In my seminar yesterday I mentioned “plays well with others” may be one of the most valuable skills in adulthood for team-based activities. Yet we treat it as a joke for children, or at best a euphemism implying the student in question doesn’t do well academically.
Have you ever learned something amazing while developing yourself as a leader or person and wondered why leadership and personal development isn’t taught in school? School taught me valuable things like math, science, history, and so on. It vaguely addressed things like physical fitness.
What didn’t school teach?
When I lead seminars on self-awareness, emotional intelligence, personal development, leadership development, and such, we cover things like how to motivate yourself and others, how to raise awareness of your emotions and motivations, and things like that. These skills are fundamental to lead yourself and others — to a better life, for example, or to better teams and relationships.
“Plays well with others” describes these things well.
I was never taught such matters in school. Nothing even came close. Why not? Will it ever change?
I worked in k-12 education for a few years and learned about so-called “educational standards” — bureaucratic-speak for what we hold schools accountable to teach children. Students are tested on how well they meet them. If something is a standard it gets attention. If not, there’s no guarantee, and therefore, I predict, little chance, anyone with authority will care about it.
When I first started learning to increase my self-awareness and emotional intelligence I wondered why this material hadn’t shown up in school. I looked in the educational standards for where it would fit. The search was telling.
- Language ArtsÂ (2005)
- English Language ArtsÂ (1996)
- Math, Science and TechnologyÂ (1996)
- Social StudiesÂ (1996)
- Health EducationÂ (1996)
- Physical EducationÂ (1996)
- Career Development and Occupational StudiesÂ (1996)
- Languages Other Than English (LOTE)Â (1996)
- English as Second LanguageÂ (2004)
- Arts: DanceÂ (1996)
- Arts: MusicÂ (1996)
- Arts: TheatreÂ (1996)
- Arts: Visual ArtsÂ (1996)
Where would improving self-awareness or emotional intelligence go? For sure not in language arts, English language arts, languages other than English, English as a second language, or any of the arts. That leaves math, science, and technology; social studies, physical education, and career development and occupational studies.
When I researched this area years ago, I was surprised to find the most overlap with leadership and personal development came from physical education. It made some sense, the way the standards I read then were written, but New York’s physical education standards don’t overlap.
Social studies seems like the best place to find social skills, which leadership could involve, but no. Here are New York’s social studies standards. I’ll simplify them:
- U.S. history
- World History
All great academic subjects, but nowhere for social or leadership skills.
Could health cover it? Here are New York’s health standards.
- Students will demonstrate personally and socially responsible behaviors. They will care for and respect themselves and others. They will recognize threats to the environment and offer appropriate strategies to minimize them.
- recognize hazardous conditions in the home, school, work place, and community and propose solutions to eliminate or reduce them
- evaluate personal and social skills which contribute to health and safety of self and others
- recognize how individual behavior affects the quality of the environment.
Hmm… The first point could cover social skills, but the later points undermine it by focusing on safety, health, and the environment.
Career development standards might include this material:
- Students will be knowledgeable about the world of work, explore career options, and relate personal skills, aptitudes, and abilities to future career decisions.
- Students will demonstrate how academic knowledge and skills are applied in the workplace and other settings.
- Students will demonstrate mastery of the foundation skills and competencies essential for success in the workplace.
Hmm… These standards seems plausibly related to leadership and personal development — maybe we have something here. The above three points have lower level, more specific standards.
- Students will learn about the changing nature of the workplace, the value of work to society, and the connection of work to the achievement of personal goals.
- Integrated learning encourages students to use essential academic concepts, facts, and procedures in applications related to life skills and the world of work. This approach allows students to see the usefulness of the concepts that they are being asked to learn and to understand their potential application in the world of work.
- Personal qualities generally include competence in self-management and the ability to plan, organize, and take independent action.
- Positive interpersonal qualities lead to teamwork and cooperation in large and small groups in family, social, and work situations.
- Systems skills include the understanding of and ability to work within natural and constructed systems.
I have to admit, these five standards seem like they could cover what I would consider essential leadership skills. The last one, on systems skills, if it included systems theory, could be incredibly valuable, by my standards, anyway.
But let’s take a step back. These standards are in the field of “Career development and occupational studies.” High school was a long time ago, but I went to an inner city magnet school, meaning the student body ran the gamut from the Ivy League bound to people dealing drugs in class (perhaps not the best way to define the spectrum since there was likely overlap in those populations, but you know what I mean). College bound students didn’t take career development. The institutional bureaucratic name “occupational studies” implies it’s not academic and doesn’t apply for college bound students.
Of course, students not bound for college become self-aware, emotionally intelligent leaders, but in my experience, administrators give them low-skill-level vocational training, not leadership development.
In summary, despite the value of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and other leadership and personal development skills, with the only educational standards close to them lying with in gym or career development and “plays well with others” at best a euphemism instead of a sign of potential leadership, team, and awareness skills worth developing, I don’t see schools teaching these subjects any time soon.
As an entrepreneur who leads leadership development seminars, the business opportunity to fill in holes in our educational system is great, but as a citizen, I’d rather our schools didn’t leave the hole open.
By the way, my experience at Columbia as a student and in my relations with professors and administrators, doesn’t suggest they’ll develop the skills soon either, although I have some hope.
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