of students and teachers to classrooms is highlighting the extraordinary impact the pandemic has had — and continues to have — on students’ mental health. Anxiety about making friends, the loss of loved ones who passed, and difficulties with basic behavioral skills are a few examples of social and emotional pressures. If left unmet, the mental health needs caused by these pressures will mark this generation in yet another way and keep them from living up to their potential.
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.
Research has found that if someone feels empathy, even if it’s just from watching a touching video, it can make them feel more connected to — and generous toward — others. In other words, practicing empathy with your kids can help them grow up to be emotionally intelligent adults. Based on our 60 years of combined experience working with parents and their kids, here are some of the most effective ways to teach children empathy.
“Resiliency is the ability to engage with a challenge, risk or impediment, and come out the other side with some measure of success. It’s a psychological principle blending optimism, flexibility, problem-solving and motivation.
Most experts say resiliency is something that can be fostered, nurtured, and developed in children from a very young age.
The ability to bounce back is more important now than ever; here’s how to impart it.“
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.
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.
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
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
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:
- Improved leadership: Understanding what drives other’s behavior (a key component of emotional intelligence) is vital to effective business leadership. (SHRM)
- More effective teams: Psychological safety – the ability to express vulnerability and take risks in front of other team members – is the most important factor determining the effectiveness of a team.
- More successful employees: The most important thing for employee success isn’t pure IQ. In fact, a high emotional intelligence is the best predictor for a worker’s success.
- More valuable customers: Happy employees add more value to a business in the form of happier customers. In fact, boosting employee happiness by only a small amount can help increase overall market valuation up to nearly 20%.
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.