Five Criteria for a Pathway to Social and Academic Success


EMILY MCCANDLISS, B.A., Social Skills Teacher for The Prentice School 

According to the U.S. Department of Education, a large body of research shows that a strong social and emotional foundation helps boost children’s learning, academic performance and other positive long-term outcomes. Because social competence can foster academic success, it is important to implement social skills learning in an educational platform. For students with learning differences, many face social challenges as well, making social skills learning even more imperative to their success.

The following five elements can help boost social and academic success for all students:

– Self Confidence Students must have self confidence to be able to initiate conversations, deepen friendships, choose honesty, regulate emotions, and create their own goals, both personal and academic. To complete group assignments and collaborate in classes, students need to have the social skills and confidence to speak up. A poor self-esteem or lack of necessary communication skills can inhibit a student from participating in class among a group of peers. It requires courage to self advocate. 

– A Growth MindsetA growth mindset is defined as the mindset that strives toward continual growth, however small that growth may be. It involves celebrating growth in personal, academic and eventually, professional areas. Students with a healthy growth mindset recognize their own improvements, their ability to improve and that they can learn from their mistakes. A fixed mindset states that people are given a certain brain, and that it can’t grow at all. Students with a fixed mindset may tell themselves words that self-discourage, such as “I’ll never be able to solve this problem,” or “I’m not good at this.” This creates a mindset that if you’re bad at something now, you’ll always be bad at it. Through social skills teaching, the development of a healthy growth mindset can emerge, helping students to develop a deep belief that they can try new things, share their talents, succeed, and that they are already succeeding in life.

– Positive Behavioral PlanThis plan uses positive behaviors to replace negative ones. By explicitly teaching and praising expected school behavior and delivering consequences which directly match students’ behavior, good or bad, positive behavioral changes will be reinforced. Tiered systems of support such as clip charts, “stop and think” forms and behavioral referral documents all help to support a positive behavioral plan. When a student breaks a rule, the experience can be used as a time to learn and grow. Teachers or school psychologists should have one-on-one conversations with the student to explore the trigger and the reason the child acted out.  This allows for the child to be heard and understood. When children feel understood, they are more likely to improve and mature.

– Modeling Social Skills Educators should always model good social skills in all school settings. The “Do as I say, not as I do” model is a bad one. For students with learning differences who often have a hard time with social intake, processing and response, modeling appropriate social skills is imperative. The following are examples of social behaviors and skills that teachers can model when in the presence of students:

– Kindness
– Initiating conversations
– Appropriately timed responses
– Socially accepted personal space and distance from a conversation partner
– Social norms
– Classroom norms

– A Customized Curriculum Like academic learning, social-skill development is progressive. There are levels of social acceptance that continue to develop. But these social behaviors do not just happen, they need to be taught. With children at school for an average of seven hours a day, we must look to educators to help model and teach the necessary skills for age-appropriate social development. Here are some examples of grade-based curriculum for teaching social skills:

– Through singing songs, Kindergarten and 1st grade-aged children can memorize positive statements about themselves. Teaching through song and rhythm communicates vital concepts to students in a way that they can remember and recall.
– Model a classroom filled with acceptance and mutual trust.
– Students can use hands-on activities, multimedia and interpersonal practice to learn social skills in a way that is grade appropriate for them to understand and remember.

It is important to emphasize that children with learning differences are at greater risk for having low self-esteem. A student’s social and academic successes begin with a positive feeling of self-worth and the confidence to work hard, overcome obstacles and learn from their mistakes, which can all transpire through social skills learning.

Emily joined Prentice in 2017 as the Social Skills teacher for grades K-8. She has her Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential and a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Biola University. Emily has trained in the “Why Try Organization” and has a true passion for social and emotional learning. The Prentice School, located in N. Tustin, California, is a private, Certified Nonpublic School (NPS) through the California Department of Education, and is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Prentice offers an unparalleled learning experience to students with learning differences who possess average-to-high intelligence and whose needs have not been met in a more traditional classroom setting.