We’ve all heard the stories about the long-haired nerd who avoids other people, sticks to himself, and aces every course he takes. The research shows that academic achievement rarely works like that – especially for primary and secondary school age children. In fact, the research shows just the opposite: Students who are well adjusted and have strong relationships with their teachers and other students are more likely to do well in school than those who don’t.
Schools Can Create Supportive Environments
When we see children who are well-adjusted, have productive and high trust relationships with their teachers and fellow students, and perform well academically, we applaud the students. On the other hand, when a student is not well-adjusted, is suspicious of others, and performs poorly in school, we blame the child.
Some children may have an innate drive in one direction or another, but the major influences on children are their home lives and their schools. These are the influences that can “make or break” a child. It also means that schools have a far greater role in determining the success of their students than most people have thought. The environment schools promote has a dramatic effect on the success of their students. The academic performance of the student body tells far more about the schools than it does about the aptitude and attitudes of the students on the day they enter their schools.
Social Skills Are Latent in Children and Shaped by Schools
Social skills are entirely voluntary. Positive social skills benefit others. These skills are easy to recognize because others can observe students and recognize their:
• sense of self-awareness
• awareness of their larger social environments
• ability to control their own emotions
• propensity to build high-trust relationships with others
• tendency to consistently make responsible decisions
Because these behaviors are voluntary, the role the school plays in shaping these behaviors is all but invisible. Nevertheless, the impact of schools on students’ social skills is profound. Further, the impact of students’ social skills on their academic performance is also profound. If we place this in the longstanding “nature vs nurture” argument, the evidence is very clear: nurture far, far outweighs nature.
In communities where parents don’t provide the social skills training that is so vital to academic success, it falls to the schools to provide that training.
Schools set the stage for building positive social skills several ways. The most obvious way is by setting school rules for behavior in the classroom and on playground. These rules tell children how to distinguish right from wrong. These values are not intrinsic; they are taught.
But rules are not enough. Teachers and the administration need to enforce the rules consistently all the time. Enforcing the rules is a matter of discipline. But this is still not enough.
Teachers need to recognize and reward their students’ social behaviors. More than that, students must recognize the achievements of the other students. This recognition of positive social behaviors provides feedback to each student about how to behave. They have to learn what is anti-social and what is acceptable.
Students who bully others need to be called to account – and quickly. Students will recognize their schools’ failure to identify and correct inappropriate behaviors. If left unresolved, these misbehaviors will leave lasting impressions on young children that can lead to lack of motivation in school, trouble with authority figures, and perhaps even expulsion. Schools recognize this dynamic and are adopting social programs that promote positive growth in the classroom and minimize bullying on the playground.
Academic Performance and Social Behavior Are Tightly Linked
Research has shown a correlation between childrens’ academic performance and their social behavior. Students who exhibit mature social behavior often have better academic performance than those who disregard others. Children who have positive relationships with their teachers are more apt to learn and be open to academic help and feedback. Through social programs, teachers and administrators create environments that promote meaningful student-teacher relationships and foster communities of students who want to come to school each day.
Peer-to-Peer Relations Are as Important as Student-Teacher Relations
Positive peer interactions and student-teacher relationships promote positive social behaviors and reduce bullying among elementary school aged children. These interactions and relationships can be structured through positive social emotional learning environments. This type of environment will promote cooperative classroom settings that, in turn, improve academic motivation and eliminate bullying. Social programs have the potential to reach students who are on the path for expulsion before it is too late.
The Personal and Social Costs of Being Expelled from School Are Very High
Expelling students from school is a lengthy process. It often begins with chronic absenteeism. In extreme cases, students can be expelled for causing serious physical injury to someone else, carrying a dangerous object, possession of certain substances, robbery, extortion, or assault on a school employee. The principal and the district superintendent must agree that expulsion is the only viable course of action. Students who are expelled have generally been suspended several times.
Students who face expulsion often lack academic motivation. They are often distant from peers and don’t look for positive relationships with authority figures. According to the American Bar Association, these students are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested as adults. The American Psychological Association concluded that zero tolerance of misbehavior is ineffective and leads to higher rates of antisocial behavior in the future. Students who face expulsion are unlikely to finish high school. In fact, they tend to be headed toward a life of unemployment and crime.
Expulsions don’t just affect the students. They affect the entire community. Expelling students often leads to more crime in the community. This is particularly pronounced in communities with high school drop-outs rates.
Social Skills Must Be Taught; They are Not Innate
Social behavior is a skill like any other. Parents and teachers must reinforce these for children to see them as normal and natural.
The University of Maryland’s Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology conducted research that demonstrated how crucial it is to build positive student-teacher relationships and improve the classroom climates through social development programs. Interactive social development programs stimulate emotional learning through cognitive development and interactions with other children. These interactions are most effective at developing positive social environments when students reinforce each other. This promotes cooperation and trust. Social programs also build a sense of community in the classroom. This comfort and positivity in the classroom motivates students to come to school.
The research also shows that when students show positive social behavior they are more likely to be successful academically. Social programs build healthy student-teacher relationships that foster better learning. Social programs condition students to receive acknowledgement for academic progress and good behavior from both their peers and their teachers. This, in turn leads students to be more invested in their education.
When schools implement social development programs in their classrooms, children are conditioned to associate the positive social environment with learning and interacting in their classrooms. This, in turn, promotes school attendance and academic success.