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Rasoul: Social-emotional learning will put kids on the path to happiness

Rasoul: Social-emotional learning will put kids on the path to happiness

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Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, stands in front of Roanoke’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial statue on March 8, 2017, to announce he no longer will accept special interest or lobbyist campaign contributions.

Growing up, many of us remember the famous advice given to us by our elders: “if you do well in school, then you will be successful.” Most of us assumed that they were right so we went to school, learned as much information as we could, took tests on our knowledge, and received good grades. Little did we know, however, something critical was missing for long-term success in the real world: emotional intelligence through social and emotional learning.

Learning how to work well with others, have self-control, manage our emotions, and be self-aware are critical to our resiliency as well as our social and emotional well-being. However, our education system has largely been void of social and emotional learning, as the system stands on a foundation made for cultivating factory workers in the industrial age.

In the world outside of school, success is not necessarily determined by one’s intelligence. IQ may help you do well academically, but this type of intelligence will not help you develop, retain and navigate social relationships. Moreover, studies now show that success in life results more so from one’s emotional intelligence (EQ) rather than one’s ability to learn new information.

“The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergarteners of Finland,” a piece in The Atlantic, explores a whole education system built on cultivating the social and emotional health of Finland’s youngest students. Here, young children are not pushed to learn to read but rather explore through interactions and play first. The result is one of the best education systems in the world, and many states are taking notice. Those include Virginia, where we have made strides towards this ideal.

Last year I introduced, and the General Assembly passed, legislation (HB 753, 2020) that finally provides social and emotional guidance to school divisions in K-12 education. The vision of social-emotional learning is simple: we maximize the potential of our children to become responsible, caring, and reflective members of society.

This may seem straightforward enough, and it can be if we, in the commonwealth, understand the importance of ensuring our children’s emotional intelligence gets as much attention as their cognitive academic abilities. In practice, social-emotional learning teaches our students skills to develop healthy identities, manage their emotions, and achieve personal and collective goals. Our children not only benefit during their time in school but will continue to have better, personal relationships beyond.

I often hear that Virginia businesses are not only looking for skilled workers, but need workers with the “soft skills” to know how to communicate, be self-motivated, and work well in teams. Individuals with higher emotional intelligence are better able to regulate their emotions, empathize, and communicate with their colleagues. These soft skills prove to be a large deciding factor in one’s work performance and seeing that much of the working world involves working with and communicating with others, it is no surprise that emotional intelligence is so impactful.

Going forward, social-emotional learning will be a staple of our public education systems because our children deserve the best chance to be both happy and successful in life. As a result, they will develop better relationships and will have the skills necessary to flourish in their careers. After all, what’s the point of success without happiness?

Sam Rasoul, a Democrat, represents the city of Roanoke in the Virginia House of Delegates. He is seeking reelection to the 11th House District seat and is contested by Republican Charlie Nave.

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