Thursday / April 25

Why Self-Regulation and Empathy?

Children with good self-regulation skills, empathy, and social skills are more likely to be successful in school. They are more likely to feel connected to both adults and other children. They are better able to struggle, can deal with mistakes and moments of sadness, and are better able to stand up for themselves and others. These children are more likely to develop grit, resilience, self-control, and self-efficacy.

In a 1976 meta-study, Bowles and Gintis found that strength of character is three times better at predicting success in college than GPA or SAT scores. But resilience and self-efficacy are not part of the CCSS or the new testing systems.

Fortunately there are thoughtful families that hold strong to the belief that character development is the most important gift they can give to their children. Some schools, in the face of incredible pressure to focus only on simplistic academic measurements of progress, also hold strong. They build calm and caring classrooms in which kids feel safe and build connections. They develop classroom routines which help children learn to self-regulate. Social connections are built. Empathy is nurtured. Emotional intelligence springs to life, bringing social skills and a commitment to service.

Is thoughtful change in the wind? There are schools in every part of this nation making the commitment to help students build the skills that lead to strong character.

There is also a small movement among US schools to emphasize the development of competency rather curriculum coverage. In these schools, led by Vermont, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Wyoming, essential learnings in a subject area are clearly defined and students are given support until competency is developed, which gives them the readiness to move on to higher levels of learning.

Competency based education emphasizes a focus on what really matters: learning and skills. It also allows teachers to have more time to be aware of the whole child and give attention to academic learning needs.

In Mississippi and Michigan, the Early Learning Foundation sites of practice have established a system for measuring proficiency for the essential outcomes in preschool to grade three. In the well-studied Simpson County Mississippi project, student learning outcomes in reading improved from 30% of students achievingSornson Image proficiency to 82% proficient in three years, by emphasizing proficiency in essential skills along with the development of calm and connected classroom cultures. Teachers are trained to know the specific learning needs of each child and deliver essential instruction in a way that allows each student to become proficient.

This is a time for educators and parents to find the resilience to stand up for common sense and good educational practice, and to do the work needed to shape the direction of schools in every corner of our country. Systems of learning which emphasize covering content, testing, grading, and moving along to the next lesson are not good enough for our children in the information society. We have the tools to reshape our schools into caring places where kids fall in love with learning for life, develop self-regulation, empathy and social skills, and become strong men and women with a commitment to society and to the world.

Written by

Bob Sornson is an award-winning author and presenter, calling for programs and practices which support competency based learning and early learning success. He works internationally with school districts, universities, and parent organizations. His many books include Over-Tested and Under-Prepared: Using Competency-Based Learning to Transform Our Schools (Routledge), Fanatically Formative (Corwin Press), and Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning about Empathy (Love and Logic Press). Contact

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