In 2015, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (YCEI), in partnership with Born This Way Foundation, surveyed 22,000 high school students. When students were asked how they felt in school, the most common responses were “tired,” “stressed,” and “bored.” But when asked how they wanted to feel, the top three answers were “happy,” “energized,” and “excited.”
How clearly do we think when we are tired, bored, and stressed? How inventive can we be? Are our students leaving school feeling inspired and accomplished, or do they dread returning?
In the new book, Permission To Feel, nearly three decades of research are reviewed which show that discounting or avoiding how a child (or adult) feels can impair their ability to learn, make informed decisions, develop positive relationships, perform at their best, and experience a sense of well-being.
The first, which looked at the class of 2030, revealed that higher levels of social and emotional skills were twice as predictive of academic achievement compared to students’ home environment or social demographics. The second study—Emotion and Cognition in the Age of AI—explored how school systems around the world prioritized and approached social and emotional learning (SEL) and student well-being, as well as the role technology can play.
The research, conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit and supported by Microsoft, showed a similar tension as the work done at Yale. Although 80% of educators said emotional intelligence is critical for academic success, just a little more than half reported their school had formally integrated it to support student well-being. Most said they lacked the time and resources to support such an effort, with 71% saying the change had to start with school and district leadership, where there is the least amount of professional development.
The Class of 2030 research also noted nearly 40% of educators do not teach or incorporate social and emotional skills due to lack of time, support, and rigidly standardized curricula, among other challenges. This trend continues even outside of traditional education structures.
The recently published European Commission report, the changing nature of work and skills in the digital age, explored lifelong learning across the EU and affirms that creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship have not been important topics within vocational education and training.
Nevertheless, people who use their emotions wisely are better able to focus, learn, make sound judgments, build healthy relationships, and be creative. So how do we reconcile the importance of fostering emotional intelligence with the pressures over-stretched teachers and schools face?
Advances in technology are creating disruptions in the workforce, as automation is predicted to replace up to 50% of existing jobs in the US alone. Occupations associated with predictable and routine tasks will decline. At the same time, the fastest–growing occupations will require higher cognitive skills, and 30 to 40% of growth jobs will place a premium on social and emotional skills.
Organizations will need employees who have developed strong emotional intelligence for the communication and innovation necessary in this new world of work. And they will need people who can combine these skills with digital literacy to work with others in a range of places and spaces, including online.
One way this plays out is through applications and games that challenge students to work together to solve problems and achieve collective goals.
Solving a problem as a group requires the ability to recognize and regulate one’s own emotions accurately. For example, access to sandbox environments like Minecraft: Education Edition allows students to learn in a social online space, which leverages gaming elements to motivate and stimulate curiosity. Hour of Code, a worldwide effort to celebrate Computer Science started by non-profit Code.org, is a great opportunity for schools to take innovation and digital literacy to the classroom – and use these skills to discuss and explore the emotional intelligence needed to work together and learn something new in a collaborative setting.
Hour of Code takes place during Computer Science Education Week, which runs from 9th to 15th December this year. Educators can leverage resources developed by the non-profit and its partners, which includes Microsoft, to get coding into the classroom and use it as a tool to encourage and assess emotional intelligence.
Our current academic system has put us on the verge of serious decay in the emotional state of our schools. If we are going to spark children’s creativity and support them in being future innovators, we need to take their emotional and social development seriously in conjunction with their academic achievement – and leverage technology to support teachers to do so.
School systems must find a way to measure students’ and educators’ emotional well-being and emotion skills, if they are to truly leverage their importance. Relying on annual, often anecdotal reports alongside standardized testing does not give EQ the importance it deserves. Access to data and analytics around student emotional states will enable schools to measure progress, identify issues, and provide the visibility needed for healthy emotion regulation, which is critical for students, teachers and schools.
Social and emotional learning has always been important in education. The shift is the development of these skills is now fundamental, not ornamental, if we are to nurture happier, more engaged, and more enthusiastic future workforce.
Marc Brackett is the director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the author of Permission To Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive. @marcbrackett
Mark Sparvell, B.Ed, M.Ed, is an educator, former school principal, and education leader for Microsoft Education. Mark leads a community of practice for teaching practice and SEL http://bit.ly/SELinEDU and is a foundation steering committee member for KARANGA a global SEL advocacy committee supported by Salzburg Global Seminar. @sparvell