Academic Success Depends on Self-regulation, Part I

As a member of the Northwest Association of Independent Schools (NWAIS), we are, indeed, fortunate in being able to access wonderful professional development opportunities, such as the workshop led by Bob Sornson a few years ago. Thirty year veteran teacher, administrator and founder of the Early Learning Foundation, Bob has published extensively, including such works as Creating Classrooms Where Teachers Love to Teach and Students Love to Learn, Fanatically Formative, and Meeting the Challenge.

In his workshop, Bob shared stories about consulting in school districts in Mississippi, where his work on self-regulation and empathy has increased reading proficiency from 30% to 90%. This reflects the direct correlation between the social/emotional curriculum in schools and children’s success in academics. Sornson warns parents about the danger of falling into a frenzy of focusing on “intellectual pursuits” with children to the exclusion of their social and emotional development and shares that achievement in academics will be greatly diminished over the course of a lifetime if a child has not learned how to self-regulate. So what are the characteristics of self-regulated kids?

  • They can calm themselves.
  • They persist, even if activities or circumstances are boring or difficult.
  • They can focus on the right things at the right time.
  • They can delay gratification.
  • They respect adult authority.

Each of these skills is significant in maximizing a child’s ability to learn.

If a child can’t take care of his or her own needs by self-regulating, that child will have limited ability to develop concern for others, which in turns limits capacity for building relationships. These skills lay the foundation for developing empathy, which is the foundation for the social skills that are essential to the development of intelligence and, ultimately, academic achievement. (See Brain Rules for Baby and the research by Dr. John Medina.) Birth to age four is the optimal time for learning these foundational skills, but they can still be taught successfully until the onset of adolescence. Not surprisingly, they are very difficult to teach after puberty.

In our next installment, I will follow up with some suggestions for how parents can support the development of these self-regulation skills in children.

Trish King
Head of School