We talk often these days about helping our children be ready for kindergarten or maybe ready for college. The Forum for Youth Investment talks about Ready by 21 - ready for work, college and life. But what does it really mean to be ready? And when we say ready do we mean ready in all the ways that matter - ready cognitively but also socially and emotionally?
In many ways being ready means you are equipped with skills to deal with what lies ahead and to learn from as well as contribute to what is happening. This combination of preparedness and openness to learning is ideal for development. It means you are equipped with key skills you may need not only to survive but also to thrive in the next opportunity for learning.
Far too often we fail to recognize the importance of being ready - being equipped to learn and grow and the very skills that can most equip us for life. We have fallen into a belief that we primarily need to equip our youth with cognitive skills - like reading, writing and arithmetic - and with content knowledge. We are far less focused on how we equip our youth socially and emotionally. Equipping them in these areas is recognized in early childhood but too often forgotten as children enter school and are primarily tested on what they can do on achievement tests.
In 2014 I had the pleasure of chairing a task force for Generation Next, the Strive-like collective impact effort in the Twin Cities focused on closing the achievement gap. The task force will soon be recommending that Generation Next recognize and work toward a new goal in its efforts to assure all children learn. That goal is to ensure "every child is socially and emotionally equipped to learn." Equipped with ways of being that help them build a strong identity, build awareness of their feelings and others, and build the kind of navigational skills they will need to succeed in learning and in life. They need to not only be equipped at these three levels but also equipped in three critical areas - ways of feeling, ways of relating, and ways of doing.
Research is increasingly showing the importance of these social and emotional skills as not only predictors of success but also as critical to a young person's readiness to take on what comes next. When we equip a young person with a positive identity as a learner they approach situations differently. When we equip youth with navigational skills that help them constructively manage their emotions and their relationships with others we are giving them skills that enable learning new things in new ways. We are preparing them for what is next - not just for what is.
In a few months we will also be releasing work from another task force that has been focused on what social and emotional outcomes out of school time youth programs can influence. This task force will encourage programs and the systems that support them to improve their intentionality around social and emotional skills as outcomes -- outcomes they attend to, act strategically to develop, and which they assess appropriately.
As the new year starts are you ready to intentionally improve the ways you help equip your youth with the social and emotional skills they need to learn and contribute when faced with the challenges and opportunities that come their way? What could you do in 2015 to better attend to social and emotional skills? What could you do to take action in designing your program and its activities, to start assessing the social and emotional skills of your young people and the ways your programs impact these skills? And perhaps most importantly, what can we do together to socially and emotionally equip all youth with the skills they need to be ready to learn and succeed in life?
-- Dale Blyth, Extension professor, School of Social Work, College of Education and Human Development *
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