“Educators, long disturbed by school children’s lagging scores in math and reading, are realizing there is a different and more alarming deficency: emotional literacy.”
67% of the skills that employers are looking for in their employees are in the area of Social and Emotional Intelligence (Working with Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman), and yet schools spend less than 2% of the school week teaching and developing this vital intelligence. In many schools, they spend no time at all.
Why are these statistics such a concern? Research is showing that Social and Emotional Intelligence is critical for success in all areas of life, including academics, relationships, jobs, and health.
Students who develop their Social and Emotional Intelligence are able to manage emotions, control impulses, calm themselves, focus their attention, persevere, work with others, and negotiate differences in a win/win manner.
I am both a licensed teacher and social worker. I taught elementary school for 21 years, and I experienced and saw firsthand the value of students developing these skills.
My students with these Social and Emotional Learning skills were able to sit still and focus their attention. When students can focus their attention, they can learn and achieve at their highest level.
A lot of class time can be taken up by students who misbehave or space out because they can’t manage their emotions and control their impulses. Teachers and administrators might not admit this fact to the public, but it is true.
When I was young boy, I was really anxious a lot of the time in school. I would smell and sniff the back of my hand to try to comfort myself. I would also twist my socks, my hair, and the collars of my shirt in order to move the energy of the anxiety and try to calm myself. It was embarrassing. I didn’t have any elastic left in my socks, and my mom would give me a nickel if the back of my hand wasn’t red at the end of the school day. The nickel incentive didn’t work because the root cause of the anxiety wasn’t being addressed. I had to work so hard to focus and learn with the distraction of the anxiety. Every teacher thought I was model student, well behaved, and hard working. Many students feel a lot of big emotions and don’t know how to deal with them in a healthy and productive way.
Along with enhancing academic performance and achievement, developing students’ Social and Emotional Intelligence also develops students’ mental health. Students who learn to identify, manage, and express their emotions constructively are more likely to avoid anxiety issues, depression, and other mental health issues (Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman).
What is the Cost of Teaching Social Emotional Learning?
I believe my family is a traditional American family with similar values to the majority of Americans: hard work, family, care of others, generosity, kindness, and fairness. Yet my extended family and I, including cousins, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews, have encountered suicide, alcoholism, depression, eating disorders, physical and emotional abuse, bipolar disorder, PTSD, anxiety issues, and obsessive compulsive disorder. I know that my family has paid a huge economic, psychological, and emotional cost because of these mental health challenges. I believe that most, if not all, families, regardless of race, culture, or economics, face a variety of similar mental health challenges.
The cost of preventing mental health issues by teaching Social Emotional Learning to children and teenagers is very low, especially compared to the cost of treating adult mental health issues later in life.
- Our cumulative mental-health issues are costing the U.S. economy about a half-trillion dollars. (New York Times, 02/07/2013)
Why Isn’t Social Emotional Learning Being Taught Every Day in School?
If Social and Emotional Intelligence is so important to develop in children and teenagers, why aren’t schools teaching it? There are a variety of reasons.
- The Fear of Recognizing and Feeling Emotion
- Societal mental health stigmas
- Knowledge of what Social Emotional Learning is and its importance
- Knowledge about brain science
- A good resource to teach Social Emotional Learning
- Teacher training
- Principal support
I understand the fear that educators, principals, and school administrators have to recognize and feel emotions in schools. Twenty five years ago, before I intentionally began to focus and work on developing my Social Emotional Intelligence, I didn’t know what I was feeling, and I definitely didn’t know how to harness my emotions and use them to enhance my life and relationships.
Our society discourages children and adults from feeling or expressing their emotions and even shames those who try. Feeling emotions can be challenging and scary, but with practice and support, everyone can widen their capacity to feel and tolerate their emotions and tap into the inherent wisdom and information present in all emotions.
All of the reasons for not teaching Social Emotional Learning have solutions that are doable, viable, and economically affordable. We can’t afford to not teach these skills on a daily basis. The cost is just too high… the cost of the lack of student focus, misbehavior, disruptions in class, lack of preparation for jobs, and the potential prevention of drug use, school shootings, suicide, and mental health issues.
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”