Social-Emotional Learning Proves the Power of Soft Skills

With countless sources of information easily at hand online and AI tools that can assist with schoolwork in mere seconds, it would seem that technology is taking over education. But it is exactly now that students need to be encouraged to develop the soft skills that will allow them to not only use advanced technology wisely, but also navigate their emotions effectively, build meaningful relationships, and make responsible decisions.

This is why many international schools around Japan are putting a focus on social-emotional learning (SEL), helping their students develop the skills and qualities that will serve them in their academic careers and as they grow to adulthood. With this in mind, GoConnect spoke with a number of these diverse and innovative institutions to find out how they are implementing SEL at their campuses.

For students of all ages, bringing SEL to bear on artificial intelligence (AI) technologies will be ever more important in the coming years. This is central to the ethos of Malvern College Tokyo, as Ewan McCallum, the school’s deputy head and head of senior, pointed out: “As schools incorporate AI technologies, nurturing critical thinking remains vital. Prioritizing deep inquiry and independent thought is non-negotiable at Malvern; this is rooted in frameworks such as the International Baccalaureate curriculum programs and our Malvern Qualities.

“We guide students in utilizing AI as a tool rather than merely accepting its outputs. Educators encourage questioning, analysis, and synthesis, equipping learners to navigate a complex digital realm. This approach fosters adaptability, innovation, and ethical engagement with emerging technologies.”

This is a similar approach taken at Canadian Academy in Kobe, as Clover Hicks, the director of learning at the school explains. “Our job is to be comfortable with giving students experiences where they can challenge authority, which is the media that they are digesting.”

Another key element of the international school experience is intercultural communication, as students attending these schools hail from around the globe and come to their education from a wide variety of backgrounds. Brian Combes, secondary principal at Canadian Academy, said that the school’s curriculum is dedicated to building this skill. “We would like to believe that our lessons are designed to incorporate all kinds of communication; this includes collaboration discourse and assisting students in acquiring intentional language that aids in intercultural communication.” And Hicks explained that the school’s curriculum itself fosters open-mindedness among students. “Since we don’t adhere to one national curriculum, we don’t need to have a certain national or religious view. This creates an environment where we can recognize our own biases and see others.”

Emotional Intelligence and Grit

Dr. Jake Madden, group head of school at Aoba-Japan International School, explained that the school’s approach builds open-mindedness and emotional intelligence: “Our curriculum encourages students to engage in deep exploration of real-world issues through open-ended inquiry, promoting significant questioning, research, and solution development. Soft skills like collaboration, communication, and empathy enable students to work effectively in teams and understand diverse perspectives, while emotional intelligence helps them manage emotions and interpersonal interactions constructively during complex problem-solving tasks.” He added: “By integrating these skills, Aoba ensures that students are equipped not only with creative and collaborative problem-solving abilities but also with the resilience and adaptability needed to tackle future challenges, preparing them to be thoughtful, innovative, and responsible global citizens.”

Phoenix House pupils

Meanwhile, at Phoenix House International School, students are encouraged to build resilience in the face of challenges, explained Claire Fletcher, Head of School. “While Phoenix House is a place of high expectations, academic progress, and kindness, above all, fun prevails. Our team of UK-qualified teachers build great relationships with their pupils and encourage them to persevere when faced with challenges; indeed, we consider ‘grit’ an excellent character trait for our young Phoenixes for the future.” The school also puts a strong emphasis on developing students’ public speaking abilities. “Encouraging the development of confident public speaking skills and articulate expression in English, throughout our curriculum, provides a strong platform for future study. ‘Confidence to communicate, language to lead’ is our ambition for every pupil.”

MEES International School offers preschool and elementary school programs and has taken an innovative approach towards helping its students build social and emotional skills. As the school’s founder and principal Euft van den Berg explained: “At MEES we removed the traditional classroom setting. Instead, there are open spaces for students to break up in smaller mixed aged groups, working on real-world problems collaboratively that originated from their own interest and initiative.” He added: “In these small group settings, students will organically take on roles; thinkers, creators, collaborators, and leaders will emerge as suits best with each personality, promoting self-esteem and knowing oneself. During the six years of elementary school, students will emerge through different roles as their understanding and confidence grows.”

As these varied voices make clear, while there may be shared qualities that SEL develops in students, there are many ways to nurture these qualities. And with these varied approaches, international schools are helping to raise children who will be resilient, adaptable, and responsible citizens of a global society.

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