School is the ultimate training ground for Social Intelligence. It is an ongoing social game where students are forced to make repeated decisions that impact their ability to navigate the dynamics in class, on the playground, the bus etc. The ability to flourish in this game arms students with important skills for success throughout all stages of life. People who can work within and thrive in the social domain have a leg up when they inevitably move into the “real world”
According to Stuart Shanker one’s ability to succeed in the social domain depends on an individual’s social intelligence. Social intelligence has 3 components:
- Emotional Skills – the ability to understand your emotions. More importantly, the ability to use and apply the emotions proportionately depending on the situation.
- Mind Reading – this involves reading situations and body language. It is essential in being able to take the perspective of others and not be ego-centric.
- Communication Skills – the ability to participate in the give and take of communication. It is about understanding context and understanding how we communicate has implications.
Students who struggle in the social domain often struggle in one (or more) of these areas. Their behaviour can manifest itself as either hyperactive and overwhelm social situations or hypoactive and withdraw into the background. I have seen time and time again, children who struggle in the social world struggle with anxiety and self-esteem. They want to get along with others and participate, but simply do not have the skills.
Collaborative learning is an effective classroom strategy for those who struggle in the Social Domain. When it is properly structured and scaffolded the locus of control moves from the teachers to students. When students are given opportunities to problem solve (with structure and support), they learn to work together and begin to develop the three skills listed above. As they develop we can pair students with the idea that they will co-regulate. When students co-regulate they naturally help each other meet the requirements for the social context they are dealing with.
Too often in schools we attempt this through “canned” programs. These programs seem great on the surface, however, they focus on children being regulated rather than teaching them how to regulate. They don’t appreciate the context and uniqueness of any situation and are often rooted in reward and punishment. This means those who can regulate get rewarded and those that can’t get punished, but neither really learns anything. We must look at the social domain like any other, through the lens of problem solving. We need to change the focus from one of behaviour management to one where we teach specific lagging skills that are getting in the way of the ability to self-regulate.