It’s ALL Academic

Meet the Makers

Matt Watson, Director of Maker Outreach

Q: What’s your best scary story?

A: Well, it’s more like the WORST scary story. I have been attacked by large, savage wild animals on two separate continents. I’m still traumatized any time I see a deer. That’s right, both times I was viciously attacked by crazed deer. The first time was in Yosemite Valley in 1993. The fierce buck was laying in wait under the guise of posing for photos with small children. It waited until I stepped out of my car before lowering its head and thrusting its barbed antlers into my mid-section. It was only thanks to my quick reflexes and strength of hand that I was able to divert the beast’s charge and flee to the safety of my family sedan. The second time was in the Tuscan countryside of Italy in 2015. This time, the deer tried to take advantage of the fact that I was napping to launch its attack.  Fortunately, I was protected by the vehicle I was traveling in at a safe speed of 45 kph.  That’ll teach him!

Q: What clothing item would make you walk out on a date if someone wore it?

A: Are you kidding? You think I get enough dates that I can afford to walk out on one for ANY reason? Ok, maybe Birkenstocks…

This Week’s Focus

Driving Question

How can we encourage all schools, districts and society in general to value social and emotional competencies as much as we do the traditional subject matter in schools?

(March 11th is International Social Emotional Learning Day. Read on for ideas on how to celebrate.) 

Over the past couple of decades, schools have increasingly come to recognize the importance of social-emotional learning (SEL). The pandemic has both accelerated and deepened that appreciation. Today, you will hear educational leaders across the nation acknowledge that SEL is “almost as important” or even “as important” as academic learning. But I assert that social emotional learning IS academic learning!

Since schools were first instituted, society has accepted the development of traditional subject area content knowledge, or “book smarts,” as the primary reason that we send our kids to school. Because of this view, when we compare or even refer to other content outside of that subject area content, we diminish its importance as “not academic.”  Even today, we hear by a small minority of traditionalists that schools should “stick to teaching the 3 R’s…” implying that character, social and emotional skills are less important.  

However, I believe that no one would disagree with the following assertion in 2022:  It is the job of schools to prepare students for professional success.  Sure, some would advocate that schools need to prepare children to be good people, kind and caring citizens, as well as possessing other positive yet highly social competencies.  I would agree. Some may not. Either way, I think we can all agree on the importance of preparation for professional success.

Recently, as it does every year, Boston University’s Center for Career Development surveyed employers and then published a list of the Top 10 Skills/Qualities employers seek.  Let’s look at that list and then determine which academic domain(s) each pertains to. I label the “core content subject matter” in italics, while I label the the more “SEL-oriented domains” in bold.

  • Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization (Communication / English Language Arts)
  • Ability to work in a team structure (Collaboration / Communication)
  • Ability to make decisions and solve problems (Critical Thinking / Problem Solving / Math / Science)
  • Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work (Interpersonal Self-Control / Critical Thinking)
  • Ability to obtain and process information (Numeracy / Scientific Literacy)
  • Ability to analyze quantitative data (Mathematical & Scientific Literacy)
  • Technical knowledge related to the job (Depends on the area)
  • Proficiency with computer software programs (ICT Literacy)
  • Ability to create and/or edit written reports (Writing)
  • Ability to sell or influence others (Social & Cultural Literacy)

As you can see, of the 10 qualities identified by employers, 50% of the primary skills and 30% of the secondary skills are social or emotionally related.  And did you notice that the identified skills that are HIGHEST on the list were the SEL skills? 

Now, “The American Dream” was never to simply have a job; it is to OWN the business, or to otherwise “get ahead.” And in the 2022 American economy, it is entrepreneurialism (or at least entrepreneurial skills) that are truly valued.  Even with employees, top salaries go to those who can manage (organize, delegate, make decisions) or create.  So as long as entrepreneurial leadership is what is truly valued, let’s look at Forbes Magazines, “What Are The Most Important Skills Entrepreneurs Need? in the same way as we did before:

  • Curiosity (Curiosity)
  • Time management (Intrapersonal Self-Control / Civic Literacy / Math)
  • Strategic thinking (Critical Thinking / Problem Solving)
  • Efficiency (Intrapersonal Self-Control / Interpersonal Self-Control / Grit)
  • Resilience (Persistence / Grit / Optimism)
  • Communication (Communication / English Language Arts)
  • Networking (Social Intelligence / Intrapersonal Self-Control / Collaboration)
  • Finance (Financial Literacy / Math)
  • Branding (Social Intelligence / Cultural Literacy / Intrapersonal Self-Control)
  • Sales (Social & Cultural Literacy)

When we look at the skills that it takes to lead — vs. the skills to hold an entry-level or mid-level job — success is almost completely dependent on your social and emotional aptitudes.  Put simply, the skills that it takes to succeed professionally are content, social, and emotional skills.  Therefore, if we take the word “academic” by its definition (relating to school, education, and scholarship), ALL of these skills are highly academic.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not advocating for the de-emphasis of traditional content area knowledge. I am a history and English teacher who believes that mastery of both of those subjects is crucial to becoming a productive adult.  But we MUST include the SEL domains in our definition of “the academics.”  Reading, writing, arithmetic, algebra, science, history, the arts, curiosity, grit, optimism, communication, social Intelligence, collaboration – all of these are academic. So let’s teach them. Let’s test them. Let’s track their growth in our children. After all, schools exist to teach kids the academics to succeed in life, and it’s all academic.

Being Makers

Being Makers

Being Makers is a team of change-making leaders from Maker Learning Network and iLEAD Schools focused on project-based learning and social-emotional growth.
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