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.”
- Increase awareness. Notice your feelings and reactions.
- Increase choice. Pause and consider options. Respond instead of reacting.
- 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.”