The Missing “Rs” Make Good Students, Good People
Published as “Succeeding with Superior Social Skills” in Feb, 2009 issue of ASCD Express
Corinne Gregory, Founder of SocialSmarts®
Everyone hears about the need for improved academic achievement, narrowing of the achievement gap for minority and low-income populations, improving school safety and culture, among other “ills” plaguing our students’ education. Generally the solutions proposed involve increased funding for schools, more emphasis on academics, better qualified teachers and staff. But, as we’re trying to teach our students the traditional “3 Rs” (Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic) it’s the forgotten “Rs” that are hampering their academic and personal achievement the most.
The missing “Rs” (Respect, Responsibility, Reliability, Resourcefulness) refer to social skills and positive character development, and have been shown to be the most important factor in a child’s personal and professional success, out-ranking academic achievement, socio-economic status, or professional or personal connections. Traditionally, students learned these vital life skills outside of school, in the home and in their communities. Today, however, for a myriad of reasons, too many students come to school under-prepared with those social skills and character foundations that help them be successful in the classroom environment. Further, this inadequacy continues and frequently worsens throughout their education, so that they are too-often unprepared for the job market at the end of their school career.
Every facet of the educational process suffers from this problem. Disruptive students and inadequate classroom discipline is one of the biggest problems facing education today. Bullying and other forms of school-based violence remain at frightening levels, leaving students, teachers and staff feeling unsafe. Too many teachers leave the profession because of burnout and frustration with unruly students. Students cannot learn in an environment where more time is spent on classroom discipline and maintaining order and engagement than there is on teaching. And the students that suffer the most are often those traditionally left-behind – minority students, ELLs, and those from lower economic populations, – who often are not exposed to the social and emotional learning that is the expected cultural norm for the mainstream market.
When effective social skills education is brought into the classroom, everyone benefits. Students learn vital lessons about conduct and character, framed in a way that makes it clear about what’s in it for them and why they should care about better behavior and values. Teachers are able to spend more time on productive teaching, and they report up to 40% increases in student time on task. Bullying and other anti-social behaviors drop dramatically. And, not surprisingly, academic achievement improves. Students gain valuable skills and character traits that improve their immediate educational experience and outcomes, and more of them leave the school system able and job-ready. The achievement gap will narrow when all students have access to those critical skills, because social skills are the great equalizer that empowers them to compete academically and professionally on a level playing field.
The data also indicates that benefits to students appear to last long after the lessons are taught. A study released in December, 2008 by the University of Washington shows that 15 years after students received intervention in social skills in elementary school, they have better mental health, improved educational development, and higher economic status. Another study, from the University of Illinois, published in October. 2008 showed that students documented to have better social skills in high school were earning more ten years later than students with equal test scores but lesser social skills.
Academics is certainly important, but there’s more to a complete and adequate education than just book-learning. In today’s environment, we cannot afford to make a choice of academics OR social skills – both must be taught in order to make education work. Teach students the three traditional Rs and then add those additional overlooked Rs, and then we have done everything we can to help build students prepared to be successful customers, employees, and leaders for the next generation.
Corinne Gregory is an education expert, speaker, author and media source, creator of the SocialSmarts® program from The PoliteChild®, and a mother of three. She welcomes all comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.More information can be found on the company’s website at www.socialsmarts.com.