‘Please,’ ‘Thank You’ and the Insights of Social Emotional Learning

“I’m in this because my work helps the whole child,” Steve says. “These behaviors will help them well past school, to the workplace, and beyond.”

More Than Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic

Listen. Ask for help. Express your feelings. Stand up for others. Say “please” and “thank you.”


There is evidence that these behaviors—done well with other students in a classroom setting—actually help kids grow academically.

“There’s a fundamental dividend if you teach kids fundamental social skills,” says Steve Elliott. He has a PhD and is the Mickelson Foundation Professor of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University.

He also authors social emotional learning tools for Pearson.

“If these skills stick,” Steve says, “kids learn together better, they learn from others better—and the whole class is enabled to learn more effectively.”

Year-Long Help

Steve and others pioneered tools for teachers in the 1980s that assessed various categories of social emotional skills and offered guidance on interventions to improve those social emotional skills.

It’s now called the Social Skills Improvement System, or SSIS.

“We offer teachers an efficient way to begin the year with an assessment that identifies priority behaviors,” Steve says. “This helps them pinpoint broad behavioral strengths and weakness in the classroom.”

“Then we guide them through pathways to help the class improve their social emotional skills,” he says. “And if some kids don’t respond, there are more individualized options.”

At the end of the school year, Steve says, SSIS helps teachers assess how far they’ve come.

“It’s all done for the purpose of intervention,” he says. “What do these kids need to learn better—and how do we get both parents and the students involved?”

do right

Improving Behavior

“Many, many teachers have told me that they don’t have the luxury of steering away from classroom learning to classwork on social emotional skills,” Steve says. “But they do.”

“It only takes just over twenty minutes each week to do it right,” he says.

“Kids can improve their behaviors,” he says, “and it’s worth taking the time to work on them.”

The Whole Child

“There is renewed interest in social emotional learning because many of us feel there’s more tension and disagreement in the world around us,” Steve says.

“There are more social threats to child behavior,” he says, “and I think there’s real concern that, as best we can, we need to inoculate students against those threats.”

Steve says that it’s not just learning better behaviors that help children.


“Better social skills don’t make kids smarter,” he says. “But better social skills help kids take advantage of resources around them.”

Steve points out that school is a “group phenomena.”

“If the group works better together,” he says, “then learning environments are more dynamic and there are more positive attitudes about learning.”

“I’m in this because my work helps the whole child,” Steve says. “These behaviors will help them well past school, to the workplace, and beyond.”