Teaching Profession Opinion

Social-Emotional Intelligence Is Missing From School. Here’s Why That Matters.

By Teaching Ahead Contributor — June 28, 2017 3 min read
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Fredrick Scott Salyers

I teach 9th grade college readiness at a charter high school in New York City’s Brooklyn borough. In this class, I introduce students to topics such as personal organization, the college admissions process, and more. However, in almost every class, I also verbalize the need for students to become effective communicators. I stress to my students the importance of understanding themselves and adjusting to any social environment as necessary skills for success in the real world. These skills are considered the core competencies of emotional and social intelligence. While our students increasingly turn to social media and technology for surface interaction, it is more important than ever for educators to implement social-emotional skills into their classrooms.

Author and psychologist Daniel Goleman coined the term “emotional intelligence” in his book, published in 1995. According to Goleman, emotional intelligence is “the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.” The Teleos Leadership Institute defines emotional and social intelligence as “competencies linked to self-awareness, self-management, social [awareness], and relationship management, which enable people to understand and manage their own and others’ emotions in social interactions.” While current education trends heavily rely on structure and a mantra of “no excuses,” emotional and social intelligence is what is missing from American education.

Effective teachers employ these skills in their classrooms regularly. The teachers that students remember and learn from the most typically are the ones who empathize with and persevere alongside their students. The ability to communicate clearly, make thoughtful decisions, and solve problems with students builds strong relationships, which in turn, can guarantee academic and personal investment. These actions are fostered in classrooms that normalize error, encourage problem-solving, and make students feel comfortable with themselves and each other; making it easier to learn.

To address this issue, schools must begin to think outside of data-driven instruction as a means of successful development for students. Many schools shy away from training staff and faculty members on emotional and social intelligence. While Goleman outlines what defines those competencies, it is not easy for administrators to measure teachers’ mastery or performance of these skills, or to identify their impact in the classroom. The outcome is that many students are leaving our grade schools wholly unprepared for the unpredictability that comes along with college and the real world.

Teachers can transfer skills such as self-awareness and empathy to their students by consistently modeling them in whole-class or whole-school moments. When students observe the awareness their instructors operate with, they are likely to mimic the behavior or become curious about the experiences that have developed their own teachers. When students observe teachers with positive self-images and strong self-awareness, it impacts their own self-esteem and their ability to learn.

Emotional and social learning can take on various forms in the classroom, especially for teachers of color. It can be a regular morning meeting, where students review and discuss their perspectives on school culture and current events. It can be an analysis of a conflict of a novel and a discussion about different paths the characters might have taken. It can be a simple moment that provides a student the space to think and reflect without the threat of punishment, rather than react automatically, and often aggressively, to distress. It can be a situation in which a teacher of color shares an experience about how to handle encounters of racism or other injustices related to identity. It can be a scenario that pushes students to generate various solutions for coding problems in a computer science class.

Implementing more emotional and social learning will require a new movement in American education. It is not enough to train and develop the brains of our children, while leaving their hearts empty or unloved. In order to make our children more prepared for the real world, teachers must look beyond grit and structure. We must teach our children to feel, to adjust, and to thrive in the face of any adversity they may encounter.

Fredrick Scott Salyers is an associate dean of school culture and a college-readiness instructor at a charter school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He began his career in education as a resident director at Morehouse College. You can find more of his work at intheshoe.net.

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