James Heckman is an American economist and Nobel laureate best know for his research about and advocacy for investment in supporting early childhood interventions (thanks to Alexander Russo for the tip about his website).

I was surprised, though, to learn that his research and recent talks have focused on the importance of helping young people develop “non-cognitive” traits, which he also calls “soft skills” (perseverance, self-control, etc.). Many others may know this, and it could be just another reminder of how much I don’t know…

I have embedded below a video of a talk he gave in the United Kingdom last year. The whole talk is interesting, but I would especially draw your attention to its last six minutes (starting at about the 39.30 mark). Here’s how a reporter from the Guardian summarized that section:

The good news is that while character was once thought immutable, there is now evidence that it is more malleable at two key points in the life cycle: the early years and then again in adolescence around 12-15. Probably the most cost-effective policy tackling inequality would be interventions at these ages around building character skills….

I obviously write a lot about research on helping students develop these kinds of skills, and apply them in the classroom, but I had never heard about the importance of that three-year window — I think that’s quite an important piece of information. In that video section, he also discusses the positive impact development of these character traits subsequently have on students developing an appetite for learning.

Also, here are two short videos of Professor Heckman discussing soft skills that I found on his own video channel.

I’m adding this post to The Best Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Resources.