The need for social and emotional learning

Opinion: Columns

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By Melissa Ford

Coach - Personal & Business

Developing our children's intellect has been the primary focus of schools, yet according to Tom McSheehy, family therapist, writer, educator and former teacher at Holmes School in Oak Park, key skills that are vital for learning and thriving in life aren't being taught to the extent they need to be. Kids may be learning core academic subjects, but this limited focus is what's keeping schools out of sync with what is needed in the world.

So what's missing?

McSheehy, author of the new book, In Focus: Improving Social and Emotional Intelligence One Day at a Time, says the skills connected to social and emotional intelligence and the skills that help kids learn effectively and efficiently as well as developing resilience, reducing sickness, enhancing relationships and empowering children.

In other words, skills that help kids build mental health.

Children need to know how to manage and express their emotions, calm themselves, focus their attention, express empathy and work collaboratively. Kids also need to learn to persevere when things get difficult or challenging as well as negotiate and resolve differences. McSheehy says these skills can be taught, just like reading and math, and, if incorporated in our schools, will bring about a dramatic change in the success of our children at every level.

McSheehy's own work has helped administrators, teachers, legislators and parents understand the need to incorporate social and emotional learning into school curricula. He highlights current research findings that support this new edge of growth, findings that fully support the necessity of teaching to the entire child by bringing emotion back into the classroom.

Consider these compelling facts:

  • Emotion plays a major role in every intellectual process and is a driving force in how children's brains organize themselves.
  • Fear and anxiety interfere with learning, whereas safety and security support and facilitate learning.
  • Students in schools with social and emotional learning programs score higher on their standardized achievement tests than students in schools without such programs by an average of 11 percentile points.
  • Students who are taught social and emotional learning are better behaved, more positive and less anxious than students who aren't taught these skills.
  • Social and emotional intelligence is critical to success in schools, jobs, relationships and navigating life challenges. Students who learn to identify, manage and express feelings constructively are more likely to avoid anxiety issues, depression and other mental-health disorders.
  • 67% of the skills that corporations look for in new employees are related to social and emotional intelligence. It is no longer enough to just teach the traditional core subjects.
  • Children who by the age of 10 can delay gratification, control impulses and modulate emotional expression become healthier, wealthier and more responsible adults. (Based on the research of Terrie Moffit of Duke University and a team of researchers who followed a group of 1,000 children for 32 years.)

Care to learn more about the social and emotional edge of growth? McSheehy will be leading a workshop for teachers on May 15, followed by a parent presentation, at 7 p.m. on May 16 at Magic Tree Bookstore. Go to or call 708-848-0770 for more information or to sign up. For information on McSheehy's new book for educators, go to or contact Tom at



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Teresa Frisbie from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2013 9:07 AM

I am a fan of the work of both Tom McSheehy and Melissa Ford and I see the value of teaching emotional intelligence from an early age from the work that I do as mediator and as Director of the Dispute Resolution Program at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. People who can self-regulate their own emotions and employ practical problem solving skills in the face of conflict fare far better in negotiation and conflict situations.

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