Talking etiquette with Corinne Gregory
A s Corinne Gregory’s children got older, she noticed that kids with manners were the exception, not the rule. She decided to do some research. “I found out that many children didn’t have behavior problems,” she says. “They lacked social competency, awareness, and consciousness.” In 2003, she developed SocialSmarts, a program available to public schools that teaches children from preschool to high school about manners, values, and ethics. Gregory, a member of the Rotary Club of Redmond, Wash., USA, has been interviewed by Katie Couric for the Today show, and her advice has been featured in Time , Parents magazine, and the Seattle Times .
The Rotarian: Why are kids’ social skills worse than they were 10 years ago?
Corinne Gregory: There are a hundred reasons. I don’t want to place blame solely on parents. But we’re so busy running around that we don’t want to be the discipline police.
TR: Why is this a problem for schools?
Gregory: Too many kids come into schools unprepared for the classroom environment. They don’t know that they need to sit down and keep quiet. Teachers spend their time on discipline, not teaching.
TR: What does SocialSmarts focus on?
Gregory: Initial classes cover basic manners. We move on to respect for peers and respect for things, like the environment. We teach meeting and greeting skills, presentation skills, the concepts of trustworthiness and integrity. We show students, whether they are toddlers or teens, that if you behave better, you’ll get more of what you want and less of what you don’t. We ask them, “What impression do you want to send people?” Kids don’t want to be drug dealers. But they don’t see the map to success.
TR: Where do ethics and manners intersect?
Gregory: We use a social skills pyramid. At the top of the pyramid is etiquette. We teach students about the rules of conduct and engagement. The next level is manners, which is more about behavior. At the very bottom of the pyramid are motivators like respect, compassion, and integrity. Ethics is the line between the motivators and behaviors. In order to behave ethically, you have to think ethically.
TR: What about The Four-Way Test?
Gregory: Once you internalize The Four-Way Test, it’s always there. Lesson eight in SocialSmarts is about honesty. Regardless of a student’s age, it always comes back to the first tenet: Is it the truth?
TR: How do you know SocialSmarts works?
Gregory: Schools that use our program have conducted studies comparing themselves with schools in the same district that don’t. The schools with the program see a 10 to 13 percent improvement on tests. Teachers also report that they spend less time on behavior issues.
TR: How can clubs get involved?
Gregory: First, identify a school. If a Rotary club wishes to sponsor the school, we’ll donate our program fee every year the school stays in the program. The club must cover the cost of materials and oversee the funds to make sure they are properly administered.
This is a way to expose students to Rotary and to the idea of Service Above Self. We talk about The Four-Way Test and encourage kids to learn more about Rotary. Imagine if every child practiced the tenets of The Four-Way Test. Imagine what our world would be like.
Dear Corinne …
Rotarians are a mannerly bunch. But because your mother probably never taught you about e-mail etiquette or other modern dilemmas, Gregory offers these 21st-century takes on social graces.
On thank-you notes: The old rule was that if the giver was there when the recipient opened the present, then the recipient didn’t need to send a thank-you note. But imagine you are on a business trip and you give someone a gift. You are there when the person opens it, but you still get a note a few weeks later. Imagine the impression that leaves.
On wedding gifts: You have a year. Wait until the dust settles, then ask the couple, “What did you really want that you didn’t get? Have you thought of something else?” If you plan on waiting to give a gift, you still should give them a card at the wedding.
On RSVPs: Let someone know one way or the other if you are coming to an event. When you don’t RSVP, you’re saying, “I’m waiting to see if I get a better offer.” Every once in a while, you may honestly forget to send regrets. But you can still call and patch that up.
On e-mail: We are so inundated with different forms of communication, like texting and tweeting, that we sometimes forget to respond or to close the loop in an e-mail conversation. If you’re too busy to send a lengthy e-mail back to someone, write back and say so. Be honest.