Embodied in the meaning and spirit of “teaching the whole child” is the idea of developing children both academically and socially. More broadly, meeting the needs of the whole child includes teaching rich academic content within the larger context of how students will contribute in the workplace and as citizens of the world when they are grown. To that end, I am thrilled to see more emphasis on the express (and urgent) need to teach character, social skills, and positive behaviors in schools. There is mounting evidence to suggest that teaching character, prosocial skills, and emotional skills are critical predictors of future success in the workplace. At Performance Academies, we have been leaders in teaching a meaningful and intentional curriculum of character education infused with positive behavioral training for nearly 13 years.
David Deming suggests that within the next 20 years, the top paying jobs will go to those not with education alone, but to “people people”. (See: Lizzie Heiselt—”This is the skill that determines your child’s future employability” http://qz.com/510622/this-is-the-skill-that-determines-your-childs-future-employability/ ). Whether kids are future salespeople, teachers, builders, physicians, etc., they will need the proper interpersonal tools to successfully navigate the people relationships that will make them successful in their adult jobs.
Dr. Howard Knoff, past President of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), and creator and director of Project Achieve, also raises the issue in his recent blog. He emphasizes the importance of students’ social, emotional and behavioral skills. He poses, “The importance of teaching students—from preschool through high school— interpersonal, social problem-solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills is supported both by research and practice.” (See: “Improving Our Schools”— http://www.improvingourschools.blogspot.com )
Similarly, recent research from around the world highlights how mental health intervention actually improves school achievement, and also improves outcomes for at-risk youth. “By recognizing that good mental health is essential to learning, it has taken a place of leadership among world nations,” says Michael Jellinek, MD, creator of the Pediatric Symptoms Checklist and co-author of the Skills for Life Program in Chile. (See: Medical News-“National school-based mental health intervention improves outcomes for at-risk students” http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/299913.php )
It also seems that students themselves recognize the importance of prosocial behaviors in school and the connection between positive behaviors, attitudes, and future success. The Gallup Student Poll, for example, is a survey that measures the hope, engagement, and wellbeing of students in grades 5-12 and serves as a “measure of non-cognitive metrics that predicts student success in academic and other settings”. (See: “Gallup Student Poll-Measure What Matters for Student Success – Engaged for Today, Ready for Tomorrow” –http://www.gallupstudentpoll.com/171791/gallup-student-poll.aspx ). Gallup’s research has shown that hope, engagement, and wellbeing are key factors that drive students’ grades, achievement scores, and also future employment.
Arguably, prosocial behavior and interpersonal skills reign more important than ever in the workplace due to the transformational nature of work. The need for teamwork, project based collaboration, and emphasis on group outcomes, makes interpersonal skills a fundamental element for success in the present and future workplace, not a secondary one.
Of course, providing a content rich, quality academic education for all students is a primary component of facilitating student preparedness for the workplace. But, as the Common Core and the testing debates rage on, are we missing the boat on something at least as important, if not bigger?
And with Arne Duncan stepping down as Education Secretary and John King slated to take over the Department of Education in December, might we see a shift to emphasize teaching prosocial skills in schools, or will the emphasis remain on testing and fighting about the Common Core standards? (See: Education Week—“Arne Duncan to Step Down as Ed. Sec., John King to Head Up Department” http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2015/10/arne_duncan_to_step_down_in_de.html?cmp=soc-tw-shr). One thing is for sure, if schools ignore purposeful development of the people skills necessary for future success in the workplace, even as we rightfully address raising academic standards, the American workforce will continue to lag.