University of Minnesota Extension
Menu Menu

Extension > Youth Development Insight > September 2013

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why enter the social and emotional "jungle" now?

Dale-Blyth.jpgOver the years, I have seen fads come and go in our field. I would argue that the evidence is there and the time is right to tackle the "jingle jangle jungle" of social and emotional factors Kate blogged about last week.

Now is the right time to undertake an initiative aimed at making a difference in how we think about, assess, and work to improve policy and practice based on these factors.

We must:
  • Move social and emotional factors into the mainstream of what we social-emotional-jungle.jpgseek for our youth.
  • Expand how we seek to close gaps.
  • Change how we assess what is important for youth to succeed.
  • Change how we focus our efforts on the learning and development of our young people -- not only on tests but in school, life, college, careers and as citizens.
Why now, you may ask? The conditions that make a significant effort not only the right thing to do but also the right time to move ahead tend to share three characteristics:


Social and emotional factors provide a possible strategy to address educational and health disparities here in Minnesota, where our high averages but very large disparities are simply intolerable. Such visibility helps a strategy get attention in new ways. This opens the door to exploring new possibilities - even ones that may have been known for a long time.

There is a desire for impact approaches that use multi-sector partnerships and data to drive improvement and sustainable change. In the Twin Cities and all around the country there are a variety of cradle-to-career, educational pipeline efforts that are looking to identify new strategies that can make a difference, such as Ready by 21, Strive and Generation Next.

These visible, collective efforts are proactively looking for new strategies and have identified the need for a way to better support and advance social and emotional factors as part of their data-driven solutions. At a national level this has lead to the creation of a task force and major set of reports to be released shortly on how communities can define and measure social and emotional or so called "non-cognitive "factors. Our own Paul Mattessich from Wilder Research and Kent Pekel from Search Institute serve on that task force.


In order for a wave to get started and be sustained, there must be credible evidence that these factors, and strategies to improve them, can and do make a difference in addressing the issues of concern. This factor can best be seen in the number of reports cited in last week's blog by Kate as well as the book on How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. Ideally, as an issue or problem becomes visible the credible evidence for the strategy is also growing. These factors come to re-enforce each other to build momentum. This is currently happening in this area.


If a strategy sounds good but is not seen as something that we can and should be doing with our children, it is unlikely to catch on. There is now considerable evidence that social and emotional factors not only matter but they are changeable through intentional efforts (for CASEL reports as an example) by parents, schools and community programs.

In addition, the results are measurable. The "jungle" of measures out there makes it clear that these factors can and should be routinely assessed as a way of supporting learning and development in the classroom and in community learning opportunities.

Because of the visibility, credibility and do-ability of social and emotional learning I believe this is a wave that can become a sustained movement that makes a difference -- not just another fad that crashes on the rocky shores of educational disparities.

Do you agree that the time is right? What do you think about these factors in the social and emotional jungle we face?

Dale Blyth, Extension professor, School of Social Work, College of Education and Human Development *

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc. -- as well as spam.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The jingle jangle jungle of social and emotional learning

Sung to the tune of "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off":

You say non-cognitive and I say socio-emotional,
You say initiative and I say self-direction,
Engagement, motivation,
Problem solving, critical thinking,
Let's call the whole thing off!

To be successful in school now and ready for college and careers later, young people need to develop a range of skills variously referred to as social-emotional, non-cognitive, soft or 21st century skills. In this basket of skills, you may think of self-confidence, perseverance, empathy, teamwork or critical thinking. There is increasing evidence that these skills are critical to success, but little agreement about how to label and measure them.

We have different terms for similar concepts, such as initiative and self-direction. We use the same term, like engagement, to mean different things, like motivation and participation. A recent report reminds us that "21st century skills" have been valuable for centuries. Another report laments the false dichotomy between academic "cognitive" factors and softer "non-cognitive" skills. Dr. Charles Smith, executive director of the Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, referred to this terminological morass as a "jingle jangle jungle". But rather than call the whole thing off, let's get past labels and start to build shared understanding.

Here at the Extension Center for Youth Development, the Howland Endowment sponsors an endowed chair and a learning series designed to bridge research and practice around critical youth development issues. As part of the larger University and Extension efforts to address Minnesota's achievement and opportunity gaps, the next three-year series is dedicated to understanding social and emotional learning. The goals are enhanced understanding of the importance of social and emotional learning, increased consensus around common language and measures, and increased efforts to promote, assess, and support social and emotional learning in youth development programs.

On October 30, Dr. Roger Weissberg will present the first in this series of symposia, "Social and Emotional Learning: From research to strategies." Weissberg is president and CEO of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), an international organization committed to making social and emotional learning an essential part of education.

Weissberg will share a rationale for making social and emotional learning an educational priority in the United States. He will describe recent research and proven strategies of how families, schools and communities are strengthening social and emotional skills as an essential part of every young person's learning and development. You can register for this event now and attend online or in person.

Which terms from the "jingle jangle jungle" resonate for you, and why? If you could focus on helping young people develop just one of these skills, which would you choose? (See how others answered this question when the Search Institute posed it in the Soft Skills Prioritization Poll.)

What is one thing (an action, a resource) that you hope would result from a multi-year focus on social and emotional learning?

-- Kate Walker, Assistant Extension professor and Extension specialist, youth work practice

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc. -- as well as spam.
  • © Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
  • The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy