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Emotional intelligence — which refers to how you handle your own feelings, how well you empathize and get along with other people — is just a key human skill. But it also turns out that kids who are better able to manage their emotions, for example, actually can pay attention better, take in information better, and remember better. In other words, it helps you learn better.
Back to Top2. How have the needs of children changed in the last twenty years, and how should schools respond?
The problems kids face today are more dire than has been the case for a long time. And those are the most obvious signs of an underlying emotional malaise where kids are not getting the key emotional and social skills and competencies they need for life — being able to handle anxiety and anger, to empathize, to work things out. So they’re coming to school more troubled and they’re having more troubles at school. And school is the natural place to help a kid whose life is at school deal with these very perplexing issues.
Back to Top3. How would you describe the mission of schools today?
Schools always have had a mission of socializing our children or preparing them for life. And that preparation is a very broad spectrum. It includes being competent in math and language, but if it doesn’t also teach kids how to manage themselves better, how to handle their rocky emotions, how to handle other people, how to cooperate, how to get along, how to learn given the perils that kids face today, it’s as though we cared more that kids could manage their checkbooks than that they’d be alive next week. We no longer can ignore this range of learning.
Back to Top4. What role do teachers play in teaching emotional intelligence?
Teachers are the crucial models for kids in this domain. And that the teachers teach it by their being, by how they handle it when two kids are having a fight, how they notice that one kid is being left out and make sure that he’s included, by how they tune into the social dynamics that between kids looms so large in kids’ lives.
So many kids in elementary school are troubled by issues such as, “the other kids won’t play with me,” “my favorite friend likes this other kid,” and so on. And teachers can do very, very much by showing that, yes, this is important, and that we can think about it in a lot of ways, that we can expand our emotional-social repertoire of understanding and reaction and that children can learn this from them just by observing them. Just by taking their prompting, and their small urgings. Huge lessons are taught in very subtle ways.
Back to Top5. How does emotional intelligence fit into the academic curriculum?
There are many kinds of learning that go on in school. And there’s the explicit curriculum — math, language, the content. And there’s the implicit curriculum — learning how to get along with other people, learning how to motivate yourself, learning how to persist, how to resist temptation and stay fixed on a goal, how to work together toward a common goal. These implicit lessons actually over the course of life I believe turn out to be even more important than whether you know how to do quadratic equations.
Back to Top6. What part does cooperative learning play in building emotional intelligence?
Cooperative learning is a wonderful natural laboratory for kids to acquire a set of skills that are absolutely essential for life. They’re abilities that you could call emotional intelligence — how you manage yourself and how you get along with other kids, with other people. This includes things, for example, like handling your anger. You can’t blow up in a group and get away with it. The group exerts a pressure; it’s a force for helping a child want to learn how to get along better.
Back to Top7. Why is it important for schools to teach cooperative learning skills?
On average, American kids are getting worse at cooperation, at being able to work things out, at being able to handle their temper, being able to negotiate, and being able to listen well, and so on. These are skills that are essential for life. And if families aren’t doing it the way they used to be, and they seem not to be able to do it as well. If children aren’t getting these skills in life outside of school, I think school is the only place that we can be sure that every child has a chance to learn it.
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