The Tao of Mister Rogers

Have you ever met someone who is incredibly intelligent, yet seems awkward or uncomfortable in social situations? Not necessarily at parties, but in the workplace or even out in public? The ability to communicate with others while treating them with respect and courtesy are important qualities that unfortunately, many people lack. Social skills are just as important as academics. Why? Relationships are vital in the business world as well as one's personal life, and it's difficult to develop successful ones when you aren't quite sure how to effectively interact with other people.

While kindness, sympathy, and empathy are certainly admirable characteristics to possess, human beings are not born with these virtues. These and other social and emotional characteristics (e.g., aspects of emotional intelligence), must be learned.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

The easiest way to define emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, use, manage, and control your emotions, motivations, and desires. From childhood through adulthood, as this Forbes article points out, a person's emotional intelligence affects not only his or her own behavior, but relationships with friends, family members, colleagues, and even strangers.

Social and Emotional Learning

From implementing the Common Core standards to adding iPads to classrooms, school boards and educators are attempting to improve the educational systems for today's children and teenagers. STEM is now a common buzzword and anti-bullying campaigns have almost become the norm.

Why, then, are so many schools forgetting the importance of social and emotional learning (SEL)? According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the following five competencies are interrelated and provide the foundation for responding to the challenges that life presents, as well as the development of quality relationships with others:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Social Awareness
  • Relationship Skills
  • Responsible Decision Making

These life skills can be taught through a variety of methods, including basic classroom instruction, extracurricular activities, a supportive school climate, and community service.

Creating kinder members of society who can interact well with others is not the only "goal" of social and emotional learning. Studies have found that, in addition to improved attitudes and behavior, SEL is linked to improved academic performance, as well as a better understanding of subject matter. Other positive correlations between SEL and academia include working better with other students in group settings and a decrease in behaviors that interact with learning.

Mister Rogers was On to Something

Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood fame was a minister, educator, songwriter, and author in addition to being a television host. An icon of children's entertainment, Fred was not pleased with the way television addressed children and made a point to change this. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, which aired from 1968 through 2001, was the winner of four Emmy awards and Fred Rogers himself received the Daytime Emmy's Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.

In addition to the usual songs and puppets featured on many children's programs both past and present, Mister Rogers spoke directly into the camera to educate his viewers—children and their families—about a variety of topics, many of which other children's shows shied away from at the time, such as: anger, competition, war, divorce, and even death.

Fred Rogers behaved simply and naturally on camera, rather than acting as a "character," knowing that kids would be more likely to take advice from a real person rather than a pretend figure. An advocate for children's television programming, he discussed and focused on peaceful ways to deal with angry feelings—a major proponent of Social and Emotional Learning. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood encouraged its young viewers to become happy and productive citizens.

Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media

Fred Rogers passed away in 2003 at the age of 74, but the lessons taught in his pioneering television series are relevant to this day. His ability to effectively communicate with children as young as preschool-aged, while helping them understand and deal with life's inevitable difficulties, was almost before its time.

To say that Mister Rogers was a pioneer in SEL is putting it mildly. The list of awards and accolades he received over the course of his lifetime is too extensive to list in this article. The Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media at Saint Vincent's College was established in September 2003 and faculty at the college have developed an undergraduate minor in children's studies, using Fred Rogers' vision of helping children grow into confident, competent, caring human beings.

Whether you are two years old or 82 years old, respect and compassion for others are critical keys to a happy life. Mister Rogers had an almost magical way of helping us realize this without seeming pushy or judgmental. Whether you realize it or not, incorporating Social and Emotional Education in today's schools and families is a proud extension of his life's work.