One Social and Emotional Learning Step That Matures Students

By: Tim Elmore

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash


“My students enter the classroom as if they’re customers. They expect me to serve them curriculum, make it fun, and work hard to ensure they make good grades. It’s like they’re consumers,” bemoaned one teacher I met in Missouri.


Then, she had an epiphany.


“I guess they are consumers in one sense,” she concluded. “They digest a subject each day for fifty minutes. But they’re pretty passive. Some are apathetic. How do I make sure my class time sticks? They actually expect me to serve them, like a waitress at a restaurant. At the end of the day, I’m exhausted… and they don’t tip me!” 


One Surprising Solution for the Classroom or Home

Reflect for a moment on how children mature in their lives. For my kids, it had little to do with academic learning. It had a lot to do with responsibility. But not just any responsibility. It was when my two children took on tasks that contributed to the whole family. They played a role in a larger picture, which others depended upon. I think this idea can be applied to achieve many of the same benefits at school.


I am talking about classroom chores.


Children need chores to aid in their maturation process. For years, researchers have proven that when a kid connects the dots that each person in a family plays a responsible role in ensuring the group succeeds, it has several benefits. I just wonder if we might realize these same benefits in a classroom at school.

  • It offers them perspective (big picture).
  • It accelerates responsibility.
  • It teaches time management.
  • It furnishes planning skills.
  • It prompts initiative.
  • It provides a sense of belonging.
  • It teaches benefits and consequences.


In fact, a report from Michigan State University Extension suggests children who do chores can gain numerous advantages, including confidence, self-control, and self-efficacy. But more than anything, perhaps, is the fact that taking responsibility for a team task cultivates life skills. And isn’t that what social and emotional learning is all about?


My wife and I had our children doing chores just before they began kindergarten. They were, of course, age appropriate. At first, it was merely tasks that would benefit them, like putting their clothes and toys away or brushing their teeth. But during their elementary school years, they began completing chores that benefited the entire family, like taking out the trash, loading the dishwasher, straightening rooms, and the like. While my wife had higher standards than they were able to meet at the time, we both knew chores would aid in their social and emotional growth. While neither of our kids would be mistaken for Martha Stewart, by sixth grade, they could host a party. By ninth grade, our first-born, Bethany, was learning to do her own laundry. She’d need to do it in college, so why not get her accustomed to it before leaving home? When they finished a task, we thanked them but didn’t go overboard in our praise as if they’d won a Nobel Peace Prize. Our affirmation was appropriate. All four family members were grateful for each other for contributing to the whole. We’re a team. Chores work wonders.


I wonder if this practice would accelerate social and emotional learning at school.


Five Steps to Launch Classroom Chores

What if we transformed our students’ consumer mindsets by asking each of them to perform a chore for their classmates? Each contributes to the whole. It isn’t just about their own note-taking, test-taking, and grades—but about treating the class like a team at work. Responsibility is given to teach students and is suited to their gifts and maturity, but everyone must see the big picture.


I bet you know teachers who’ve done this. You may have done it yourself. Let me offer a list of suggestions on how to start this habit in a school:


  1. Make a list of all the tasks you do to prepare for a class.

Teachers, coaches, and parents all know the invisible tasks that must be done to pull off good lessons, practices, or family routines. List them—the ones you normally do—and then reflect on which student would be best to complete each one. Be clear and specific about your outcomes. Remember, many hands make light work.


  1. Introduce the idea with a metaphor.

Before you assign any classroom or team chore, launch the practice with a discussion based on an image. Our Habitudes® curriculum furnishes several ideas such as “Puzzle Pieces and Box Tops” or “Cathedral Building.” These images teach the power of seeing the big picture and contributing to the whole.


  1. Assign chores based on maturity and giftedness.

Students will be motivated when asked to take on responsibilities that suit them. Those who are organized should be given tasks that require attention to detail, like planning projects or taking attendance. Those with low attention to detail can erase a chalkboard following each class, wipe down desks, or clean windows. If you have more students than tasks, rotate students for certain jobs, but be sure everyone has a job they own.


  1. Ensure benefits and consequences are for everyone.

When students fulfill responsibilities, make sure everyone is rewarded. When one person fails, make sure everyone feels the consequence. While this won’t feel fair, it teaches them they’re part of a larger group. It also increases accountability as the peer pressure to collaborate expands. Great teams practice this.


  1. Celebrate whole-team wins.

Just like their future teams at work or the future families they will lead, students should experience the celebration of the total classroom. My friend Ted teaches social studies. He and each of his classes of students take part in managing the classroom. As they succeed, he provides a monthly pizza party for them. Huge win. Easy win. Everyone wins.


Want to improve your social and emotional learning experience? Growing Leaders is launching new Habitudes® for S.E.L. for middle school. We offer it from grades 6 through 12. Check it out:

One Social and Emotional Learning Step That Matures Students