Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Business Case for Engagement and Social-Emotional Learning

(LONG! Lots of ground to cover!)

It’s usually not easy to irrefutably link soft stuff like leadership, values and engagement to the bottom line. But a significant body of research from the past 20 years establishes a clear connection between level of engagement and performance improvement, in a broad range of businesses.  And there are more and more actionable tactics validated as effective in enabling people to fully engage.

In Time to Supercharge Our Engagement Thinking  the case was made that character development and social-emotional learning can logically be considered in the same big bucket as engagement. The attributes are the same. Social-emotional factors and high-engagement enablers are equally relevant in the private sector, community, and classroom. The findings and impact data that follow are mostly from the private sector. It stands to reason that impacts should be equally impressive regardless of demographic.

The Standard

Research conducted in 1998 by the Gallup organization set out to quantify the relationship between responses to twelve statements (Q12), and productivity, profitability, and retention specifically. The sample was large: 2,500 business units, 105,000 employees. The findings: business units scoring higher on five Power Statements realized 50% higher productivity; 44% more profit; 13% higher retention

 The Power Statements:

  • I know what is expected of me at work.
  • The mission / purpose of my company make me feel my job is important.
  • I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  • Someone at work cares about me as a person.
  • There is someone at work who encourages my development.

While Gallup’s Q12 is the recognized engagement benchmark, later studies validate those early findings:

  • The Global Workforce Study by Towers-Perrin (2007) showed that companies with high engagement levels had an Earnings Per Share growth rate of 28% opposed to low engagement companies which showed an 11.2% decline in EPS in the same period.
  • Further Gallup research found that companies with engagement scores in the top 25% had an EPS growth rate of 2.6 times greater than those companies that scored below average.
  • The Gallup Management Journal’s 2005 Q3 survey found that 23.3 million of US workers 18 and older (roughly 17%) are actively disengaged. Gallup estimated that lower productivity of these workers costs the US economy about $370bil a year.
  • BlessingWhite’s The State of Employee Engagement 2008 found that 29% of the North American workforce is fully engaged, while 19% are actively disengaged. The study also shows a strong correlation between engagement levels and retention: 85% of engaged employees indicated they planned to stick with their employer, compared to only 27% of disengaged employees.  The report for 2010 showed little change, same for 2013. Why have we hit a plateau?


How important is retention? The study by BlessingWhite noted above and others all propose that employees are more and more peeking their heads out of the foxhole they’ve been hunkered down in due to tough economic conditions over the past several years. Even high performing, highly engaged people that a company can least afford to lose are getting braver about looking around.

Will they stay or will they go? And in both cases, why? The message is clear: If you manage to land good talent, you’d better do whatever it takes to hold on to it.

Replacing an employee can cost as much as 50-60% of his annual salary, but total costs of turnover can range from 90-200%, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. This is a 2008 report; it’s safe to say the cost has gone up, along with the complexity of replacing personnel. (


Right Management, the talent and career consulting branch of employment services giant Manpower, conducted a survey the winter of 2009 to identify top actions companies were taking to help manage their workforce through the economic crisis. The top two most important leadership practices for tough times identified by senior leader respondents:

  • Engaging employees to ensure organizational alignment and commitment (51%); and
  • Clearly defining roles and expectations (21%). (one of the top levers of engagement)

Numerous later studies also validate the importance of engagement. The Right study is significant because of its origin-a top employment service. They know the business of recruiting and retention.

In 2006, 23.7% of American workers voluntarily quit their jobs. (US Bureau of Labor Statistics). Keep in mind the job market has shifted, from a decidedly employer-driven market to talent-driven.  Employers are begging for talent and there’s just not enough to go around. Retention is critical, as is recruiting. An employer with a highly engaging work environment is way ahead of their competition.

There are irrefutable numbers everywhere you look. Here’s a little more number crunching….

Revenue:  A typical company with $5 billion in revenues in an industry with average revenue growth of eight percent would see revenues increase by $400 million. A company with top quartile levels of employee engagement could expect an increase of $1 billion. And a company in the top quartile on both engagement and enablement could anticipate an increase of a full $1.8 billion.

Turnover: For an organization with 20,000 employees and an annual voluntary turnover rate of eight percent, the cost of turnover is approximately $56 million (assuming an average salary of $35,000). Reducing the voluntary turnover rate by 40 percent would yield annual savings of $22.4 million. But reductions in turnover through high levels of engagement and enablement would yield savings of over $30 million annually, a difference of more than $7.5 million.

Employee performance: For an organization producing $10 billion of product with 20 percent of employees exceeding performance expectations, increasing the percentage of high performers by 1.5 times (by transforming average performers into superior performers) would increase output by $350 million (ie, if 10 percent of population improves performance by 35 percent, overall performance improvement across entire population is 3.5 percent. (The Hay Group: Employee engagement and enablement critical.)

Engagement is good business. Since it is such a good thing, how do you “do” engagement? What things promote an environment of high engagement? What gets in the way?

It’s not possible to provide a Cliff Notes version of an answer to those questions.  But here’s couple of teasers: (1) as it is values-based engagement is highly personal. And, (2) engagement drivers are split between process / things and people / relationships. You must address the people issues before you can expect people to fully engage in fixing process issues.

 WIIFM Intangibles in the Private Sector

Forward-thinking employers who are deeply involved with and committed to their workforce’s and the community’s success will earn significant payback in return:

  • A more highly engaged workforce=bottom-line payback in every area that matters;
  • High regard among community members, impacting image and branding;
  • Employer-of-choice status: recruiting and retention are both greatly enhanced. Current employees stay, new applicants stand in line to get in;
  • Sense of community and a company culture that lasts anchored by social consciousness and a feeling of being a part of something that is truly worthwhile;
  • A well-stocked, continuously replenished talent pool—highly skilled and eager job candidates.

Barring economic meltdown or gross mismanagement, investing in people and the community is more than “corporate social responsibility” (CSR). It’s a high-powered strategy that ensures the company’s sustainability.


 Kids are People Too: Student Engagement

Gallup and America’s Promise

In 2009 Gallup and America’s Promise defined, measured and implemented a model of student engagement. “The primary application of the Gallup Student Poll is as a measure of non-cognitive metrics that predicts student success in academic and other youth development settings. Gallup’s research (identified three) key factors that drive students’ grades, achievement scores, retention, and future employment.” Follow-up studies and reports noted high-impact, specific improvement opportunities.

CASEL: Benefits of Character Development

CASEL’s meta-analysis (“study of studies”) used statistical techniques to summarize the findings of over 700 studies and found a broad range of benefits for students:

  • 9% decrease in conduct problems, such as classroom misbehavior and aggression
  • 10% decrease in emotional distress, such as anxiety and depression
  • 9% improvement in attitudes about self, others, and school
  • 23% improvement in social and emotional skills
  • 9% improvement in school and classroom behavior
  • 11 % improvement in achievement test scores

…while these SEL programs took time out of the school day, they did not detract from student academic performance. In fact, as noted above, on average, students receiving school-based SEL scored 11 percentile points higher on academic achievement tests than their peers who did not receive SEL, and they also attained higher grades. And even as grades and achievement test scores were improving, classroom behavior, feelings about self, and emotional problems were improving as well.

AJPH Report: Benefits of SE Development

The level of pro-social behaviors in kindergarten, such as cooperating with peers, being helpful to others, understanding others’ feelings, and resolving problems on their own predicted their education and job prospects, criminal activity, likelihood of substance abuse, and mental health in adulthood. Students with higher levels of P-S behaviors did better in all of those areas….they were more likely to have graduated from high school on time, to have finished college, and to have stable employment; less likely to have been in special education or repeated a grade; less likely to need public housing or receive public assistance; less likely to have been arrested or in jail; less likely to abuse alcohol or drugs; and less likely to have been on medication for mental health problems.

  • There is a strong relationship between pro-social skills and positive outcomes later in life, regardless of the student’s gender, race, or socioeconomic status, the quality of their neighborhood, their early academic skills, or several other factors.
  • The level of aggression that a student showed in kindergarten couldn’t predict whether the student would have a run-in with the law later in life—but his level of pro-social behavior could.
  • Feeling socially connected as a kid is more strongly associated with happiness in adulthood than academic achievement is;
  • Children who participate in programs designed to strengthen their social and emotional skills simply do undeniably better academically, and in life.

Reference Links



Engagement and Mojo—Peas and Carrots

(originally Supercharging Engagement, 2018 update)


Human needs, values and motivators are common for all ages. The principles that make learning and education effective are mirrors of the principles of workplace engagement, and effective workplace leadership mirrors effective teaching methods. It’s a small stretch from there: those same factors can determine whether communities are sustainably healthy. We can leverage the similarities of these principles.

Engagement theory has been studied for decades, and the workplace impacts are well-known. Education has also dabbled in engagement. The new kid on the block is “social engagement”. As young people in school and adults at work and in the community all benefit from the same engaging attributes, it stands to reason that those attributes can be leveraged in a broad social initiative, focused single-community efforts with a shared vision of understanding and actually utilizing the known enablers of engagement. In doing so, we would enable a more highly engaged population, and build a better world.  

We know what motivates people to be more engaged. We know why engagement works and we know what is disengaging. We’ve repeatedly measured actions and correlated highly desirable outcomes to those actions. We know how and how much engagement levels affect performance. We know the top influencer: values-driven, purposeful people are highly effective in every aspect of their lives. They are less stressed and live longer, are more productive in school and at work, are highly involved contributors in their community, are better family members….more successful all around.

With such a huge upside it should be easy to gain broad understanding and buy-in. But the engagement industry is over-saturated and highly competitive, with countless vendors hawking their wares. The whole subject is artificially confusing and suffers from low credibility as a result.

Various models may be patent or trademark-protected, but engagement theory itself is not. Unique market-driven differences in content, approaches and terminologies may have some kind of protection. But strip off the fancy marketing-concocted window-dressings and they’re all pretty much the same (see “Universal Engagers” later). It should be a whole lot easier than the experts like to let on. Give ‘em a break, it’s how they make their living.

Those who have bought in are rewarded with impressive results. The “secrets” are right in front of us and they’re mostly free. Still, even though we know engagement’s potential we’ve only been dabbling. Either not enough of the right people get it, or if they do get it they choose not to do the right thing by people, especially when it comes to chasing the greater value beyond workplace engagement. With scattered exceptions, it’s just untapped potential–social vitality, personal satisfaction, and broad economic results must be too big for normal people to grasp.

“Home is home, work is work, life is life.” Wrong. Society, work, home–each impacts the others.

More than ‘Employee Engagement’

Engagement research and volumes of literature focus on employee engagement in the workplace. It’s all business, after all: driven by the promise of greater productivity and profit, we’ve ignored the greater good, the huge potential beyond the workplace. What would be the impact of a coordinated effort to grow engagement in education, community, families? Maybe we first need a more inclusive definition of engagement to help expand our focus:

People are “engaged” when they are fully connected and committed to a course of action, whatever the endeavor and they are willing and able to put extra effort into a task or activity and doing it well, whatever the task. Outcomes: higher performance and goal attainment, greater individual satisfaction and well-being. These outcomes all get a boost from higher levels of engagement whether school, workplace, family, or community.

Engagement is more than keeping employees happy to boost productivity and make money. While it delivers those goods the broader potential is that employee engagement directly impacts the emotional and economic well-being of the entire community. Championing community engagement is corporate social responsibility on steroids and it’s smart business too: an engagement-aware company boosts the well-being of employees, and the surrounding community…the company’s talent pool, present and long-term.

Employee disengagement is easy to measure. Lost productivity, attrition and health issues have a clear dollar impact. But there are also economic factors in education/student and community/ citizen disengagement. We just haven’t devoted a lot of energy to measuring them, to better understand the hard dollar cost of these symptoms:

  • Disengaged students don’t care about their education. They see little promise for the future, have very little hope of becoming anything but a bad statistic. They tune out and under-perform. Worse, they drop out. Worst: suicide. The social and economic cost of student disengagement would be huge and the tragedy of wasted human potential would be sobering and compelling if we could accurately measure then understand it.
  • Disengaged citizens don’t bother getting informed or being involved. What’s the point? Many who do vote don’t have sufficient information to make good decisions. Terminal community decay is a frightening, tightening downward spiral: people don’t care about the community and it goes to hell physically. Civil and legal problems spin out-of-control, along with increasingly significant social issues. People can’t get the heck out of Dodge fast enough if they can escape at all.

Universal Engagers

Engagement-enabling attributes affect students, family members, employees, citizens. Impact the level of engagement in one group, the others are also impacted.

It’s time to really annoy those who make their living from the engagement industry…

Engagement models share several attributes that support high engagement. I’ve identified a pretty good handful for starters. As you review these, consider the impact on students, families, workers, citizens and communities. What would happen if all community stakeholders adopted these as shared principles that guide relationships, everyday actions and long-term goals and decisions? Feel free to add to the list, but non value-adding window dressings don’t count!

  1. Values. My values help focus my Purpose. Without values, Purpose exists in a vacuum, it is directionless, meaningless. We’re drawn to environments where we feel comfortable, and we’re more at ease when our values are aligned with the surrounding environment and others around us. We’re uncomfortable when our values are stifled or they conflict with reality—we need a good fit. Values may be subconscious: even if we’re not aware of them, in a mismatch we still know something’s not right, and we know we don’t like it. We just don’t know what’s wrong or why we feel bad.
  2. Vision. Moses didn’t say “let’s go wander in the desert for a few decades and see where we end up”. They set out for the Promised Land (vision) to escape Pharaoh’s cruel rule (purpose). Connecting to vision can be as simple as providing meaningful “why” behind the “what”, which establishes line of sight from everyday tasks to compelling group goals. Eye on the Prize!
  3. Purpose. We all want and need to make our mark. We need something that makes us want to get up in the morning, something to look forward to besides going to a good movie. What am I involved in that matters long-term? How can I make a difference in the grand scheme of things? My personal purpose: make an impact, leave a legacy.
  4. Community, Belonging.  Humans have been social creatures since first banding together in tribes for safety and companionship. But it’s more than strength in numbers. We have a basic human need to be part of a group—at school, work, socially, in the community. (side note: our isolated modern lifestyle can be incredibly emotionally destructive);
  5. Caring and Trust.  No matter how old the kid we all need nurturing. We’re human—we need someone to truly care about us. Not about what we do or how much we do or how well we do it…but someone who actually cares about US and isn’t afraid to show it.
  6. Opportunity to Shine: when people do what they do best and truly enjoy doing, they produce exceptional results. Positive psychology, Mihaly’s flow, Iowa common sense too …contented cows do give more milk. Emotional and physical well-being skyrocket with achievement, leading to even more impressive performance—a reinforcing loop.
  7. Opportunity to Grow: the Army has it right. Deep down, we all want to be all that we can be. We have core strengths (#6) but that’s not enough for most of us. We want to be more, we want to do more. It’s not just doing more stuff, meaning and purpose also help us grow. Think Maslow and “actualization”…the pinnacle of the pyramid.
  8. Expectations and Feedback. We are driven to make a meaningful contribution, and we’re more willing and able to deliver if we have a roadmap from today to tomorrow. Along the way we need to know we’re doing the right things and how we’re doing. The ideal is a destination (goal) that is compelling, where the route and the tasks (strategy, action plans) are driven by a vision (2); and are purposeful (3).

These eight attributes may build on each other, so this is a logical order. But order isn’t carved in stone—all eight are interconnected. It just makes sense and it may be most effective when Values drive Vision and Purpose. Being true to your values also ensures a greater level of personal alignment and satisfaction, less stress and better health…all of which enables better performance and results (think “loop”). So, values identification should be the first priority.

Community vision and individuals’ values-driven purpose must be aligned. They cannot safely stay in conflict long. Alignment begets synergy: one strengthens the other, a reinforcing loop.

Rubber Hits the Road (first working draft)

  • One community, one shared vision. Private sector is critical, identify one champion organization. First step: connect with the right private sector leader(s). Ideal: a collaborative effort by a coalition;
  • Cross section of community leaders from all sectors meets to review purpose, general premise, potential. Outcome, if a “go” decision is a statement of support to announce the initiative;
  • Press / media campaign to generate advance awareness and interest. Community group meeting blitz, article series, direct distribution of support information;
  • Large session (open?) for sector leaders and members:
    • Initiative overview: what and why, main steps;
    • Learn about the Universal Engagers and their potential for the community’s well-being: current social state / desired future. Overview of the reinforcing loop model;
    • Sector-specific breakouts: “how can we leverage each of the Universal Engagers in our sector?”
    • Report highlights to the large group, identify similarities / synergies;
    • Adopt all-community Purpose and Goals, and specific sector Action Plans;
    • Identify champions and agree on next steps.


NOTE: this initiative is ideal for foundation or other grant support, and for socially conscious individual philanthropists. It is completely reproducible and marketable, especially after just one far-seeing community knocks it out of the park. We’re all in this together.

Closing Thoughts (followed by specific findings on engagement, workplace and education)

I’m a private sector/education hybrid. I’ve been involved in (a) social-emotional learning in education and (b) leader development and engagement in the workplace. The lightning bolt finally hit. They’re the same thing!

Emotional intelligence, leadership, character development, social-emotional learning, employee engagement… take away the vendor-concocted “differences”. Distill them down and they’re the same basic human needs. And they’re all represented by the universal engagers.

The engagers share deep roots. We learn the same things the same way through childhood socialization reinforced throughout our lives. But we’re being drawn toward recklessly pursuing more and more “things” and juggling the demands of an endless list of urgent to-do’s. We’ve forgotten what it means to be human. When norms and values get lost in the shuffle, problems crop up—unethical/illegal behavior, rudeness and other variations of treating each other like crap, and myriad significant social issues. We’re trying to survive those problems now.

I haven’t seen it put in these specific terms yet but with the huge body of research out there, you can logically connect the dots to support these statements:

  • Young people have the same basic needs adults do. Kids respond the same way to the same stimuli, because it’s human nature;
  • The state of mind called “engaged” is the same in education, the workplace, society;
  • Engagement has a high probability of carry-over. A highly engaged student is likely to pursue an engaging work environment. A highly engaged employee is likely to have a healthier family and social relationships, likely to be a valued community member;
  • Highly engaged parents are likely to raise highly engaged kids;
  • Because engagement is contagious we can supercharge our efforts and realize even greater results by focusing on all sectors, all stakeholders in a systemic initiative.

What if ownership of values, goals and action plans was shared among educators, private sector, community, and individuals of all ages? Synergy, reciprocating efforts and effects, that’s what. The broader the focus, the greater the impact. It’s more than “employee” engagement.

We’re all in this together!

For supporting data, see  The Business Case for Engagement and Social-Emotional Learning


Newton — A ‘Community of Excellence’

(updated July 2nd 2016)

Press Release May 21, 2020

Workplace, education, economy, society — all evolving. So are the concepts of organizations, learning, motivation and employment. In response to these changes and especially driven by crisis, Newton set off on a journey, not with the goal of winning a “Community of Excellence” award. Rather, Newton set out to become a community of excellence.

From Crisis to Prosperity

Fifteen years ago Newton had lost a Fortune 300 employer. The company was bought out by a competitor who shut down corporate headquarters and a major manufacturing facility that had provided nearly 3,000 jobs in its heyday. Newton is a small town, and the company was by far the largest employer for several surrounding counties. The loss was economically and emotionally crippling to the proud and once-thriving “Home of the Dependability People”.

Fast forward. Population has grown, young families continue to move to Newton due to the school district’s innovative education system and the exceptional community environment. The impact of that growth trickled down. The housing market is booming, and merchants are thriving. New, high-quality employers are relocating to the area and existing businesses are expanding, both supported by a deep, stable and highly skilled labor pool. Students are fully engaged in their education, achievement and attainment levels have skyrocketed. The talent pool continues to grow deeper and stronger.

Young people stay in town after they graduate, and workers are once again finding a lasting, highly satisfying career with world-class employers. There’s no longer a need to search elsewhere for meaningful employment, so people have packed away their traveling shoes. Families are once again more stable and more deeply rooted, as is the entire community.

A socially and economically healthy population is productive, its citizens and businesses are more successful. Newton’s prosperity is soaring and poverty, crime rates and other social issues are decreasing. Citizens are highly involved in and supportive of community projects. They participate in local government and take pride in staying well-informed in national politics. Disagreements are handled with skill, people respect and value each other’s opinions. Newton has even become a popular town hall site for policy makers who have learned to respect the community’s savvy and level-headed openness.

People Development Was the Catalyst

Schools of Character is a national program that recognizes individual schools for excellence in character development. While an honor, the program only triggered a grander aspiration for Newton. Why not a community of character? And why stop at “character”? A good deal of economic and social repair work was needed to bring Newton back and take it even further. The Community Excellence design team explored three areas of improvement:

  1. Physical: community infrastructure, facilities, services;
  2. Workforce development to support increased levels of  private sector productivity;
  3. Social and emotional community well-being.

Newton’s infrastructure improvements had been well under way, guided by a comprehensive plan drafted by a citizen team. But more than a physical facelift was needed. Research by the team showed there was significant potential in the second and third areas. It was clear from the research that people development promotes community prosperity.

From coalition champion George McBig: “A 1918 quote from the Carnegie Institute of Technology got us to thinking and digging deeper. It’s a variation of the 85/15 rule: ‘85% of your financial success is due to your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate and lead. Only 15% is due to technical knowledge.’

The team found more recent research that painted a larger 85/15 picture. A competitor can buy any technology. So the only real differentiation is in mostly intangibles like people, culture, values, ethics. But more often than not, those 85% higher-impacting elements are not  likely to get the attention they deserve. “What a waste!” McBig exclaimed. “Here (in Newton) we’ve kicked our addiction to process at the expense of people. For those who choose to change, it can be a life-changing experience.” Newton is on the leading edge of that charge.

People development—both social and emotional competencies and workplace skills—became the catalyst that kicked Newton’s transformation into gear. The design team agreed on goals and held a series of well-attended information-sharing meetings. The small team of champions grew into a broad coalition committed to the goals:

  1. Develop people with strong character and ethics. Inspire people to do well…and do good;
  2. Create an exceptional social environment built on a foundation of shared values and respectful, positive relationships;
  3. Promote social, emotional, ethical and intellectual development. Through shared  commitment, help people become responsible, caring, and contributing citizens;
  4. Leverage social-emotional competencies to create safe and supportive school, family, and community environments in which young people feel cared for, respected, connected to school, and engaged in learning;
  5. Provide social-emotional and skills development for all ages, all sectors—education and the workplace, young students and adults, family and the community itself;
  6. Build a highly talented, skilled and committed talent pool to support economic growth.

“Our big picture goal” said McBig “is to help people become maximum contributors in what they do, to help them succeed and be highly satisfied with their lives.” When asked why skills and economic growth were so far down the list of goals, McBig explained “the evidence is too clear. Get people emotionally healthy first. Only then will they really dive into learning skills and be really motivated to improve their capacity to perform.”

As it is critical to start young in building a strong foundation of social / emotional health, the Coalition focused first on children. Social-emotional classes were already provided in Newton’s elementary schools.  But that’s where it stopped. And that end point is where the coalition kicked into high gear. Remember the 85/15 rule and that emotional alignment comes before maximum skills development is possible.

Education Issues, Teen Cool and the Talent Pool

Nationally, academic achievement and attainment is dropping. High school grads aren’t ready for college and it’s far out of reach for too many anyway. The relevance of a college education to work is under fire, the value of over-priced degrees is being challenged. Employers get woefully unprepared workers and blame education for it. Parents and guidance counselors continue to obsess over pushing young people toward college-or-bust.  Newton was a microcosm of that national landscape.

Emotional development is mostly nonexistent after elementary school; it’s not considered important for teens even though they have a particularly tough road to navigate. Social issues, uncertain futures, peer pressure, raging hormones… teens are high-risk emotionally and physically. Common sense said there must be more attention given to their emotional needs.

Teens’ needs are complex, but most teens are too “cool’ for social-emotional stuff. So the trick became how to sell an uncool topic to fickle teen consumers. The solution: a subtle shift in emphasis. Says McBig: “high school is relevant if kids feel they are being prepared for life after high school. We have a 7-12 ‘Real-World Prep School’ series. Our goal is to maximize employability and after-high school preparedness, and to ensure learners’ potential for a successful, satisfying, and values-driven future.”  Social and emotional development plays a role but it is more integrated than featured. So teen cool remains intact.

But there’s more. “Beyond developing children and teens, there’s a solid business case for employer involvement and for reaching adults with the same message.” McBig said Newton’s experience validated what the studies reported. “Because of the Carnegie Institute’s 85/15 rule we looked at tons of studies on ‘engagement’. This isn’t just feel-good pixie dust! There’s some serious bottom-line return from doing this soft stuff, and not just in the workplace.”

All Hands On Deck

The Coalition team learned that making a real difference would require broad involvement. Research by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) showed the only way to achieve long-term, lasting social impact would be through “a well-planned, well-executed and lasting strategy with common goals that ensure shared focus among all stakeholders.”

Patchwork activities and programs wouldn’t cut it. Classes in schools wouldn’t be enough. A broad community effort was needed with private sector, government, civic and religious groups all involved.

McBig explained why all-stakeholder commitment is essential. “Learning isn’t just for kids in school. We can’t expect them to get all pumped up with character and values and new skills only to run headlong into an uncaring, business-as-usual world. The new mindset needs continuous reinforcement, mentoring and support outside of school. It’s a cliché, but it really does have to become ‘the way we do things’ here in Newton.”

How Much Can Emotion Possibly Matter?

A study by UC Berkeley found that children who participate in social and emotional programs do better academically. Feeling socially connected as a kid is more strongly associated with happiness in adulthood than academic achievement. The data showed that students who are more socially and emotionally developed are more likely to graduate from high school on time, finish college and have stable employment. They are less likely to need special education or have to repeat a grade; less likely to need public assistance; less likely to be arrested or spend time in jail. They are less likely to be on medication or have mental health problems and less likely to suffer from substance abuse.

Further expert studies validated the UCB findings. It’s well-known that emotional health directly impacts stress levels, therefore overall physical health. And when a population’s health increases productivity rises and the economic drain and emotional strain of health issues decreases. It’s undeniable-this soft stuff delivers impressive hard results.

What’s Next?

There was no national or state legislation needed to get the ball rolling. A coalition of education, government and private sector leaders and everyday community members reshaped Newton’s terrain.

It’s no secret, any community can follow the same path. “We’re not competing, we’re glad to share” says McBig. “There’s plenty of success to go around. The more communities with social and economic vitality, the better off we’ll all be. We’ve actually set out to improve the human condition locally, nationally, globally… and that’s a worthy goal for all of us.”

“Besides” McBig smiled…“Newton isn’t following a trail blazed by someone else. We’ll keep forging ahead. By the time others catch on to what we’re doing, we’ll be somewhere different doing bigger and better things.”