Paradigm Shift for Education

“In the last decade or so, science has discovered a tremendous amount about the role emotions play in our lives. Researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and abilities to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life…”
–John Gottman, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child

Parents and teachers have the most important jobs in the world. The most important part of these jobs is to provide a safe and healthy environment where children can grow and thrive. Parents and teachers are well aware of what it takes to provide a healthy and safe physical environment. However, both parents and teachers might not be fully aware of the importance of providing emotionally safe and healthy environments.

I have already written about how we, as parents can re-think our approach, so I’m going to focus on education this time. But first I’d like to say that there are great teachers already incorporating what is known as social emotional learning (SEL) into their classes and interactions with students. But the truth is, a larger scale awareness and shift is in order. Here in BC, change is underway, which is good. The curriculum has adjusted to better suit the needs of the individual learner. It is more flexible , there is less standardization, and more choice.

This is great. I’m excited we are moving in this direction. And I’d encourage other provinces and states to follow suit. But, if I could push the envelope a little further…it would be this: Let’s make emotional health the top priority, the unequivocal center-piece. Because everything else flows from emotional health, this is the foundation upon which any curriculum should be constructed. This is the number one most important thing a school or education system could focus on and put energy towards. But, because it was often seen as an intangible, it has flown under the radar for too long. How do we put resources toward an intangible?

Well, we need to help create a new culture in education. New teachers (and perhaps existing ones) need training in emotional intelligence. This should be the backbone of the training for teachers. In addition, it should form the backbone of our education system that serves our children. It is from this place, our emotional well being, that everything else is manifested. It is a necessary precursor for success in other domains. Healthy hearts = healthy bodies and healthy minds.

It makes a world of sense for teachers working so closely with children to possess and be able to demonstrate highs level of emotional intelligence. As part of a teacher training, this might take shape of a considerable amount of counselling, training in relationship building, and emotional awareness. A course or two in sociology or psychology is good, but not comprehensive enough in my opinion. We want the healthiest people teaching our children. It’s clear to me that new and existing teachers would benefit from training that brought emotional awareness and coping skills to the forefront. The added benefit is that the teacher gets to model for the students what this looks like.

I know there has been some progress made, and mindful education is making inroads, but this is not something that can remain on the periphery. It needs to be the foundation of our education systems, both for teachers and students. If the primary goal is emotional wellness and secure attachment at school, academic achievement and skill acquisition will not only follow, but will be enhanced. If we pursue academic success without special attention to the social/emotional component, we do students and society a disservice. Academic, or any other success without social/emotional intelligence is precarious and potentially dangerous to our world. We need our citizens, our entrepreneurs and our leaders to be emotionally healthy. Success is not success if it is unconscious, or destructive. The only type of success that makes sense from this point forward will be success rooted in people, place, and peace. Our planet desperately needs heart-centered education.

Children are our most important resource. Healthy children grow into healthy adults, which will, in time, yield a healthy planet.

I understand how we could have overlooked the importance of emotional health. I understand how we could have underestimated the importance of creating emotionally healthy environments at school as the most important thing we could do. It is not as evident as skill building, knowledge acquisition or other measurables. But we are learning. We are learning that emotional health and mental health are important and necessary to the development of the whole and the health of the whole.

From a more traditional view point, it may seem like I have my head in the clouds on this one, but the body of research in support of social and emotional learning is increasing by the day.

A 2017 research review found that SEL programs can promote academic success and increase positive behavior, while reducing misconduct, substance abuse, and emotional distress for elementary school students. In addition, effective SEL programs are enhanced when schools partner with families and when they are culturally and linguistically sensitive (Dusenbury & Weissberg, 2017).

Cozolino gets into the neuroscience of it in his book: Attachment-Based Teaching: Creating a Tribal Classroom. He shows how secure emotional attachments can significantly improve learning, while insecure attachments, stress, and anxiety can actually block learning. Cozolino references evidence-based research to provide powerful examples of why and how social bonding and emotional security is the foundation for all meaningful learning and achievement.

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