Maria Majka, principal at Baywood Elementary School in San Mateo, California, reflects on using emotional intelligence to resolve conflicts and build trust using the “VET” process to Validate, Explore, and Transform emotions.
As principal of an elementary school with a large student population, we were seeking learning opportunities for all children. Our children do well academically and we have safeguards for those in place who need additional academic support. What was lacking for us was a vehicle to not only address the whole child, but to shape the whole child. We were introduced to Six Seconds and made a decision as a community to implement it.
This year we have a core group of parents and teachers who are going deeper and beginning to implement the Six Seconds Model into our teaching and learning. As the principal, I use it as a means of connecting with students. When students are struggling or have made a poor choice, I look to the competencies to guide my interactions with students.
Last week a child, Tom, was seated outside my office. He was clearly sad and I approached him to inquire. He immediately began to cry. I told him he was not in trouble; I wanted to help him feel better. He tried his best to pull himself together. His teacher had sent him to the office because he had a problem in the library and needed some time apart from the group.
He informed me that he and a classmate both wanted the same library book. His friend had ended up with it and he, Tom, “had a tantrum.” After more questioning and some gentle prompting, I learned that in fact both boys wanted the same book and had agreed to solve the problem using Ro Sham Bo. Tom continued providing me with the details of the interaction.
I had to make a decision on the spot to determine the best way to handle this situation. I did not want Tom to think that a tantrum was the vehicle to bring about a desired result. What was my role as the adult to turn this into a learning experience and let Tom know and feel he was supported?
I implemented the Six Seconds Validate, Explore and Transform or “VET” tool which goes to the heart of conflict resolution. With VET, emotions and their messages are accounted for, choices are considered and their reasons are understood. Fundamental to exercising VET is to “unpack” a student’s challenge into “thoughts, feelings and actions.” By using VET, I was able to help Tom “navigate his emotions” – a core Six Seconds competency – to a much more productive conclusion.
STEP 1 – VALIDATE: Tom had tried to solve the problem on his own; he was not successful. He had implemented Ro Sham Bo and won, yet the friend ended up with the book. He got very frustrated and acted intensely inappropriate for a second grader. I validated his emotions. I told Tom that most people would be frustrated in this situation. We spent time talking about his feelings. I praised him for all the steps he had taken up to the moment when he got so upset.
STEP 2 – EXPLORE: Next we talked about alternative choices. When Row Sham Bow had failed what steps could he have taken so that he didn’t have a tantrum? At this point, Tom was able to articulate some options. Together we discussed which would be the best of the options.
STEP 3 – TRANSFORM: My goal was to help Tom so that he could finish his day in the classroom with his peers. I also wanted him to feel good about himself. We invited the friend to come and problem solve with us. It was confirmed that both boys had agreed to use Ro Sham Bowto solve the problem. However when the friend lost Ro Sham Bo, he decided they should do it again. The friend won the second time and took the book. It was at this point that I stepped in to advocate for Tom.
I explained to the two boys that when they agreed to use Ro Sham Bo as a way to solve the problem both boys had to honor the outcome. Even if you lose, you have to go with it. I told the friend that you can’t decide on the spot to do it more times until you get the outcome you want.
We then walked into the library. While I was writing a note to the librarian, she was talking to another class of second graders about disputes over books. This was in earshot of Tom and his friend. The teacher of that class also shared a story about two boys who were arguing over a book the week before. One of the boys let his friend have the book and was rewarded with a HOOT. (Hoots are the reward system we have implemented school-wide to honor desired behaviors).
As we left the library, Tom with the disputed book in hand, he stopped. He turned to his friend and asked, “Do you really want this book?”
His friend replied, “Yes.”
Tom, “You can have it; I want a hoot!”
Together we walked to class and on the way it was decided that when the friend finished the book, he would bring it back to school so that Tom could read it prior to next week’s library time. Both boys had smiles on their faces.
Both boys in that short exchange had gone through a spectrum of emotions. By allowing the boys to identify them, talk about them and then take action, they were able to go from intensive negative feelings, to intensely experiencing pleasure, especially Tom.. As the adult facilitating this, I too experienced a series of emotions.
As I reflected on this incident, I appreciated the skills I have been acquiring about EQ and the 8 competencies. It is interactions like these that validate for me the importance of social emotional learning in the schools. I strive to lead by example. This situation enabled me to do just that. Life lessons such as these are unforgettable.
Maria Majka is the principal at Baywood Elementary School in San Mateo, California.
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