Why Social and Emotional Learning?

There is a growing, national understanding of the importance of developing social and emotional skills in young people to help them do well in school and successfully navigate into adulthood.

Research and practice are showing that children who develop social and emotional skills have a greater chance of achieving better long-term outcomes. This goes for young people from all socio-economic strata, but is especially true for young people from low-income backgrounds, who often face more intractable obstacles. Although rigorous academic preparation is a critical factor, a strong body of research and practice is showing that more is needed to ensure a child thrives in school and beyond.

The Tauck Family Foundation enlisted the expertise of Child Trends, a national non-profit, non-partisan research firm, to review the literature and help us better understand which social and emotional skills and competencies contribute to positive outcomes for children and youth. We were particularly interested in skills that are both malleable (i.e., could be taught to elementary children) and predictive of future positive outcomes. From this work, we identified a group of social and emotional skills—self-control, persistence, mastery orientation, academic self-efficacy, and social competence—that have strong evidence showing that they increase children’s capacity to benefit from school. For a detailed overview of these skills, please see our Child Outcomes page. We also invite you to read the reports and working papers that Child Trends produced in partnership with the Tauck Family Foundation on our Reports & Tools page. 

There are several compelling reasons that we have decided to focus on these five often mutually-reinforcing skills:

These skills empower children.

These skills offer children ways to regulate their own behavior and thus exert a measure of control over their own outcomes, both in and out of school. This is especially powerful, given the obstacles that children from low-income communities typically face and how “out of control” such obstacles can make a young person feel. Arming children with this particular set of skills can be transformative. They empower students to:

  • manage their own behavior and emotions, solve problems, and persist when they meet challenges;
  • develop high expectations and a forward-looking vision for their futures;
  • understand that the efforts they make in school will help them achieve that future vision;
  • enjoy the process of working and learning, even if they make mistakes; and believe in their ability to achieve in school and reach their goals; and
  • interact well with others and maintain positive peer relationships.

These are the skills that will help low-income children succeed.

All of these skills have been found in the research literature to be strongly related to a range of positive outcomes, including academic achievement and school engagement.

These skills are important in both the short- and long-term: in some cases, the skill contributes to a childhood outcome that predicts later success. For example, persistence contributes to faster growth in reading skills between kindergarten and third grade. In turn, being able to read by the end of third grade is a critical predictor of later school success. In other cases, the skill itself is important to help adolescents and adults navigate their lives. One of the skills—self-control—has been found to be remarkably stable over time and, once developed, is likely to persist through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.  

These skills can be fostered in different types of programs, including schools and out-of-school settings.  

Many educators believe that schools, where children spend the majority of their waking hours, are responsible for developing social and emotional skills, as much as they are academic knowledge. Although teachers in schools have long recognized the importance of these skills, the extent to which they have been a focus of effort in the classroom varies. That said, schools are certainly a place where these skills could be taught.

Over the last two decades, out-of-school time (OST) programs have expanded rapidly, serving more children, in more communities, for more hours each day, throughout the school year and summer. Research has shown that these programs are also well positioned to build children’s skills and help improve their academic performance. OST programming plays a particularly important role for students living in poverty—offering experiences and skill-building opportunities that more affluent families may take for granted.

Schools, OST programs, and possibly other types of programs, present ripe opportunities to help develop these social and emotional skills in children.

These skills are malleable and trackable

The good news is that these social and emotional skills are both teachable and trackable. But despite this, there are not many organizations that have worked to increase and measure these outcomes over time, particularly in a performance management setting. For this reason, the Tauck Family Foundation will focus on developing the capacities of organizations that want to help young people from Bridgeport to build these vital social and emotional skills—and that are interested in using a performance management approach to develop and improve their programming.

In addition, strategies to build these skills are complementary and overlapping. Programs that incorporate these strategies and focus consciously on helping children develop these skills will be well positioned to have a positive impact in the elementary school years and beyond. 

Read more about the Rationale for our Mission:

Why social investing and performance management?

Why early childhood through middle school students?

Why family engagement?

Why Bridgeport, Connecticut?