Middle School Wellness
Emotional intelligence includes being aware of one’s emotions, managing one’s emotions, and harnessing emotions for certain tasks. This can apply to oneself or to other people around you. Motivation, persistence, impulse control, delayed gratification, mood regulation, ability to empathize and hope; these are all life skills that can and should be taught and nurtured. Those who support the theory of emotional intelligence would argue that these qualities are far more important for success in life than an IQ score on a standardized test, or even being “book smart.” “For various reasons and thanks to a wide range of abilities, people with high emotional intelligence tend to be more successful in life than those with lower EQ even if their classical IQ is average.” (Psychology Today)
In Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence, he describes a world that is craving and demanding a far greater focus on emotional intelligence. It is easy, particularly at the moment, to look at the daily news and see only hate, intolerance, and fear. It is easy to become self-involved and focus only on our own trials and tribulations. After all, our society has created a culture of people who define “success” as those who make a lot of money and have a lot of power, regardless of whether they are doing anything to make the world a better place.
There is no sure way to predict whether or not an individual will be successful in life. If success in life means wealth, fame, and/or power, certain factors may prove to be valuable in the equation like IQ, potential to be creative and innovative, family upbringing, motivation, family “connections,” luck, willingness to take risks, the influence of strong role models, ability to network, and education. However, if “success” is defined in terms of positive contributions to society, or healthy relationships with other humans, or happiness and quality of life, then other factors need to be considered as well. Empathy, civility, and emotional intelligence need to be cultivated and celebrated.
Emotional Intelligence has become a buzzword in the adult business world as well as in schools. “Today companies worldwide routinely look through the lens of EI in hiring, promoting, and developing their employees” (Goleman, 2006). The fact is that people need more than just intelligence to make it in today’s complex world. To be successful, people need to be able to understand other people: what motivates them, what is important to them, how to work cooperatively with them. Jack Block, a psychologist from University of California, studied men with high IQ’s and those with high EQ’s. The majority of the men with high IQ’s were found to be ambitious, productive, critical, condescending, inhibited, detached, and emotionally cold. By contrast, the majority of men with high EQ’s were found to be happy, outgoing, committed to causes, sympathetic, and caring (Goleman, 2006)
Our children are growing up to care more about “me, me, me” than others. Social media feeds the self-absorption with most teens obsessing over posted “selfies” and how many “likes” they got or how many “friends” they have. In fact, in Michele Borba’s book UnSelfie, she notes that the term “selfie” has become so popular (230 million hits on Google in one year) that Oxford Dictionary chose it as the Word of the Year in 2014. (Borba, 2016 ) This self-absorption, self promotion, and self interest is a widespread epidemic that crushes the key components to a healthy and high functioning society: empathy, compassion, courage, civility, and collaboration.
Goleman asserts that as a result of the self-absorbed, entitled society, schools need to consider incorporating rigorous social-emotional learning programs within their school. These programs include education around empathy and effective interpersonal communication. Formal social-emotional learning programs also incorporate the prevention of: bullying, violence, and drug abuse, which help reduce these exact problems and also enhance school climate and academic performance. Goleman supports his posture with scientific evidence. “Helping children improve their self-awareness and confidence, manage their disturbing emotions and impulses, and increase their empathy pays off not just in improved behavior but in measurable academic achievement.” (Goleman) Results of his research shows the following improvements in student assessments after taking part in social-emotional learning programs:
- up to 50% of children showed improved achievement scores
- up to 38% improved their grade-point averages
- incidents of misbehavior dropped by an average of 28%
- suspensions dropped by 44%
- other disciplinary actions by 27%
- attendance rates rose
- 63 % of students demonstrated significantly more positive behavior
Social-emotional learning can take the form of an isolated “life skills” class, or lessons on feelings, relationships, and interpersonal communication can be integrated into existing core curriculum. Topics include: friendship, emotional feelings after various social situations like being teased or excluded, self-awareness, awareness of others’ feelings, and effective communication. These programs also give teachers the tools to manage classroom behaviors in ways that give students life skills. Rather than using an authoritative tone and merely saying “stop that,” teachers can guide students in their conflict resolution, impulse control, and problem solving.
Schools can also examine programs that already exist, and use creative thinking and problem solving to morph those programs into new ones that have a more empathetic and altruistic emphasis. For example, many schools boast that they have a community service program, but in many cases, the community service activities are school-wide drives for canned goods or clothing. While these items certainly benefit those in need, the drives themselves do little to promote empathy and the true value of giving to others. Some schools may require students to complete a certain number of community service hours in order to graduate. While the intention is good, this requirement usually does not stimulate a passion for giving, or instill a sense of purpose. Like with most things, when you do not have buy in, the actual service has little meaning.
By putting empathy and compassion at the center of community service, students will get more out of the experience. For example, instead of having a class donate fleece blankets for children in a hospital because they assume that is what the children would want, have the students interview the experts themselves, the sick patients and/or their families, to determine what they would want or need. Instead of sending cards to the elderly in the retirement home because we think that is what they want, interview them to determined what would make their lives easier or better. There are many different categories of people in need. The important thing is to remember that they are people. When you put them in front of students, sharing their experiences, empathy is created naturally on the spot. It is far more authentic and powerful to the students. Listening to a speaker or researching an organization on a computer does not create meaning for the students.
The role of the teacher over the years has changed significantly; it is far more about teaching the “whole child” than it was in the past. If we want our students to become confident and effective adults, we need to teach them more than the basic academic skills. While strong academics should be a priority, schools also need to offer programs that provide students with opportunities to broaden and deepen their sense of self and the world in which they live. Community service, experiential learning, character development, and leadership programs teach children the skills and strategies to be successful beyond the classroom. Schools need to provide students with growth opportunities and guidance so that they will be comfortable asserting opinions, taking risks, problem solving, and assuming responsibility for their lives.
Curriculum, technology, enrichment programs: all of these are essential to any successful school. Above all however, are the relationships that exist in a school community. Children need dedicated, caring adults more than ever to model desired behavior, push them, inspire them, value their opinions, celebrate in their individuality, set boundaries, and empower them to bring about change. When students feel connected to a caring community, they are more inclined to work hard and try new things. Children should be allowed to fail early and fail often in a supportive setting so that they learn to persevere after setbacks. We have a unique opportunity, as teachers and administrators, to be role models. Children learn from what they see, and what they experience, not just from what they are told.
St. Michael’s Country Day School has a strong academic program. Given the challenges and complexities in our world today, a strong academic foundation is not enough. We must adjust with the times and prepare our students for a world that we cannot even imagine. What choice do we have? Be victims to the problems, or look at the problems as opportunities?
Benson, Etienne (2003). Intelligent Intelligence Testing: Psychologists are broadening the concept of intelligence and how to test it. Retrieved from the American Psychology Association website: http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb03/intelligent.aspx
Borba, Michelle. Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About Me World. New York, New York: Touchstone Press, 2016.
Emotional Intelligence Test. Retrieved from Psychology Today website: https://www.psychologytoday.com/tests/iq/emotional-intelligence-test
Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. Daniel Goleman (web blog post). Retrieved from: http://www.danielgoleman.info/topics/emotional-intelligence/
Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books, 2006.
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