Learning and displaying appropriate prosocial (or social) skills has been linked to success later in life. Though it’s not typically the first thing people think about when considering what students learn in school, it is definitely an important factor. So what exactly are social skills?
Social skills are the tools that enable people to communicate, learn, ask questions, ask for help, get their needs met in appropriate ways, get along with others, make friends, and develop healthy relationships. Social skills enable people to interact appropriately with those they meet in their journey through life.
Teaching students foundational skills, such as Following Instructions, Accepting "No" for an Answer and Disagreeing Appropriately, helps them navigate basic interactions
with those in authority (parents, teachers, coaches, and bosses) and paves the way for success in the workplace and beyond. In addition, these skills are building blocks upon which more complex and advanced skills can be based.
Consider the adage that “championships are won at practice!” Most good coaches would agree with that. Picture a team of 10-year-old baseball players. Some have played before, and were taught the basics of throwing, fielding, catching and batting. Depending upon their own natural talent, the quality of teaching that came before, their practice outside of team events, their ability to “catch on quickly”, and other influences, each brings a different level of ability when he or she walks up to the plate to face a pitcher. Others have never played before – they may never have even tossed or caught a ball. Though the fundamentals of what the coach is teaching remain consistent, the way a good coach works with each player, the language used, the way the ball is tossed, or a grounder hit, are all individualized to meet the needs of that player. Some lessons are taught and practiced as a whole team, some are taught and practiced in small groups, and some are taught and practiced individually. But all of them are done that way – taught and practiced.
Boys Town’s approach to social skills teaching aligns with this model. Skills are taught, practiced, reinforced, corrected, over and over again until mastery is attained. And even then, reminders or prompts may be needed. Picture a classroom full of 10-year-olds. In a general ed room of 30 students, a teacher may have 25 that either bring knowledge of basic social skills to the class, or are able to catch on after initial teaching and occasional prompts. Another three or four students may need regular reminders or specialized support for certain skills. And one or two may need individual support for many. That’s one of the key advantages of social skills teaching. It can be individualized to meet the needs of the students in class.
All students, regardless of the skills they bring to the classroom, need to know up front what is expected of them. Those universal or primary interventions allow an educator to focus on general rules, procedures or skills that are expected in a classroom or building. (Try adding social skills to your lessons with these FREE lesson plans.)
Some students may demonstrate difficulty in specific situations or with specific skills. Providing more focused social skill training, or a secondary intervention, is appropriate when repeated misbehaviors or problems are observed in a group of students. In this video example, the teacher prepares her students to receive feedback on an assignment with a quick review of the skill steps and a discussion of how to appropriately respond to feedback. This type of skill teaching is appropriate in situations where the teacher knows her students have struggled before. Providing a quick reminder of the skill – followed immediately by an opportunity to practice – allows for more targeted teaching, allowing students to apply the skill in a real life situation.
For those students who continue to struggle, typically one or two individuals in a general ed classroom, an individualized or tertiary intervention may be appropriate. Keep in mind that a student’s consistent inability to meet an expectation that has been taught, practiced, and reinforced in class could be a function of many different causes, but addressing the skill specifically with that student allows for more targeted teaching and problem-solving, and increases the likelihood of the student finding success.
Social skills training programs have repeatedly demonstrated effectiveness in developing a wide range of interpersonal behaviors and skills in diverse populations of children and adolescents. The quality of any social skills training effort is enhanced by understanding and recognizing the complexity of social interactions, choosing appropriate social skills for normalizing those interactions, and teaching skills in meaningful ways that can be valued by youth and the community in which they live.
Remember, those MLB All-Star players didn’t get that way by accident! In addition to their own hard work and determination, someone took the time to teach those players the fundamental skills they needed, and to practice with and reinforce them appropriately. An educator’s job is often to be the All-Star teachers in their students’ lives for much more than math and reading. Set students up for success later in life – to be champions in their own lives – by helping them build and practice the foundational skills they need now.