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Emotional Intelligence Matters: A Perspective from the Keys Head of School

“How are we giving our students the best of ourselves?” This is a question that was posed to our teachers at the start of the school year. Many educators prepare with the best content in mind, but few educators, let alone an entire staff, prepare the best content and also prepare to share the best of themselves.

Now more than ever, having adults ready to share the best of themselves is essential to the learning process, and there’s plenty of research to back it up. Recently, I connected with my dear friend, developmental psychologist Dr. Diana Divechia, Assistant Clinical Professor at the Yale Child Study Center & Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, who shares in the passion for intentionally teaching social and emotional learning (SEL). Diana emailed me her thoughts on why SEL is critical to learning: “Schools are delicate and dense webs of relationships, and when everyone is on the same page about how we approach psychological health, more people benefit, in more ways.” And this adds up to positively impacting school climate.  As I’ve mentioned in previous Keys communications, positive school climate is a strong predictor of positive emotional, social, and academic outcomes. Research now demonstrates that the more deeply embedded any skills are, the greater the impact those skills will have on not only individual students but also on peer groups. Diana notes, “In the case of SEL, a rising tide does lift all boats.”

Diana closely studies adolescent emotional well-being and mental health, and is concerned that indicators of teens’ well being have been worsening every year for the last 6-7 years. (Please read Diana’s blog post on rising anxiety and depression). Diana posits (and I agree) that because schools are “…responsible for children for large chunks of time, educators have an ethical obligation to infuse that environment with the best psychological practices. Emotion skills are protective against depression and anxiety. Even if SEL is taught at home, the school environment must also take children’s psychological well-being into account.”

Finally, the research is clear that emotional and social intelligence skills enhance creativity, leadership, and academic performance, while reducing anxiety, conflict, and aggression–all things that schools care about. Diana shared: “The most recent developmental science is incontrovertible that feelings cannot be divorced from learning. Emotions and learning are intertwined, and the best schools are getting smart about that. Also, many of the jobs of the future require emotional intelligence. This is such an important area of skill development that it cannot be left to an ad hoc approach. Longitudinal work by Nobel Laureate James Heckman found a lifelong impact (by age 55) on health, education, earnings, marriage, and even second-generation spillover from SEL skills learned early in school.

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