In a recent School Climate research paper we learned that one of the top issues undermining educational success is a negative culture. How can emotional intelligence help?

Experts from the upcoming World EQ Summit share insights on practical ways they’ve seen schools and colleges apply the science and practice of emotional intelligence to address this challenge.

Essential highlights of the discussion are below, followed by the video and edited transcript.

School climate is the emotional context that shapes all teaching and learning. Unless children, teachers, parents all feeling safety and belonging, the school is undermining itself.

Social emotional learning efforts tend to focus on students, but teachers need the skills first. We can’t teach what we don’t know. And, when teachers to develop their emotional intelligence skills, their wellbeing increases, which strengthens resilience and their energy to support great learning.

Many teachers are struggling with the complexities of the job, especially in a world where stress is rising and people feel disconnected. Rising stress makes teaching harder, which means it’s even more important for teachers to have the social emotional skills to take care of themselves… and then, in turn, care for children.

Talking about feelings can be uncomfortable at first, which, again, highlights the importance of trust. If a school has a climate of trust, everyone is more able to take the risks required to grow and learn – including the teachers.

Teens are facing a pandemic of stress. This is exacerbated by their sense that they have little control — which is reinforced by schools focusing on external “motivators” (eg grades or college admissions) and by systems designed to increase control by adults (such as bell schedules). These are all compounded by a distrust of children and a distrust of teachers.

Students want to be seen as people, respected and loved for who they are today, not just for their yet-to-be-realized future selves. They also want to contribute meaningfully to the world. One of the most powerful ways teachers can facilitate these aspirations is to listen to students.

Transcript: Developing a Thriving Culture in Schools

Joshua Freedman: Welcome everyone to our panel discussion. Here we have people from the World EQ Summit that’s coming up in Dubai and Mumbai. Today this panel is going to focus on education and the climate for creating a great place to learn.

Jayne: Welcome to our panelists and thank you so much for being here.

Why does School Climate matter?

Joshua: Please introduce yourselves with your line answer to why the school climate matters. Lize can we start with you?

Lize: My name is Lize. I work with Jayne in the Dubai office for the Middle East, Africa and India region. I am a teacher, now a teacher of EQ. I have worked in kindergarten, primary school, secondary school, tertiary education and with adults. So I think climate in all of those settings is really important.  Without knowing what climate you’re creating, there’s no place to learn. You can’t create curiosity, you can’t create learning without a good climate.

Anabel Jensen:  I’m Anabel Jensen President of Six Seconds. Climate is important because we have a brand new baby in our family. I want to make sure that his environment and his school is one that focuses him, encourages him, challenges him to learn. I want that for every child in the world.

Sanjoli Chimni: My name is Sanjoli. I founded the Mind and Heart Foundation after I attended an EQ certification with Joshua Freedman.  We work with over 800 schools, 10 thousand teachers in India and neighboring countries. It’s really exciting and I’m really happy to be here.

I echo words Anabel and Lize just said. That climate is the context in which everyone shows up everyday. It is in the context of the climate and the environment that people work together,  that’s really the place where everyone works together to try and achieve some outcomes. I think it’s the most important thing really. It’s the context that we create that ultimately nourishes our children.

Joshua: So climate is this invisible container in which all this is happening.

What’s one ingredient that makes school a great place to learn?

Joshua: I’m just going to go to the next side and ask Ilaria and Susan to also introduce themselves. Ilaria what’s one ingredient that would allow this headline to appear in a newspaper near you?

Ilaria Boffa: First of all, I’m Ilaria from Italy. I’m Program Manager at Six Seconds in education and more for the global office and Europe. For me, I think that school is the community. We are measuring the sense of community and belonging that we can create in all the schools all over the world.

Susan Stillman: I think safety; this allows them to challenge themselves to grow, to trust others, to take risks. I think that’s of critical importance. I’m Susan Stillman, I’m the Director of Education for Six Seconds. I’m a former school counselor for 20-30 years before that.

Joshua:  If you’re a parent, or if you’re a teacher or if you know a child, what’s one thing that would allow that child to actually love school?

That kind of environment where kids actually love to go to school,  is certainly not what I experienced as a child.  In the chat Jim said, “I love to see school including an element of all teachers who love school.”

Anabel: Yes, absolutely. Josh can I just throw in what I would really like to see at it?  I think school is way too serious. I want to see laughter. I want to see humor. The research suggests we should be laughing at least twice an hour and I want to see that happening for children all the time. I think everybody should establish a “laughter police” and make sure they laugh.  I tell my potential teachers, that I’m working with all the time that that is critical to have fun.

The slide above comes from the free social emotional learning starter kit

How do emotions contribute to learning?

Joshua: We have a participant who said she’s a parent of a 13 and 16-year-old and  has a passion for learning because it’s fun. Let’s talk a little bit about the neuroscience of learning. How does fun change performance in learning?

Anabel: I would certainly suggest that fun indicates activity that you’re involved in,  that you’re doing, you’re not passive. You’re filling up your own container, not letting somebody else pour stuff into you. So, active and involved would make it fun for me.

Joshua: I recently interviewed Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a neuroscientist who studies how learning actually occurs in the brain. She talked about the importance of caring, that we literally at a neurological level cannot focus on something we don’t care about. Anyone who want to talk about that?

Anabel: I would add that transfers to the teacher as well. One of the most important ingredients for learning is the student-teacher bond. A child will get involved with you and be interested in learning if he believes you care about him and that you care about where he’s going and what he’s doing and what’s happening to him. Then they get involved and want to remember.

Joshua: Sanjoli, you are working in multiple schools, but one of the very interesting projects, I know you’re going to be talking with Susan about it in another webinar, is a project you’re doing with the schools for the Tibetan Community in exile in India, the Dalai Lama’s community’s schools in India. I think many people don’t realize there’s a whole population of people living in India from Tibet. They have basically a government in exile including a school system. I would think that the teachers in that community would be profoundly caring about the students and yet the students are struggling. What’s happening in the climate there?

Sanjoli: I find that the challenges are quite similar to what we’re facing in all other schools. We’ve had a chance to work with some really fancy schools, if I may say so, private schools, the government schools, with the Tibetan government in exile, their schools in India in Nepal, with NGOs. I find that it’s funny in a way but really the challenges are similar.

In the program that we do, I find EQ, emotional intelligence, to be really impactful because it really helps people to realize that before we can even think about helping our students, we’ve got to learn to help ourselves first. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings first. We are different nationalities and we’re from different countries, and we’re all really the same. I always feel like we as human beings have two great gifts. One of those is the ability to experience a very diverse range and spectrum of emotions, which have the potential to drive us like nothing else does.We also have is this great gift of consciousness. We can engage that.

At the Tibetan schools also I find that perhaps the challenges for the children are in some way different.  The challenges are there, but I also find that, the resilience and all those other skills that we’re really talking about in emotional intelligence.


What does it mean to develop the EQ of an educator?

Joshua: Lize, can we come back to you for a minute? We’ve been talking about emotional intelligence. Sanjoli just said EQ. What does it mean to you as an educator to develop emotional intelligence? What is that?

Lize: I’ve just recently actually had a meeting with a teacher at my son’s school who’s been put in charge of well-being for the school, and she was saying that it’s so ironic we tend to have a big strong focus on the students and social emotional learning for the students but she says she feels like she is not in control of what she is feeling and she has to tell the students how to do it.

Personally as an educator, I would like to see more of a focus on the teachers themselves. When we know ourselves better, then we’re able to give ourselves so much better I think. For me, that is key, that’s what I’m really interested in.

Joshua:  Anabel, you often talk about what’s going on for teachers who you teach. You’ve taught thousands and thousands of new teachers.  What is it that they’re struggling with in terms of emotional intelligence?

Anabel: I wanted to agree with other people on what they’ve said about their lack of self-knowledge. However, I think that a teacher needs to walk in and be truly aware of the situation the kids are coming from and what’s going on and happening and what’s behind their face. Did they have a fight with their mother, did the dog die this morning? Whatever it is, we have to connect with them and let them know how much we care about them, how committed we are to them and really I think it’s about love. We have to increase the empathy level of teachers.

Joshua: Susan, you remember we were recently doing a training for teachers who were brand new teachers who the next day were going into the classroom for the very first time. Susan and I realized this and asked how they were feeling.  Most agreed that they were really scared.

We then asked them what they were going to do about it. Most of them said they were just going to ignore those feelings and forge ahead.  As an emotional intelligence expert, Susan, what does that say to you?


What happens when teachers share their feelings?

Susan: These student teachers have to find a place where it’s okay to share those feelings including sharing it with their own students and talking together. I think somebody made a comment about sharing the power. It’s both sharing power but it’s also sharing feelings and sharing vulnerability and it’s sharing authenticity.

Joshua: I know some people on the call are going to be thinking, “that sounds great in California or Arizona, but it won’t work in a very formal environment.” Ilaria, Lize, Sanjoli, you all work in environments where there’s a perception of a teacher as an authority figure that’s very distant from students. Ilaria, how could this work in an Italian context where the teacher has such a power distance? Should teachers share their feelings?

Ilaria: In general, it’s true that we don’t share, at least in Italy. We were taught not to share our emotions, not because there’s something wrong, but just because you need to set the tone of a classroom or of a meeting or whatever in order to get things going smoothly. Gradually, teachers are perceiving that they need to be authentic, and if you need to be authentic, it means that we can share even in a formal setting.

Joshua: In the comments Jim shared that as a former administrator, “I found that when I could trust those who had power over me, I could relax and could share my power with others.” Trust is such a big part. Of course, trust is one of the things we measure in terms of school climate. It’s at the core. Lize, what does it mean in your region to teach emotional intelligence?

Lize: I think there’s still in our region a lot of, “What’s EQ?” The word emotional tends to evoke a lot of the negative feelings. People don’t like to be perceived as emotional. In our region it’s seen as something that women do and so it is not a common thing to share your feelings.

Joshua: Let me just double-click on that for a second. When there is trust, trust is reciprocal. It’s part of the climate, it’s part of the context. When there’s trust, we all feel safer; parents, teachers, students, administrators, and in that context of safety, we can be more honest, we can take more risks, we can be more open.

Joshua: Melissa just shared she thinks many teachers experience a lot of pressure from different directions which is overwhelming. I remember being in my second year of teaching feeling very, very overwhelmed. I actually went to Anabel, who at the time was the principal of the school where I was teaching and shared with her.   Anabel told me it was okay to feel that. It was overwhelming because I felt it was not allowed to feel overwhelmed somehow.  Anabel’s response that is was okay to feel that transformed me.  What can we do to handle this pressure?


How do we get them to listen to us?

Sanjoli: I want to answer that question in conjunction with what Lize just said about trust, coming back to that. One of the really common things that we have and I’ve been to about 800 schools plus, everyone says, “I don’t know why these kids don’t listen to us. They just don’t listen to us. They just don’t listen. I give them such great advice.

Anabel: Universal feeling now, isn’t it?

Sanjoli: I think just asking a couple of really well thought of questions, helps people to realize that if you really want someone to listen to you then they need to feel connected to you; coming back to connection and belonging. They need to have some rapport with you. If you really want to build that, it’s not good enough to just mean well. We ask teachers if they are doing this for their students and without fail the answer is no.

It’s something that’s really missing.  We’re just going through the motions. I always feel there are certain huge gaps between what we know and what we do. I think Six Seconds is doing a great job to try to bridge that gap.

Joshua: Quick comment on this Ilaria.

Ilaria:  Trust is  created with a sense of community. Because otherwise really all the teachers can feel a loneliness; they’re alone inside the school. How many teachers could go to the principal and discuss their issues and troubles or with other colleagues?


What do we do about disengagement in middle school?

Joshua: I want to come into this issue, but I want to turn to students. It was just World Mental Health day. In a New York Times article it is stated that , for the first time, adolescents are more stressed than adults. The number of teenagers who are struggling with anxiety and depression is at record levels. Some of our team members including Susan, worked on research last year where we found that 0% of middle schoolers (12 to 14-year-olds) are feeling engaged in school.

There’s a pandemic, I would suggest, of stress and anxiety among teens. I’ve spoken with educators and parents on every inhabited continent and I heard that this is a very problematic challenge. How do we deal with the fact that we’re all walking into school so overwhelmed, so stressed out, and kids teenagers, in this case, are suffering? Anabel, let’s start with you.

Anabel: I actually would say that I think it’s a lack of control that the kids feel. I don’t know of situations in which children have less power over what’s happening in them or them than in schools. They’re told what time they have to show up, bells tell them where they have to go and what they have to do. Teachers tell them what assignments they have to complete and they don’t get choice.

We know that choice from all the neuroscience research and comments of people like Daniel Pink that choice is the fuel of motivation. We must find a way to trust children and to give them control and to share our power with them.

I would just like to share that probably the most powerfully year of teaching I had was the year that I was pregnant and I was very sick and I asked my students for help. We had an amazing year of growth and achievement and I think it was because I gave my power to them because I needed them.  We helped each other through it.

Joshua: Susan, what do we do? You’ve seen this as a counselor, as a teacher, as a teacher of teachers, as an emotional intelligence practitioner. This issue of stress and anxiety that is rampant. What do we do?


What do we do about teen stress?

Susan: I think it’s a systemic problem. In relation to our model of benchmarks for education, everyone needs to understand their own emotional intelligence and grow. Then the teachers need to have that same attention to themselves and to the whole classroom and how do they create that climate. Because we cannot control, at this moment, what’s happening outside of the classroom. A lot that stress and that anxiety is coming from home, from the community, from sports outside of school.

Joshua: From the headlines that we’re all seeing and kids are seeing too.

Susan: Absolutely. We have to create some kind of a safe haven in that classroom. This is not to say that we’re not responsible. We’re also addressing those larger huge systemic issues in the community and the world. But we have to create that safe haven in the classroom. It’s like our noble goal in a very small community that we’ve created in the classroom. Everyone can contribute to it. Everyone can make a difference to someone else every day; teacher, student administrator, parent.  The students not being engaged in middle school has a lot to do with not addressing developmentally, their need to be together in a group and work together with each other as peers.

Joshua: Of course, I agree with what’s been said. Lize, just to be a little provocative here. You’ve been head of a school. You have teachers coming and saying, “Lize, our students are not engaged. We can’t give them freedom. We can’t give them power. They’re abusing it. They’re acting out.” It’s all well and good to say we should share power and we should give them freedom, but if they’re irresponsible with that and they’re not using that opportunity and they’re not making good choices shouldn’t we assert more control?

Lize: I’ve tried that. It didn’t go so well. I’ve tried many different things and I think on a case by case basis when you look at individual students who might be disruptive, there’s always something, some emotion in the background and is the cause of this disengagement. There always ways and means within restrictive guidelines to work your way around. You just have to be a little bit more creative. Optimism says there is a way, we just have to find it. Different things work for different people.


How do we increase the Trust?

Joshua: We talked earlier about trust and just going back to this research, we see that trust is dropping between primary school and the next level. Notice that it’s not just dropping for students.  See it’s dropping for students, parents, teachers, administrators.

When we feel less trust as parents and educators how does that affect students and how do we turn that around? Sanjoli, can we come back to you? What’s one critical tip?

Sanjoli: One of the things that really works well is to share education neuroscience. For example that when the amygdala is hijacked, there are essentially two ways of calming it down. One is through breathing, and the other is through movement. This is just one small nugget of information, if this information could be made available to teachers, it would really help them.

A lot of people are scared of emotions, and it’s an integral part of who we are. It’s always messy. Let’s get our hands dirty, let’s embrace this.

The ability to navigate emotions when we’re standing in the classroom nobody is listening to you, you are beginning to feel agitated and troubled and angry and frustrated. Neuroscience tells us, that when we are able to name those feelings, it helps us to calm down. I think emotional intelligence is really, really powerful and it’s something that can really help teachers to be more peaceful in their classrooms. That really I think is something that will be able to help.

Joshua: Anabel, let’s come back to you with the same question. We have this context of distrust. We’re in a global environment where trust is dropping, stress is rising, teachers, students, parents coming in the middle school and we see this. Low trust environment has become even lower. What’s your one best recommendation?

Anabel: I think I would be inclined to say that a lack of trust actually begins with the individual. The first person I have to trust is myself. I have to trust that I have been prepared. I have to trust that I’ve really thought about these children. I think there’s a lot that starts with my own trust of myself, and then I can take that in and spread it around the children. I think that’s where I’d start.

Joshua: I hadn’t thought about that point. When we feel out of balance when we aren’t trusting ourselves, and maybe when we’re not setting ourselves up to do our own best, we become more volatile and reactive and we filter everything through that lens.

Anabel: Exactly, and then we spread that. If I trust myself, then I’m going to be really working on spreading that trust, and then the children will trust me, then we can move forward.


Joshua: Susan, could you please explain this data?

Susan: Sure, and I’m going to invite Ilaria because we together worked on this. This was the result of a qualitative analysis of something like 1400 or more responses of students. It surprised us; this is what students themselves said would help create the climate and the trust and the connection that we’re talking about here that is to increase that engagement. We were really surprised that one of the most important things they said was that teachers are really important to them and teachers who believe in us and friends who care about us.

Joshua: I love this idea about believing in me and my friends for who I am. Ilaria, you want to talk about that?

Ilaria : Yes, during this research we found out that kids like adults needs to discover their identity during their path in education. This is in a way their vision. Education is important because I would love to discover who I am at the end of the it. If we think about the vision of education maybe this could be the main goal to discover their own identity in order to make decisions in the future.

If teachers believes in their kids, in their students this is the first step for them and it means that they listen to them. They hear their voices during the years. This was really amazing for us and also the fact that they want to solve or contribute to solve problems in the world. We should consider them as citizens. As Anabel always said, we should see the adults inside their soul and let them contribute because this is what they want.

Joshua: Lize, let’s come to you about this. How do we make this more possible for students to do what Ilaria just said? To feel like they’re actually contributing to something meaningful in the world today as opposed to waiting to become adults.

Lize: I think belonging to something bigger than ourselves helps us. I think quite often students feel they are just numbers. We don’t really see them for the persons that they are or the people they’re becoming.

I think that sense of community and how they can solve problems together maybe even problems in the world that we can’t solve ourselves. They have much more innovation than we do. We can really learn from them. I learn from my students all the time.

Joshua: Brief comment from Sanjoli and then Susan.

Sanjoli: One of the questions that we asked teachers repeatedly was, make a list of the attributes that help you to trust people who you trust in your life. One of the things that came up repeatedly was that they don’t judge me because I made a mistake. They continue to believe in me for who I might be. I may not already be there right now, but they believe in me. They don’t judge me when I made a mistake and they leave the door open for me to make things better.

I feel that the nature of our self-evaluation has a profound effect on the goals that we set for ourselves. If we can get students to believe in themselves a little more, it will really help them to do better.

Joshua: I remember Anabel saying to me many years ago, the best way to help people change is to “love them into it.” Love them into change. Susan, you have a comment then we’ll go on.

Susan: We have this image sometimes in our minds of kids laughing at other kids who make mistakes; it’s part of the bullying world. Just thinking about creating an atmosphere in the classroom where failure is okay. We all support each other, it’s the growth mindset, it’s the idea of resilience, it’s what entrepreneurship is all about, taking those risks. This is important.

Joshua: I’m going to interrupt you for a second, we’re coming back to this adolescence stress and we know that one of the major stressors is college. We know that there is a very small number of places in the top tier universities in the world, that number of places has not really increased and the number of students competing for those places has increased.

Sanjoli: Honestly, I feel that kids are not so troubled about it, the parents are. They are fine. I don’t think it’s an issue with them, as much as it is with their caretakers, their guardians and their parents.

Joshua: Maybe, teachers too.

Sanjoli: Yes, absolutely.


Which statement about learning EQ resonates with you?

Joshua: Well, we have this slide with some key phrases of what a student who is learning emotional intelligence could say: 

This slide comes from the free social emotional learning starter kit

I’d just like to ask, in your own experience as educators, what’s one of these statements that for you, has been the most important for you to learn and strengthen and develop for yourself as an educator? By the way, people in the chat would love to hear your answers as well. What’s one of these aspects that for you has been the most important for you to strengthen and develop as an educator?

Sanjoli: I would say, the second one. I can calm down when I need to. Especially as a teacher, I’d say.

Joshua: It’s a good one to practice.

Lize: For me, when I need to, I know how to get help. I was not very good for a long time when I was teaching, asking for help.

Ilaria: For me, it’s always when I feel stuck, I can find new options. Because in this way also, I can show and role model in front of my students, in front of my son and the people around me, that in any situation, I can, at least think of alternatives. Maybe there are no alternatives, but at least I can try and if there is someone with me, maybe they can show me.

Susan: People are not taught to ask each other for help and to feel when they are stuck, find new options. Teachers, in a school usually, that would be ideal. Students in a classroom and I supposed to talk to the people next to them. They can’t get help on their problem. We need to change that whole paradigm, that idea that we can always find new options with help, with colleagues, with friends, with peers and it’s okay to do that.

Joshua: Anabel, what’s the one for you that’s been the biggest journey?

Anabel: I would say, it’s when I feel stuck, I can find new options. I’m always looking for something new to do, some new way to do it.

Joshua: I was thinking about this, I can help my friends feel better which is so connected with empathy. One of the things that I’m thinking about is, we’re in this context of high stress and all these issues we’ve been discussing. We all have these big feelings about it and coming to see that these feelings are actually resources and opportunities, saying,”Well, things are really messy, but I have the efficacy here. I can do something. It gives me power in this sense. It gives me that sense of efficacy.

I just interviewed Daniel Goldman yesterday and we were talking about this very topic about well-being in the context we’re in. One of the things he talked about is that, he didn’t use these terms, but bringing that locus of control inward where you have that sense, like you’re not going by the storms of what surrounds you.You have more “equanimity”  that was the word he used. That seems to be very closely implicated in well-being.

In our own research that we’re about to publish we found both for children and adults engaging in terms of motivation and pursuing noble goals are very connected with increased well-being and those both have to do with that sense of efficacy, “I can do something.” Well, to close what’s one teaser about the World EQ Summit, what’s something you’re going to share at the summit or talk about, don’t share the whole thing but what are people going to get by coming to the summit to take this conversation forward into action.


What are you sharing at the World EQ Summit?

Anabel: I’m happy to start, I’m going to share my passion about optimism, optimism is the sun in my life and I’m going to share that.

Sanjoli: I’m looking forward to that Anabel. I’m going to be sharing some best practices to create more connected classrooms, deadly habits, scaring habits, just a couple of best practices which we can think about going and reflect on to create more connected classrooms.

Lize: I’m going to be sharing the benchmarks for social emotional learning starting with yourself, moving to your classroom and the whole school and community.

Joshua: It’s such a powerful way to have a framework to say, “Well, if I really want to do this what are the steps, what are the ingredients to actually implementing social emotional learning.”

One of the sessions that I’m going to do at the summit is parenting. I found this actually all to me being much easier as a teacher than as a parent. It was so easy to get my students to engage and open up and solve problems and teach them EQ, but it’s a much bigger challenge as a parent especially as teenagers, and how do we actually be the parent we need to be and support our kids to be the people they are really meant to be. That’s what I want to share.

Thank you all for your comments in the chat, thank you Lize, Sanjoli, Ilaria, Susan and Anabel, I’m looking forward to many of us being together. We’ll be having another webinar from summit speakers next week where we’re going to be talking about a context of customer care and we will be hosting this webinar. In addition, Susan when is the next education webinar?

Susan: It’s October 26th and we’ll be focusing more on Sanjoli and Dr. Sandeep Kelkar’s work and schools in India. October 26th.

Joshua: Thank you all for being here. I appreciate all of you.

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