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The Power of SEL

Social-Emotional Learning  empowers children to manage their own behavior in positive and productive ways, shifting control to the child.

This counters the “compliance model” widely used in U.S. schools, where adults hold all the power in classrooms and children are passive participants, not drivers of their own development and learning.

Being active in their own development is fundamental to children’s Emotional Intelligence learning, along with acquiring the ability to manage one’s emotions. Managing one’s emotions is hardly a given for a large segment of the population that, without this learning, is beset with remarkably high numbers of people suffering from anxiety or depression, anger issues, or high degrees of interpersonal conflict, violence and suicide.

In fact, most of us experience more emotional upsets and their consequences than we would prefer – in relationships, work, friendships, and in the everyday course of life.

This may be good for the bottom lines of pharmaceutical companies and therapists but is hugely costly in infinite ways to the common good and to the pocketbook of the society as a whole.

Neuroscience readily supports the positive effects of Social-Emotional Learning. Emotional reactions have been found to reside in the primordially-earlier lower brain around the amygdala while more sophisticated learning, thinking, and creativity occur in the later-in-evolution frontal lobes or “higher brain.” Brain scans show that when the lower brain is activated by emotional upset it lights up while the higher brain literally goes dark in activity.

The implications for students can’t be overstated – all learning stops while students are emotionally agitated, with their minds either distracted or full of negative thoughts about themselves, others or the situations they are in(Read more about Neuroscience.)

Conversely, academic learning takes place on a rapid scale once students are taught to manage their emotions and responses. Surveys of student and teacher satisfaction often soar into the 90 percentile after a school prioritizes Social-Emotional Learning.

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An important note: Social-Emotional Learning should not be confused with what educators call “Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS),” a widely implemented system based on “carrot-like” tangible rewards.

Moreover, in uninformed reports, some EQ goals and subset practices are mistakenly taken for the entire complex of EQ learnings students experience. Examples are “violence prevention,” “anti-bullying,” “grit,” “resilience,” “mindfulness” and “growth mindset” practices – the latter a training to be able to take on challenges and failures as normal and educational in themselves rather than as obstacles and defeats.

One other note: Education is littered with competing terms for Social-Emotional Learning, among them “emotional literacy,” “non-cognitive education,” “character education,” and “ethical and moral development.” By whatever name, schools adopting such learning should include the core competencies explained here and their goal should be the other term popular with educators: “Whole Child Development.”

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A Short History of Emotional Intelligence

The concept of EQ sprang from the landmark work of Harvard Education Professor Dr. Howard Gardner’s 1983-published theory about the “multiple intelligences” that humans possess. Specifically, EQ falls into a category he defined as ”inter- and intrapersonal” intelligence.

Building on this, two researchers – then Yale psychology professor Peter Salovey (now president of Yale) and University of New Hampshire psychology professor John D. Mayer – published an influential paper in 1990 introducing the term “Emotional Intelligence,” which Goleman cites in his work.

The term EQ over time often became coupled with the term “social intelligence,” meaning the ability to understand, empathize with, and influence the emotions of others.

From Goleman: “In practical terms, this means being aware that emotions can drive our behavior and impact people (positively and negatively), and learning how to manage those  emotions – both our own and others – especially when we are under pressure.”

Marc Brackett, Director of Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence, and Susan Rivers, protégés of Salovey, put it this way: “The process of integrating thinking, feeling, and behaving in order to become aware of the self and of others, make responsible decisions, and manage one’s own behaviors and those of others.”

Psychology Today dives in with this definition: “The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problems solving….[and] the ability to cheer up or calm down another person.”

Youth-focused approaches that combine EQ development with other life skills have now come to be defined by the term Social-Emotional Learning by educators and in child development and psychology realms, as well as in certain business quarters that apply such learning to adults.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, the nation’s leading SEL practice, policy, and research organization, defines SEL as “the process through which children (and adults) acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

CASEL pointedly notes that for SEL to be highly effective it needs to “nest” and be practiced in all school environments by all staff, including integrated in academic classes and non-class activities, in community service by students, and with parents integrated at the school level.

CASEL believes that SEL, correctly implemented, is the platform and process for a potential revolutionary leap forward in educating the “whole child.”

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For Some Teens, It’s Been a Year of Anxiety and Trips to the E.R.

“When the pandemic first hit the Bay Area last spring, Ann thought that her son, a 17-year-old senior, was finally on track to finish high school. He had kicked a heavy marijuana habit and was studying in virtual classes while school was closed. The first wave of stay-at-home orders shut down his usual routines — sports, playing music with friends. But the stability didn’t last.”

Read the full article

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Keep Paying Attention to Your Kids’ Mental Health in This Pandemic

“For nearly a year, most of our children have been navigating the new, difficult normal: social isolation; deeply stressed parents; the effects of financial uncertainty; school from home — or from WiFi-equipped school buses if they don’t have internet. While Covid-19 itself has largely been sparing of children’s physical health, studies have shown it has taken a toll on their mental health, associated with an increase in suicide-related behaviors, experts say.”

Read the full article

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Pandemic Worsens Child Mental Health Crisis

“A bag of Doritos, that’s all Princess wanted.

Her mom calls her Princess, but her real name is Lindsey. She’s 17 and lives with her mom, Sandra, a nurse, outside of Atlanta. On May 17, 2020, a Sunday, Lindsey decided she didn’t want breakfast; she wanted Doritos. So she left home and walked to Family Dollar, taking her pants off on the way, while her mom followed on the phone with police.”

Read the full article

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Children of Quarantine

“Starting on April 6, a bearded and earnest neuroscientist at the University of Oregon named Philip Fisher began to send a digital questionnaire — at first weekly, and then, beginning in August, biweekly — to a representative group of a thousand American families with young children. He’s curious about how they and their kids are doing. They aren’t doing so well.”

Read the full article

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12 Crucial Facts About Emotional Intelligence

  1. Schools that implement comprehensive SEL as basic curriculum see all the good markers go up. These include improvements in engagement in learning, higher test scores (by an average of 11 points or 20%), responsible behaviors, healthy emotional states and quality relationships with others.  Also in: clarity of thinking, good decision making, creativity,  communications skills, empathy, student self-confidence, and teacher and students satisfaction.  Learn more.
  2. These same schools see all negative markers decline, often dramatically. These include violence, bullying, racial and class bias, drug usage, suicides, acting-out behaviors, teacher abuse, screen addiction, low attendance and low graduation and college rates. Learn more.
  3. EQ skills dissolve, in children and adults, their alienation, inability to process anger, emotional suffering, violence and abusiveness – and blocks to learning. 
  4. Nothing in the human toolbox has been proven to uplift children, schools and youth mental health better. When children develop emotional intelligence (EQ) they problem solve and help each other. They reinforce each other’s learning and relate to other people with understanding and empathy. They resolve conflicts and establish and maintain positive relationships and high academic results. And they are much happier.
  5. The earlier children learn EQ skills and mindset the better. Children can start to be taught EQ at home from birth. A study of 4-year old preschool children found that 25 years later their lives in almost every dimension were in considerably better shape than those of a similar control group that lacked EQ training in pre-school. Learn more.
  6. Neuroscience research helps explain and validates a child’s improvements in behavior, performance, brain function and emotional life.  Learn more.
  7. Research reveals EQ is more relevant than IQ to personal success, quality lives, health and happiness – and to positive outcomes for communities and workplaces. See the Harvard Business Review case study (subscription required).
  8. Well into adulthood, EQ-trained students experience significantly lower rates of mental and physical health issues, crime, conflict, hard drug usage, racial biases,  and welfare and poverty than populations that do not experience the training, lowering the cost of government and employer remedial programs. Learn more
  9. Most violence, crime, rape, child sexual and other abuse and human conflict and racism  stems for low EQ. Learn more.
  10. Only 10-15% of pre-K-12  U.S. schools (public, private and charter) implement full-on social-emotional learning curriculum. The reason is that 90% of parents and the public don’t even know SEL exists – hence little to no calls on schools and legislators to prioritize and fund it.
  11. Long-term studies show on net balance that SEL saves $11 to $15 per pupil in remedial costs over the costs of implementing it.  Learn more.
  12. Many employers are already providing adult social and emotional skills training for employees. Lots more employers – it’s becoming a wave now – are putting high EQ at the top of their hiring qualities because higher EQ throughout the workplace demonstrably produces better productivity, more profits and happier workplace with higher retention rates. Learn more.

(Image courtesy of PikRepo)

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The Connection Between Business Success, Mindfulness, and Emotional Intelligence

Our ability to pay attention is a finite resource. By instinct, we tune out anything that isn’t either food or a threat. Even our field of visual attention is usually limited to what is currently and immediately in front of our noses. Want proof of our limited attention? Watch master pickpocket Apollo Robbins at work. If our attention is so scarce, how do we even make it through life?

With such a scarce resource as attention, we must spend it wisely. Business leaders and coaches love to talk about focused attention. At the drop of a mouse, you can find online articles about being more focused at work from publications like Forbes, Business Insider, Men’s Journal, and Lifehack. Using your attention to focus more on the job should mean your productivity goes up and mistakes go down.

But focusing intently also means you are less aware of the environment around you and the bigger picture. People might joke about “the vision thing” but seeing connections between people, events, and concepts is crucial to innovation and success. And wider awareness can keep your pockets from being picked.

Joe Stafura, CEO of Thrive, frames focus and awareness as two ends of a spectrum. The more you focus on a specific item, the less aware you can be of multiple things around you. Conversely, the more things around you that you are aware of, the less you can focus on any particular item.

Matching your balance of focus and awareness to the task at hand is what Stafura calls Mindfulness. Thrive’s ability to help people strike the proper Mindfulness for a given situation is achieved through the Thrive Program’s structure as an ongoing conversation. The conversation involves the stakeholders who reveal what they really feel is important over time. This happens more easily during a conversation than an interrogation in the moment or trying to recall in the moment.

By allowing everyone the space and time to consider the various factors influencing the situation, everyone can see what others are concerned about and start to see hidden problems and possible solutions. The micro-message format of Thrive helps keep the conversation going, ensuring high retention and lower survey fatigue. Each participant spends just a couple of minutes to update their views, with no travel time or Zoom calls.

So, it’s not just focusing your attention that leads to success. Shifting the balance of focus and awareness to meet various demand throughout the day is key to performance at work, at home, and throughout life.

Managing your attention doesn’t just happen. It is a skill. Training your emotional intelligence or EQ is a great way to acquire this skill. EQ training builds self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness. Within these competencies are competencies such as

  • Recognizing emotional states such as bored or distracted
  • Managing impulses
  • Setting goals
  • Organizing tasks
  • Identifying problems
  • Understanding different perspectives

Teaching these skills in schools helps kids be more mindful in learning. It also helps them be more mindful after the graduate and join the workforce. So it’s no wonder that both Apollo Robbins and Joe Stafura count major companies, nonprofits, and government agencies among their clients. They’re all looking for more mindful ways to pay attention.