Reinventing Education for Change Leaders: Head + Heart + Hands

What do children need to become leaders in the future? Is it enough to memorize a set of problems?

While there are many opinions, a trend is emerging around the value of skills for being self-aware, collaborating with others, and creating new possibilities. While traditional intellect remains important, it’s not enough.  The missing ingredient are skills that generate a new form of insight into self and others, a capability called “emotional intelligence.” 


Tony Wagner, Harvard professor and author of Creating Innovators, recently asked, “We no longer have to go to school to acquire knowledge – so what’s school for?”  Thirty years ago, teachers challenged students to write a paper with five cited sources.  Today the difficulty is narrowing it down to five.  Information is everywhere – now students need to learn to create meaning, which requires a much different skill set.


Inventing the Future of Inventing

In June at Harvard University, Wagner  joined 250 other change makers from 32 countries – scientists, educators, business leaders, and innovators – at the NexusEQ Conference. The question:  How to spark positive change in every sector of society?

Anabel Jensen is no stranger to this challenge; she opened the NexusEQ Conference with a powerful invitation: Will you open your heart to allow yourself to be a change maker? 

A pioneer in the field of emotional intelligence education, Jensen is a professor of education who has trained over 10,000 teachers.  She started multiple schools, and, as a school principal, was one of a few to ever win two Federal Blue Ribbon awards for excellence in education. Today, Jensen is President of Six Seconds, the world’s largest network of emotional intelligence experts and advocates.  She is also the Chairman of Synapse School, with a unique mission: Educating future change makers.

“A change maker ignites a spark of possibility, and nurtures that potential into a powerful force,” says Jensen.  “To lead change requires both insight and passion – head plus heart,” she explains.  That’s why Jensen’s school is infused with emotional intelligence.  “Every teacher, every parent, and every child benefits from practicing the skills of emotional intelligence.  It’s a powerful skill set to unlock potential.”

At Harvard, Jensen’s opening keynote was called, “Calling Change Makers.”  “It’s not enough to be smart,” Jensen says, “we need a powerful blend of ethics + compassion + commitment.  We need to put our principles into action.”

Other conference speakers echoed this theme, sharing successes of how emotional intelligence is creating positive change.  It starts with a surprising fact:  We don’t have to choose between “IQ” and “EQ” — they actually work together.



Educating the Heart: Social Emotional Learning

There is a pervasive perception in Western education:  We need to focus on the basics.  Particularly with the emphasis on testing created by the No Child Left Behind Act, schools are grappling to produce results.  Fortunately, in recent years, “social emotional learning” is becoming increasingly recognized as an essential component for school success.

In a kick-off webinar for the conference, Tony Wagner pointed out the risk of the old way of thinking, “Increasingly, schools are about one subject:  Test preparation.”  Wagner went on to point out that given all the changes occurring in society, it’s probably time for education to change as well.

The surprising news is that there’s no conflict between “basic education” and “educating the heart.”  Numerous research studies show that developing emotional intelligence ALSO improves academic achievement – and life success.   Quoting a compelling essay in The New York Times: “promoting students’ social and emotional skills plays a critical role in improving their academic performance.”

In a beautiful video by The Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education entitled “Educate the Heart,” we’re asked to consider our children: “are the tools we give them enough to prepare them for this world?”  It continues, “If we truly want to prepare them for the world outside, we must also educate the heart.”


Emotional Intelligence: 21st Century Skills

Anabel Jensen says, “We teach what we are, and we are what we teach.”  This means that the first step to teaching emotional intelligence is to practice the skills ourselves – as teachers, parents, community leaders, friends, concerned citizens.  “The skills of emotional intelligence,” she says, “are learnable and practical.  The challenge is to make a commitment and to keep practicing, especially when life is complex.”

Six Seconds EQ Model The Six Seconds Model of Emotional Intelligence

  1. Increase awareness.  Notice your feelings and reactions.
  2. Increase choice.  Pause and consider options.  Respond instead of reacting.
  3. Increase purpose.  Pay attention to what’s truly important in the situation.

To put this process into action, Six Seconds has identified eight specific, learnable, measurable competencies.  Emotional intelligence skills include self-awareness, consequential thinking, optimism, and empathy.

In Six Seconds’ work, these are assessed with a tool called the SEI, Six Seconds Emotional Intelligence Assessment, which is available for children and adults.  The organization also publishes curriculum for students, workshops for parents, and training programs for teachers and business people. 

At the NexusEQ Conference, over 50 case studies shared how these and other emotional intelligence tools are actually working to improve learning, innovation, and leadership.


Tools for Success

Perhaps the best news is that universal relevance. 

The skills of emotional intelligence are essential for children to navigate the complexities of modern life, and turns out these same skills support academic success.  Children in schools with an effective social emotional learning process do better academically, and they make healthier decisions. 

As they grow, this toolset equips them to be leaders.  Adults with higher emotional intelligence have greater career success PLUS greater personal success.   Probably because in all aspects of life we need to tune into nuance, navigate complexities, and connect with others, people who learn skills to do so are more likely to thrive.

For education, this is especially important.  An oft-cited goal of education is to prepare future citizens.  Today, in a world of rapid change and complex relationships, both academic success and good citizenship require innovative thinking.  As Wagner says, “For the first time in history, skills to do well in work and skills to be a good citizen have converged.”

About the author - Joshua Freedman

Joshua is one of the world’s preeminent experts on developing emotional intelligence to create positive change. With warmth and authenticity, he translates leading-edge science into practical, applicable terms that improve the quality of relationships to unlock enduring success. Joshua leads the world’s largest network of emotional intelligence practitioners and researchers.

View more posts from Joshua Freedman

Comments for this article (13)

  • “… a trend is emerging around the value of skills for being self-aware, collaborating with others, and creating new possibilities.”

    Hi Joshua,

    You may be interested in an initiative being developed for the global graduate management community. The Rady School of Management is working to develop a platform called VirBELA dedicated to global collaboration of MBA students. A place where they can come to gain self awareness, collaborate and network with colleagues from around the world, and innovate. The concept is that students should not just obtain knowledge regarding the challenges of leading and working on global teams, but rather experience them for themselves. Emotional Intelligence will certainly be an important factor and students will be given feedback, both from professional facilitators and their peers. VirBELA will launch in October with a global business simulation competition with team members being globally dispersed.

    • Joshua Freedman says:

      Hi Alex – awesome! I suspect that genuine collaboration will be the #1 differentiator of successful workplaces in the next decades — probably even more important than the individual “breakthrough idea” is the group able to actually work together to make it real.

  • Suheyla PINAR ALPER says:

    The most exciting thing about social emotional learning, is that this skill, once acquired, paves the way to success in all aspects of life where one may seek success. It is therefore essential that social emotional learning be part of school curriculum at all levels. Anybody and everybody will be satisfied with its outcomes regardless of any differences, and that is where its secret lies.

    Yet, regardless of its simplicity, EQ or social emotional learning, requires good teachers, trained in the field. It cannot be simply learned/taught through readings and/or advertisements. It has to be integrated to school curriculum in all parts of the world, perhaps with endorsement from the UNİCEF and other similiar organizations worldwide.

    We can then have hope for the future, because we can then see before our eyes the spurt of a productive environment for learning, a motivating context for creativity, hardwork and production, happier people, in peace with themselves and others: the seeds for a better world, a place where all needs meet, dreams are realized for all, be they moms, dads, teachers, brothers, sisters, family, peers, colleagues, co-workers, bosses, kids, teenagers, elderly, middle age, young, challenged, ill, minority, majority, different or same! MAY SOUND UTOPIC, BUT ANYONE WHO IS EMOTIONALLY LITERATE AND HAS SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING AWARENESS KNOWS THAT THIS IS TRUE AND THAT THIS CAN BE REAL FOR “ALL”.

    • Joshua Freedman says:

      Hi Suheyla – maybe it is utopian, but I am with you. That’s the world I want for our children, a place where people are aware and careful… and they have the skills to actually SOLVE problems and create real and lasting success.

      • Suheyla PINAR ALPER says:

        Hi Josh,
        Thank you for being such an active, creative, sincere and productive leader/engine in this quest :)

  • We believe in beginning SEL from smaller ages, as we will initiate it from 5th graders in our family school. KSIS(Kishor Suryawanshi International School) at Nasik, Maharashtra, India. Students, when I conducted emotional intelligence workshops for them were so delighted to know about the process. And now teachers and parents are also willing to be involved in it as well.

    Social Emotional Learning is the way with that students are gradually start taking ownership and become more responsible to take the charge for their life. As Anabel Jensen says it is the matter of Head and Heart together. And as Josh says, it is 3H, and if ever we remove one of the H’s from all three, as Head, Heart and Hands, then they don’t remain schools, and we don’t have to go to as Tony Wagner says.

    We believe to begin it as smaller ages as possible. Thank you Josh, for bringing this issue at the global level with Nexus EQ. Hope all the schools will take charge and start all or at least some from the basic EQ competancies. this is the link of the small clip when we conducted “Shikshnotsav”, in our school with 6seconds. Enjoy watching.

    • Joshua Freedman says:

      Hi Arati – I love this, “Social Emotional Learning is the way with that students are gradually start taking ownership and become more responsible to take the charge for their life.” — it’s such an important point: When people, of all ages, are able to know themselves, choose their own responses, and give themselves to their own purpose… they are leading their own lives… and we can all learn to do this!

  • Tshidi says:

    “Re-inventing Education for Change Leaders: Head + Heart + Hands”; This is so long overdue; Our School education system does need to be “re-invented”. There is no point in producing individuals who have high IQ but low in EQ; Its so very true what Anabel Says about the fact that “we do teach what we are, and we are what we teach”, i like that. .. We need to teach our students and our children (through ourselves;our lives and ability to manage our emotions and our awareness of self, and self in relation to others);because then, and only then can they be successful, I believe success comes from self understanding and understanding the impact of our behaviour on others.. Our education need to change, if we intend to produce a well rounded individual who will be able to fit in today’s world. What better way to do that than through educating the heart like Dalia Lama says.

    Thanks Josh, This is so enlightening.

    Kind Regards

  • Maristela says:

    Very inspiring Josh. I think up until very recently, we have witnessed the “dichotomization” of the heart and the mind that so much violence had been done to the whole psyche. We recoil in horror over acts of violence done by young people and wonder where they’re coming from but we can really see the absence of the “heart” in all these.

    We simply cannot separate heart and head and live healthy, harmonious and happy lives. We are still wont to say ‘the heart of the matter is . . .” or “at the heart of this . . .” and we do mean the bottomline – the core or the center and that involves everything in the individual. Truly, good decisions always involve the mind and the heart. Right at the beginning of formal education, individuals should be taught to use both in a balanced manner.

    We used to have that in our educational system. We were taught, on top of academic subjects, how to plant and tend a garden and keep the whole house in good order (Home Economics in Grade School for both male and female), we were given enough time for group playing and sports, and lessons in good manners and right conduct. Head+heart+hands. Of course, these were replaced by books and workbooks even at the very early stages of education, putting so much emphasis on “head” matters and, needless to say, tipping the balance.

    What you people are doing is truly inspiring. Keep up the vision. The world badly needs it.

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