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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 *

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  1. Dale,
    Thank you for your blog, I have also come to an age where I have seen some educational fads appear. Good ideas appear and work in certain settings but evaporate just as quickly. To me, this is where the work of 4-H and Youth Development is the most important. We mesh our time-honored experiential learning with seasoned best practices.
    I especially liked how you pointed out that tests are not and should not be the only focus of our youth people, this is also where our work fits in so appropriately as we do not have the constraints of a school system...we have the ability to be visible through creative and unique partners yet evaluate effectively.
    The time is right to make the case, our youth are at stake. Who do you think is the best audience, and by 'best' I mean SHOULD hear it?

  2. Joshua, thanks for your comments on the importance of blending traditions and new experiences and the flexibility that youth programs have. As a field we need to continue to take advantage of these strengths. The timing for doing so is upon us as so many factors come together.
    With respect to your question on who should hear our messages, I believe the answer is plural not singular. There is no one group that needs to hear but many -- and they need to hear "it" with more consistency, clarity, focus, and intentionality. As a field we need to proudly claim what we do and how we do it and connect it to outcomes that are social and emotional in nature as well as powerful predictors of other valued outcomes. Among those who need to hear are corporate leaders, eduction leaders, funders, parents, and members of our own field who need to sacrifice some of their uniqueness for a stronger commonality.
    Who do others think need to hear about what we do, how we do it, and the outcomes for which we strive?
    And what do think the "it" is we need to tell them?

  3. Hi Dale,
    Thank you for this conversation and I couldn't agree more with your 4 "Must do" agenda items! I believe SE skills are critical to healthy development and in a perfect world all sectors and organizations that work with young people would be building SE factors into their program, organization/ school culture, in homes, etc. Unfortunately, this isn't the case and academics and competition win out as the "important" things young people need to learn or do well in in order to succeed. As a mother of a teenager, I often feel like I am fighting an uphill battle trying to teach my daughter SE skills while everything else in her life is telling her those aren't important, rather getting good grades, having cool friends and the latest technology is. I believe so many of the issues we face today as a nation stem from the lack of SE skills in adults: inability to compromise and find common ground in politics, destroying our earth and the health and well being of all living creatures for the sake of making money, high poverty and tremendous gaps between those that have a lot and those that have very little, inequality in our education, justice and political systems (just to name a few), and the list goes on. It appears we could all benefit from greater self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. And we can't teach what we don't know and practice ourselves...

  4. Susan - Thank you for your comment and for the critical point that SE skills are foundational. They affect so much of what we do and how we think about things. Developing SE skills will not make us more progressive or more conservative but they will help us find a path forward -- whether n the playground in the classroom or in our homes or in our deals with others as adults. Thinking about the future because we are hopeful and being able to set goals and accomplish them because we can stay focused and enlist others support will make us act today in ways better for all tomorrow.

  5. Susan, I appreciate your comment about know about these skills ourselves before we can teach our youth. The awareness of what these skills are, what they look like in practice, and HOW we can teach them in our homes, schools and youth programs is essential. Judging by the numbers planning to attend the symposium with Roger Weissberg next week at McNamara, there is a high interest in learning more. From there we immerse in how we determine some goals and strategies and measurement. I am excited about the potential!