A new meta-analysis shows that teaching children how to play well with others has far reaching benefits – it helps kids emotionally, socially and academically.
This is the first large-scale meta-analysis (review of relevant research literature) of school programs that focus on helping students improve their relationships with others and themselves
The research study looked at classroom based instruction conducted by the students’ teacher or by an outside instructor such as a university researcher. They looked at programs that were taught by a combination of classroom based instruction, additional school programs such as afterschool programs and within families.
They reviewed 213 school based programs focused on social and emotional development that were available to all students who did not have any identified behavioral issues. The programs included more than 270,000 K-12 students from rural, suburban and urban schools and crossed socio cultural backgrounds.
The great news is that students who were in these types of program showed an improvement in their social and emotional skills. This means that these kids were far more caring, aware, less stressed and anxious and acted in positive ways with others in their schools and lives. The improvements were small but present nonetheless compared to the control group.
* 23% improvement in social and emotional skills
* 9% improvement in attitudes about self, others, and school
* 9% improvement in school and classroom behavior
* 9% decrease in conduct problems such as classroom misbehavior and aggression
* 10% decrease in emotional distress such as anxiety and depression
Within this larger study there were a few small studies that looked at how positive emotional and social growth affected school performance. Again some good news, students had and 11-percenticle jump on their achievement tests scores.
The researchers of this study are understandably happy with the results of this meta analysis. Lead author Joseph A. Durlak, emeritus professor of psychology at Loyola University Chicago stated, “The findings highlight the value of incorporating well-designed and carefully conducted social and emotional learning programs into standard educational practice,” The review of previous studies shows that providing social and emotional learning programs aids in student growth and does not interfere with their regular academic coursework.
This is entirely in keeping with Carl Rogers’ research. While his work on education focused primarily on the relationship between the student the teacher, he did provide a list of ingredients that make learning effective and positive. One falls in line with Durlak’s research teams work, that is: the role of the teacher is to help students balance the intellectual and the emotional aspects of learning.
Being able to be a part of the world around you is essential for learning. Knowing how to work with others helps in learning from each other. This research shows that classroom instruction would benefit from including guidance around being a better person. For our youth today, having the skills to be able to manage anger, make positive life altering decisions, and to set goals for a brighter future are essential for life long success.
There is still a good amount of future research that can be done in this area, but for now, we can see that giving children these skills while in school can help kids across social, cultural and class lines.
The research team was funded by grants by the William T. Grant Foundation. For more details on the study visit
The research study has been published in the January/February issue of Child Development.
— Makenna Berry
Photo by Tup Wanders