Editor’s Note: This is part one of a three-part series on student wellbeing written by Skodel for The Learning Counsel (Research and Context on the Digital Education Experience)
What is social emotional health and how do we define the healthy child? What are some ways that schools can keep students healthy? What is the role of the teacher in keeping children safe and healthy? What is the role of the parent? Is there a role for the community? How does remote learning hinder the efforts? Can children help/support other children?
Imagine an event has taken place and you’ve had an intense emotional response to it. The intensity of the moment leads you to commit an act you later regret.
The emotionally healthy individual is one that doesn’t let his or her emotions override logical decision-making. Instead, they have their emotional and logical reasoning operating in harmony. It doesn’t stop at one’s ability to manage oneself in the moment and over time though. Emotional intelligence is also the ability to manage one’s relationship with others. Surprisingly, research has shown that skills in this area are bigger predictors of health, achievement, wealth and quality of life than either IQ or socio-economic status. Digging deeper, psychologist Daniel Goleman shared data looking at schools/students that worked on emotional intelligence compared to those that didn’t. Goleman found:
Antisocial behavior/class disruption went down 10 percent
Prosocial behavior increased by 10 percent
Academic grades increased by 11 percent as student concentration increased
Despite this, it remains an area of child development that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, partly due to the fact that it is not so easily understood and improved. Other forms of intelligence are easier to decipher, such as a child’s ability to tell a story, solve a mathematical problem or write an essay. While children who are able to accurately identify that another individual is bullying them to mask their own insecurities may not win a prize, their skill will deny the bully the ability to derail their self-esteem. They know not to trust their first instinct, but to assess the most appropriate form of action to take. And they know when and how to support a friend in need. Others may not be able to accurately label this skill, but they will certainly be sensitive to it. Therefore, it pays to work on it. The challenge here is finding out how.
We all start out as impulse driven, easily upset and with a limited ability to read the room. In fact, the part of the brain that supports social and emotional intelligence is the last part to mature. This means that naturally, children should get better in this area. But when teachers and parents take an active role to help develop it, there are big gains to be made. Below are three options to consider when supporting student social and emotional development.
1. Know Your Learning Strengths & Weaknesses
Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first six of them sharpening my axe.” When it comes to learning any new skill, it would be a good idea to first dedicate a little bit of time to understanding your learning strengths. Clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller has spent 30 years supporting school communities in this area. One of Fuller’s core philosophies is the concept of neurodevelopmental differentiation, optimizing brain systems to maximize learning. Fuller provides a free learning strengths assessment for all students via his website, http://www.mylearningstrengths.com/. Once you have a better understanding of students’ learning strengths, you can then start to provide more appropriate support for them in building out their suite of social and emotional skills.
2. Life Planning
Ask students who they want to be in 5 years’ time and who they really don’t want to be. By working with them to map out a clear vision for their ideal future selves, their present-day actions are more likely to be guided by logic rather than impulse. Students can also break down their long-term vision into smaller plans that connect with their longer-term plan. Students should look at, among other things, what they will start and stop doing to improve in key wellbeing domains to make it easy for them to stay on track. With sufficient planning for the future, we can make more intelligent choices today.
3. Become Comfortable in Sharing Vulnerabilities
The confidence and skill to accurately identify and articulate your emotions is one of the most important skills you can possess to manage your relationship with yourself (and others). Most of our emotions are not acknowledged nor are they understood. It is our failure to address these that causes so much unnecessary damage in our lives. A hurt self may reside within us that we do not dare to face because it will expose our flaws. Instead, we choose to become cynical, bully others, distract ourselves or distance ourselves from others to hide our own pain. Most of society misunderstands us because we do not yet understand ourselves. It is important for students to know that the exposure of their vulnerabilities lies at the heart of friendships and forgiveness from others. A simple exercise for schools to run is to encourage students in the classroom to turn to the person next to them and share a regret, fear or weakness that they may have.
Get to Know Yourself
As the attention on emotional intelligence grows, so do the number of resources available for support in this area. It can be difficult to truly understand what works and what doesn’t, particularly when every individual is unique. Ultimately, the quest for emotional intelligence can be distilled down to how well you know yourself. Get to know who you are, recognize your strengths and weaknesses, understand precisely what you want and learn how to communicate it. There is only one person that can do this. Therefore, the role of parents and teachers is, as Alexandra Trenfor said, to show students where to look, but not what to see.