A teacher shared a remarkable story about a young disengaged student. Given the choice of completing his work or taking a “0,” he always chose the “0.” As the 7th grade was ending, a team of firefighters came to school to share about their work and the skills it takes to become a firefighter. His teachers were amazed at how much he participated in the discussion — until, that is, the firefighters began talking about the social emotional learning skills needed to become a firefighter. The firefighters explained that maintaining composure and managing stress, especially under pressure, were some of the most important resiliency skills needed to qualify — and those were the skills this student struggled with. It turns out that one reason he did not perform in school was because he needed to spend so much energy managing his anger. He was agitated all the time.
What is remarkable about this story is that this student’s desire to pursue firefighting was so strong that, for the remainder of the year, he focused on school work and learning how to manage his anger.
How many disengaged students are actually struggling with significant stress and mental and physical health concerns? How many are feeling disconnected to peers and family? How many of our high-performing students are not likely to make it in college because they also are struggling with many critical resiliency skills?
“Future Ready” means our students are becoming college and career ready by developing the academic and social emotional learning skills needed to become resilient when faced with major transitions and life challenges.
We use grades and test scores to assess whether students are progressing academically. In order to know whether our students are becoming Future Ready, however, I developed and validated for Graduation Alliance’s ScholarCentric a social emotional learning skills assessment toolkit. In addition to a college and career readiness assessment, there is an assessment tool that is able to offer early warning indicators for students at risk for eventually dropping out of school. What I am most proud of is that the assessments offer teacher and school counselors important and concrete information about what social emotional learning skills students need to develop. For the 7th grade student in the opening example, the assessment would likely have indicated high levels of physical agitation and classroom stress. I wouldn’t be surprised if he also reported low self-efficacy for engaging in classroom and social activities. Why is this important? Because each of the social emotional learning skills we assess are “malleable.” They can be improved.
I received an update on our 7th grade student, who recently graduated from high school. A school counselor reported to me that she saw him in full firefighting gear collecting donations with his crew. He had passed his Emergency Medical Technician certification and was now a volunteer. The local fire department has been supporting him throughout his time in high school and consider him one of their own.
While I love this story, the fact is we have so many youth who are struggling with many social emotional issues. Let’s help all of our students become Future Ready by assessing which social emotional learning skills need attention and working with them to address those skills.
Dr. V. Scott H. Solberg
Professor, Boston University and author of Making School Relevant with Individualized Learning Plans: Helping Students Create Their Own Career and Life Goals, available from Harvard Education Press.
Graduation Alliance’s ScholarCentric program helps school leaders get more students on the path for graduation and post-secondary success, through a research-based resiliency solution. To learn more, click here.