Social and Emotional Skills: Introduction

While growing up, young people acquire an array of cognitive, emotional and social skills. These skills mostly develop unconsciously and automatically in children as a result of interactions with family and their surroundings. By the time kids are 5 or 6, they spend more of their waking hours in school interacting with teachers and classmates than they do with family. Thus, the social experience at school can have a profound impact on the trajectory of development of these fundamental life skills.

While the basics of learning to manage emotions and relationships are developed in younger children, as kids mature, their relationships become more varied and complex as does their inner world of ideas and feelings (assuming all is proceeding well enough). Thus, the ongoing development and refining of these internal skills is an important element of even the high school experience. Furthermore, young people who are lacking in these skills are at higher risk of emotional, social and even academic problems and are at higher risk for difficulties when making the transition into college and adulthood.

Just as you cannot learn to cook by reading cookbooks or to play a musical instrument by listening to music on YouTube, skills like self-awareness, recognizing personal values, perseverance, managing relationships, conflict and healthy competition cannot be taught effectively as classroom/lecture content-they need to be experienced. There is much that can be done in school-both in the classroom and in other settings-that can promote and enhance these skills. When teachers and administrators model attitudes and communications that promote curiosity, self-exploration, awareness of and sensitivity to the views and feelings of others, deep reading and analytical thinking, group activities and the like, social and emotional skills can be enhanced. Similarly, classwork and other activities that are intellectually engaging, reasonably challenging and that provide opportunities for thoughtful feedback and positive interaction with fellow students, faculty and staff can be valuable ingredients in helping promote a realistic positive self-image, perseverance and grit.

As Set to Go matures, it is our hope to develop programming and activity toolkits to help bring our web content to life at schools. We invite you, as you review this section (and the sections on Social and Emotional Skills for Students and Families) of the Set to Go website, to think about how you might translate these ideas into programs, conversations and activities in your schools. We’d love to hear your ideas and experiences as you put these idea into action.

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