There are signs of growing interest among educators in helping children not only to get a firm grasp of academic knowledge, but also develop the skills they need to manage their emotions, build positive relationships and navigate social situations.

But it’s less clear what to call this collection of competencies. Non-cognitive skills? Grit? Character? Growth mindsets? Youth development? Social and emotional learning?

To help understand a linguistic landscape of more than 40 terms, Wallace commissioned Edge Research, an Arlington, Va.-based market research firm, to explore what the terms meant, how often they were used and how motivating they were. The research findings are described in two slide decks—one a full report, the other a summary presented at a webinar Dec. 12, 2016.

Edge found that no term was a “silver bullet.” But it concluded that two terms—“social and emotional learning” and “social-emotional and academic learning”—were familiar and clear to afterschool and K-12 leaders as well as policymakers. Parents were also comfortable with the term, but wanted the idea to be clearly explained.

In addition, Edge found that social and emotional learning (SEL) was a top priority for educators, afterschool leaders and policymakers. These groups also believed, however, that adults who work with children need more training in how to encourage the development of SEL skills. Some parents expressed concerns about how children would be evaluated and wanted to ensure that academics is always a priority.

Separately, the research explored how motivating different rationales (or “frames”) for social and emotional learning were. It found that educators, policymakers and afterschool leaders are especially interested in how social and emotional learning can benefit children.

The findings were based on desktop research, interviews with 45 field leaders, an online survey of 1,600 professionals (e.g. leaders in afterschool and K-12 education as well as education policymakers), and six focus groups of parents in Boston, Dallas and Oakland, Calif.

In a slide deck introduction to the webinar, Wallace noted two caveats: The foundation is not suggesting a “one-size-fits-all” approach to terminology or framing; rather, it believes local context should be taken into account. And while the research probed for partisan associations, it was not designed to be a thorough analysis of the political landscape for policies affecting SEL.

 Points of Interest

  • What terms are used to describe the array of non-cognitive skills children need to develop for success in life? Market researchers looked into this and found that there’s no “one-size-fits-all” term. However, the term “social and emotional learning” is familiar to many educators and policymakers and is a phrase parents are comfortable with, too.
    What do you call the array of non-cognitive skills needed for life success? See the results of a linguistic probe:
  • In surveys and focus groups, educators, afterschool leaders and policymakers agreed that helping kids develop social and emotional skills is a top priority.
    Market research finds that social and emotional learning is a top priority in education, afterschool and policy:

 Supplementary Materials