When schools focus on teaching social, emotional, and character skills, the quality of education improves. So say parents, teachers, and students involved in a study of 20 elementary schools recently conducted in Hawaii by Oregon State University.
Half of the schools in the sample took part in a program for less than an hour a week which taught students these skills through organized character-building activities. Teachers in those schools reported a 21% increase in “overall school quality.” Students and parents also reported significant improvement. Previous studies have shown these types of programs to lead to much lower numbers of suspensions, fewer children absent from school, and better reading and math scores on standardized tests.
“Improved social and character skills leave more time for teachers to teach, and students to learn and be more motivated,” said Brian Flay, an OSU professor in the School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences. “What we’re finding now is that we can really address some of the concerns in our schools by focusing more on character in the classroom.
“These are not new concepts, they’re the kind of things that have always been discussed in families, church and social groups,” Flay said. “A third-grade lesson, for instance, might be helping kids to understand how other people feel, to learn about empathy. That may seem simple, but in terms of educational performance it’s important.”
It doesn’t surprise me to see major improvement in schools when children internalize these lessons. I guess what surprises me is how successfully the instructors are teaching these concepts to students. Teaching social and emotional character development effectively in less than an hour a week seems like an extremely tall order for teachers. Their success speaks to the quality of the curriculum and their dedication to implement it.
Besides the K-12 curricula used in the program, there was also teacher and staff training, parent and community involvement, and continuing positive support, which I’m assuming came from all these sources. Topics included self-concept, physical and intellectual actions, managing oneself responsibly, getting along with others, honesty, and self-improvement,
An article from OregonState.edu states, “The findings suggest that schools, districts, states and the federal government should consider policies and funding directed toward social and character programs of this type, the researchers said.
With a partnership of parents, teachers, and community leaders working to teach kids these skills, I’m sure communities will see effects that reach further than simply improving schools. But then, that’s the end goal of improving schools, right? Raising well-adjusted, happy, capable, successful kids?