By Kristen Stevenson

The USC Upstate Moving UP QEP focuses on preparing career-ready students who can “identify and articulate their knowledge, skills, abilities, experiences, and other characteristics as relevant to desired career goals; and explore identify, and address areas necessary for professional growth and success.” It is important for us as instructors to reflect on the meaning of our students’ success and growth.

Employers often argue that college students have the “book” knowledge but not the skills to share this information with others. They critique their lack of leadership skills, ability to craft a professional email, and critical thinking skills. Research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Research Center found that 85% of job success is due to well-developed soft (or people) skills while only 15% is based on hard skills, which are measurable abilities (National Soft Skills Association, 2015).

We know that hard skills are critical to helping a student land their first job. Students need to demonstrate the proper solution to a chemistry problem, a well-written critique of a piece of literature, or the correct ways to treat a patient with diabetes. But now, more than ever, students are entering the workforce timidly, with low confidence in themselves or their skills. They are afraid to answer questions incorrectly or think outside of the box to develop innovative solutions. At CAIFS, we hear your concern expressed in every workshop, struggling to help students to think through a challenge (problem, lab, case-study, etc.) critically. The role of emotional self-management in helping students activate and apply their critical problem-solving skills cannot be underestimated.

This is where social and emotional learning (SEL) comes into play. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) SEL framework is based upon five principles in the classroom.

  • Responsible Decision-Making
  • Relationship Skills
  • Social Awareness
  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management

How can paying attention to SEL in the classroom result in better student outcomes in both hard and soft skills? Let’s look at the bane of many students’ existence – the group project. You assign a project or a lab to a group of students to create a solution. The solution may be a piece of art, a research project, a lab, or debating a concept. Students must find a solution to their issue (responsible decision-making) while not getting into a fistfight over their differences (relationship skills). They must organize the work evenly across the group and listen to one another (social awareness) while expressing their own concerns about the material (self-awareness). Lastly, they must pull their own weight in the project (self-management).

It is possible to focus all class time on teaching the hard skills content and rely on students to provide their own soft skills, but adding more intentional instruction related to the soft skills needed to complete the application and creation tasks you ask students perform will also make them more effective learners when it comes to their “hard” content as well.

Are there places in your courses where a 15-minute SEL-based lesson could translate to improved test scores, better project grades, and increased student persistence in your program?

In future blog posts, we will explore how using SEL in your classroom will build a trusting environment in which students will feel free to take chances, gain confidence, and develop the soft skills necessary to not only get a job but to get promotions afterward. Please join us on March 22, 2022, at 2:30 pm for an #SEL Day 2022 workshop.