Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools

Performance Values



Developing a Sense of Duty: True Commitment Runs Deep

by Tara E. Laughlin, Ed.D., Director of Readiness Curriculum,

Duty.  It’s a word which can be applied in many contexts:

  • Moral duty
  • Legal duty
  • Civic duty
  • Active duty

…or even

  • Job duties

No matter how you shake it, duty is all about a sense of commitment.  This commitment is the force that drives a person to push forward, even when things get tough, pursuing desirable outcomes like a safe community, success on the job, or a healthy relationship.

Not everyone is born with a strong sense of duty, and that’s okay.  Fortunately, it can be developed over time through intentional practice of an important underlying skill: self-discipline.


Self-discipline is the ability to get yourself to take action regardless of the circumstances.  Author Steve Pavlina offers five pillars of self-discipline:

To improve your self-discipline, and thereby, your sense of duty, follow these five pillars:

Pillar 01 – Acceptance: Identify and accept where your self-discipline could be strengthened, and determine what you can do to improve it.

  • For example, someone may identify that their self-discipline is weak when it comes to making healthy food choices. To improve this, they might decide that they need to start weekly meal planning, choosing recipes with fresh, natural ingredients, and cooking all meals at home.


Pillar 02 – Willpower: Willpower is a short, powerful burst of energy directed toward a particular goal. It does, however, eventually run out.  Therefore, you need to create an environment for yourself in which, once your willpower does run out, you are more likely to keep pushing forward.

  • If a person’s self-discipline challenge is making poor food choices, they might change their environment by throwing away all of their junk food. This way, when their willpower runs out, they are surrounded by healthy foods, and staying healthy, while not guaranteed, will be easier.


Pillar 03 – Hard Work: Pillar 01, Acceptance, has you accept that there is some area of your life where your self-discipline is lacking.  Overcoming this will inevitably be hard.  That’s where Pillar 03, Hard Work, comes in.  You need to stop avoiding the hard work, and dig in. 

  • A person whose self-discipline challenge is making poor food choices is avoiding the hard work of consistently choosing healthy foods.


Pillar 04 – Persistence: Persistence is maintaining action toward a goal regardless of the circumstances.  Remaining persistent means you need to keep plugging along because ultimately, it’s your action toward the goal, not your intentions or motivation, which will help you accomplish it.

  • After the first round of healthy food has all been eaten, our friend who makes poor food choices needs to create the next week’s meal plan, return to the grocery store, and make healthy choices all over again.


Pillar 05 – Industry: While the first four pillars focus on addressing an area where your self-discipline is lacking, industry is putting in the necessary time on life’s little tasks. While you’re laser-focused on improving your self-discipline, the rest of life will keep happening around you.  You’re still responsible for keeping up with the little things, such as cleaning your house, answering emails, texting people back, and getting work done.


The example shown throughout reflects a person seeking to improve their self-discipline when it comes to diet, committing to a healthier lifestyle.  Commitment can take many forms, however.  Do you want to commit to becoming more productive at work?  To getting organized?  To raising your kids right?  How about to improving your community?  Your country?  Regardless of the goal, the more closely you can align yourself with these five pillars of self-discipline, the stronger your sense of duty will become.  It’s time to take the plunge.  Are you committed?

(For more information on strategies to improve social and emotional skills, visit to learn about our SEL curriculum.)






Happy students



by Ed DeRoche,  Character Education Resource Center, Director, University of San Diego

“Hard skills” are often thought of as the occupational skills necessary to complete the tangible elements of a job….”Soft skills” can be seen as the behavioral ways in which people go about their occupational tasks. Leadership requires a sophisticated approach to both.    Brian Evje, Inc., Nov. 8, 2012

Those of you who read my monthly blogs know that I am enthusiastic about teaching students social skills, emotional skills, thinking skills, and positive character traits.

Over the past few years, business people have been talking and writing about the skill development of employees focusing on the need for developing their “soft skills.” I read that CEOs are starting to talk about wanting employees who are trustworthy, empathetic, adaptable, who can manage their emotions (self control), and have the skills to be better decision-makers. It has been reported that 85 percent of those who lose jobs do so because of inadequate social skills, and that children who scored high on social skills were four times as likely to graduate from college than those who scored low.

In early April, Phil Blair, co-founder of Manpower San Diego, wrote an advice column in the Business Section of the San Diego Union Tribune (4-9-18) titled “Turning Your Soft Skills Into Your Strongest Talents.” Blair noted that business executives reported that among the “technical” talents employees bring to their work and the workplace, there is a need for employees to learn and demonstrate “soft skills” – behavioral attributes such as “adaptability, cultural competence, empathy, intellectual curiosity and 360-degree thinking.”

The Graduate School at the University of Cincinnati compiled a list of the 10 top soft skills that employers seek (with definitions not included here).

  1. Leadership
  2. Teamwork
  3. Problem Solving
  4. Flexibility
  5. Creativity
  6. Commitment
  7. Communication
  8. Motivation/Initiative
  9. Dependability/Reliability
  10. Time Management

In addition, there have been numerous discussions about students and employees learning and using “21st century skills.” There are an abundance of skill lists. A couple of examples will give you the “skill picture” of the future.

One group’s list includes:

  • Ways of Thinking (creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, and learning)
  • Ways of Working (communication and collaboration)
  • Tools for Working (information and communications technology, and information literacy)
  • Skills for Living (citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility)

According to this group’s team managers, the two skills that cut across all four categories are “collaborative problem solving” and “learning in digital networks.”

The Thoughtful Learning Group notes that 21st century learning skills are captured in the 4 C’s: critical thinking, creative thinking, communicating, and collaborating.

Critical thinking is focused, careful analysis of something to better understand it.

Creative thinking is expansive, open-ended invention and discovery of possibilities.

Communicating involves a range of skills such as analyzing, evaluating, reading, speaking, writing, etc.

Collaborative skills require one to be engaged in team building, resolving conflict, managing time, etc.

This May blog offers the what and why but says little about how. I will leave that to you and your colleagues. I think it is fair to say that “hard skills” (STEM) gives one the occupational/technical skills to make a living (smart) and the “soft skills” (character education) helps one make that living worthwhile (good).

The 80/20 Rule: It was established back in 1918 by Mann’s study on engineering education that approximately 80 percent of success is due to soft skills while 20 percent is due to hard skills.  –  National Soft Skills Association, August 3, 2017



Practice Learning Knowledge

It’s About Skill Development!

by Ed DeRoche, Character Education Resource Center, Director, University of San Diego

A “skills” quote:

“Expressing care for another is not an innate ability present more naturally in some people than others, but rather a skill that can be taught and nurtured through a supportive educational environment.”

-Scotty McLennan, Dean for Religious Life, Stanford University

A “skills” memory:

”I loved playing baseball. Our city had open try-outs for minor league teams. On day four, one of the coaches said to me, ‘Son, we can’t have players on this team without skills in every area.’ I had ‘grit’ but couldn’t hit. I also had ‘perseverance’ so I became a teacher, a principal, a dean.”

(The question of how skillfully is open to debate.)

At our Character Matters Conference (June 2017), sitting with a few teachers over our delicious box lunches, we started talking about “21st Century Skills” and the “new” character education movement – the focus on the social-emotional needs of students. I expressed the opinion that I thought the programmatic/instructional emphasis was on the emotional side of the SEL (follow the money) with some, but not too much, attention helping students develop their “social skills.”

As I noted in my 2013 blog , “The Skills Game” recent employee surveys showed that employers are looking for certain qualities in employees such as listening and communication skills, adaptability, creative thinking skills, problem-solving skills, goal setting skills, and competence in reading, writing, and computation skills. It has been reported that 85% of those who lose jobs do so because of inadequate social skills.

It seems to me that social skill development should be an essential part of schools’ character education initiatives (with character strengths and emotional skills as the other two).

A survey conducted through Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel, asked the question: What are the best skills for kids to have these days?

The responses:

90% – Communication

86% – Reading

79% – Math

77% – Teamwork

75% -Writing

74% – Logic

58% -Science

25% – Athletics

24% – Music

23% -Art

Social skills include habits and attributes that some call “Habits of the Heart.” This includes providing instruction and practice in helping students to be respectful, be responsible, be honest, be trustworthy, be caring, be courageous, be courtesy, be compassionate, and be fair.

These learned skills are coupled with “Habits of the Mind” – being a critical thinker, appreciating the importance of knowledge and learning, learning how to learn, practicing self-discipline, making ethical decisions, learning to problem solve, controlling anger and emotions, resisting peer pressure, and thinking before acting.

The third skill set is often labeled, “Habits of the Hands,” which includes knowing and practicing the Golden Rule, being of service to others, and becoming an active, participating citizen.

In my research for this blog, I found a program developed by Stephen Elliott (Vanderbilt Peabody education and psychology researcher) and co-authored with Frank Gresham, of the newly published The Social Skills Improvement System Classwide Intervention Program (SSIS-CIP).

They identified the top 10 skills that students need to succeed based on surveys of over 8,000 teachers and over 20 years of research in classrooms across the country. The skills are:

  • Listen to others.
  • Follow the steps.
  • Follow the rules.
  • Ignore distractions.
  • Ask for help.
  • Take turns when you talk.
  • Get along with others.
  • Stay calm with others.
  • Be responsible for your behavior.
  • Do nice things for others.

They report: “In our research, we found that elementary kids and teachers value cooperation and self-control. When we teach and increase those behaviors, we reduce problem behaviors and maximize learning time…. “

“If we increase social skills, we see commensurate increases in academic learning. That doesn’t mean that social skills make you smarter; it means that these skills make you more amenable to learning.”

More information about the SSIS Program can be found at:

Another discovery – a web site, called SKILLSYOUNEED (, which provides information and resources for each of the following category of skills: Personal, Interpersonal, Leadership, Learning, Presentation, Writing, Numeracy, and Parenting skills.

As a reminder, I published two blogs on this topic that may be worth your review:

  1. “The Skills Game: Who’s on First? What’s on Second? How’s on Third!” [Published by SmartBrief-Education, 11/12/2013]
  1. “The Skills of Question-Asking,” [February 2015 Blog]

And finally, think about this each month during the new school year:

Children who scored high on social skills were four times as likely to graduate from college than those who scored low.”

Teaching Social Skills to Improve Grade and Lives, David Bornstein,




Scientists to Schools: Social, Emotional Development Crucial for Learning

Summary:  This article reports on a research brief – the product of a year of work by 28 academic researchers who study issues like student motivation, school climate, and social-emotional learning. The panel, known as the council of distinguished scientists, was organized by the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development, which has set out to bring together educators, scientists, policy makers, and philanthropists to clarify a vision for social-emotional learning in schools.-

Source: Evie Blad, Education Week, September 13, 2017

Categories:  SEL Basics, SEL Research, School Culture/Climate, Core Values, Performance Values



Helping Teachers Thrive

Summary:  This article offers suggestions for school leaders to help their teachers build resilience as the new school year starts.  This is important in weathering the day-to-day storms but it also helps teachers to thrive!

Source:  Elena Agullar, Edutopia, August 21. 2017

Categories:  Leadership Qualities, Emotional Intelligence, Classroom Practice, Performance Values, Positive Relationships




How Can Educators Measure and Predict Grit in Their Students?

Summary:  This article reports on a study into some key indicators of grit by Dana Wazner.  The study included 45,626 students and 145 schools nationwide. Wanzer clarifies that grit is the development of passion and perseverance in students.  

Source:  Shelina Chatlani, Education DIVE, June 28, 2017

Categories: Grit, Performance Values, Student Engagement




The World Has Changed, Why Haven’t Our Schools?

By Tara Laughlin, Ed.D., Director of Curriculum at Pairin

Academic knowledge is so last century. It is widely recognized that students need more than this to be successful later in life, especially in our diverse, ever-changing global landscape. Many additional skills are necessary to build well-rounded individuals prepared for college and careers. Social and emotional skills make up one category of these essential skills, including attributes such as resiliency, stress management, empathy, social awareness, and self-confidence.

Incorporating social and emotional skills into the classroom is essential for many reasons. First, these skills provide a foundation on which academic success is built. Students trained in social and emotional skills had academic achievement scores which were an average of 11 percentile points higher than those who did not, according to a meta-analysis of 213 studies (Weissberg, et al., 2015). These students also tend to have better attitudes toward school and more positive relationships with peers and adults. In addition, there are numerous personal benefits such as lower instances of depression and stress along with reduced risk-taking and criminal behaviors. This is coupled with increased prosocial behavior as well as increased confidence, persistence, empathy, and more engaged citizenship.

There are also far-reaching implications of social and emotional learning for the changing workforce and the economy of the future. Originally, the U.S. system of education was designed to prepare students for a life of repetitive, industrialized work. Over time, the number of manual and routine jobs has steadily declined within the United States in favor of more complex, non-routine forms of employment, jobs which will require effective social and emotional skills. The following graph illustrates this trend.

Graph 1
(Image source: Pairin, 2015)


So given these massive global shifts and the significant benefits for students, why haven’t schools kept up? According to a recent study by the Education Week Research Center, only 34 percent of teachers are integrating social emotional learning into their classrooms, even minimally, even though 99 percent agree that social emotional learning increases student achievement, improves the school climate, and reduces school discipline problems.


(Image source: Pairin, 2015)


Educators understand that social and emotional skills are important for students. However, some resist making changes because they are worried these skills may not be teachable, measurable or possible to incorporate in a time-efficient manner. In addition, while the large majority of teachers want to integrate social and emotional skills into their curricula, many simply do not have the resources, training, or leeway from their superiors to do so. The fact that 84% of teachers surveyed want training on how to teach these skills indicates that they feel unprepared to make this shift. A systemic change in educational priorities is needed—one which affirms the reality that the world is different; one which grants social and emotional skills equal importance to traditional academic content; in other words, one which gives all students a real shot at success.


Autor, D., & Price, B. (2013). The changing task composition of the US labor market: An update of Autor, Levy, and Murnane (2003). Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved from

Education Week Research Center. (2015). Social and emotional learning: Perspectives from America’s schools. Retrieved from

Pairin. (2015, November 2). The methodology behind integrating essential college and career skills into everyday curricula. Retrieved from

Weissberg, R., Durlak, J.A., Domitrovich, C.E., & Gullotta, T.P. (2015, February 15). Why social and emotional learning is essential for students [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

World Economic Forum. (2016). New vision for education: Fostering social and emotional learning through technology. Retrieved from


Dr. Tara Laughlin is the Director of Curriculum at Pairin ( and a former teacher of 10 years.  She can be reached at





Can Batman Teach Grit?

Summary:  This article shows that pretending to be a superhero character can help students build perseverance and stay focused on an assigned task.  The study also supports the notion that spending more time on free play or role-playing can improve cognitive development.

Source: Sarah D. Sparks, Education Week, January 11, 2017

Categories:  Grit, Performance Values, Classroom Practice




Students as Leaders of Their Character Education

Summary:  This article tells the story of how student focus groups at Kings Middle School in Portland, Maine provided input in shaping the Habits of Work and Learning for the school.  Teachers and students worked together to come up with a workable set of targets and behaviors for the school.

Source: Caitlin LeClair, Education Week, August 19, 2016

Categories:  Character Education, Core Values, Performance Values, Student Voice



Happy Students

Nonacademic Skills Are the Necessary Foundation for Learning

Summary:  Most schools that focus solely on academic skills do not experience sustainable results. A growing body of research, drawn from the science of child development, demonstrates the extent of the impact that nonacademic and social-emotional skills—such as self-regulation, problem-solving, social awareness, and growth mindset—have on academic outcomes and success in the workforce and in life. While some label these skills as supplemental, recent studies have shown that what we have long considered to be the softer side of education is requisite for success.

Source: K. Brooke Stafford-Brizard, Education Week Commentary, July 22, 2016

Categories:  SEL Basics, Mindset, Performance Values, Student Achievement