Last night, as I stood next to my wife dancing away to the music of the Goo Goo Dolls and Train, a sense of true happiness and love washed over me as if I were a pebble in the ocean of positivity. While thousands of other music fans sat quietly or stood motionless listening to great live music, I felt the music and was moved by it, literally. The music took me on an amazing journey as I wiggled, danced, moved, or whatever you’d like to call what I was doing, to some of the biggest pop songs of the past two decades. I danced like no one was watching because I lived in the serenity of the moment. I didn’t think about people snapping videos of me on social media or what others might think or label me as, I just danced and enjoyed the evening with my phenomenal wife. It was one of the best night’s I’ve had in a while. I allowed my emotional thoughts on the music control my body. I listened to my soul while ignoring the social constructs that tell me to stand still or bob my head slowly to live music. I was like a flame in a beautiful fire. I moved like a work of bad art, and I didn’t care what anyone thought. It was legendary.
Like my reckless dancing from last night, our emotions have immense power over us and our actions. While I was in a controlled setting and realized that no real harm would come to me or others because of my radical dancing, aside from a neck cramp, sometimes, our emotions or feelings hijack our sense of right and wrong or what is socially acceptable. Being self-aware of our emotions and the pull they have over our actions is crucial for success and happiness in life. We need to find that balance between what our emotions want us to do and what our prefrontal cortex realizes we should do. Learning self-control is one of the many keys to being an emotionally intelligent human being. The opposable thumbs isn’t the only difference between us and monkeys. We feel and react before we think and decide what the most effective course of action is. However, with training, practice, and the power of redos, we can learn to be thoughtful, empathetic, and kind in how we respond to challenging or emotional situations.
Although I struggled to get through my final professional development text of the summer due to the intense density of the book, I learned much from Daniel Goleman’s seminal resource on emotional intelligence. Sure, it could have been pruned down to about 100 pages, because like most scientists or great thinkers of our time, Goleman loves to spend pages and pages repeating the same thing over and over again using different words. Aside from the density and repetition of the text, it reminded me of the huge and important responsibility we as educators and adults have to help teach future generations of students how to be emotionally in charge of their lives. It’s possible that many horrible crimes and even lesser offenses in which other people were hurt either emotionally or physically may have been prevented had those involved individuals been more emotionally intelligent. Stop, recognize, and reframe is a great strategy for being able to respond instead of reacting to situations. When we push the pause button on our emotions and actions, and realize that we are feeling a strong emotion, we can then begin to change our thoughts and choose the best recourse to solve issues or situations in more thoughtful and caring ways.
While all great educators already realize the importance of teaching students how to be emotionally intelligent people, it’s valuable to hear it constantly repeated in books, articles, or discussions with colleagues. Now more than ever, a resource like Emotional Intelligence is just what we need to be reminded of the huge job we have as teachers, parents, and caregivers. We need to be sure that our children learn how to be self-aware, empathetic, and thoughtful human beings. This text hit that point home like nothing else. Despite the fact that it reads like a college psychology text for graduate students, the core message is meant for everyone: Think before you respond or act. How simple is that? But, wow does it make sense. Imagine how many issues or disagreements we’ve all had that could have been handled more effectively had we not allowed our emotions to take over and drive the mother ship. A lot, right? It’s so very easy to allow our feelings to hijack our prefrontal cortex or the more modern portion of our brain, while it’s much more difficult to control our emotions and respond thoughtfully without reacting in an out-of-control manner. This book reminded me of how important the social and emotional learning curriculum truly is. We can’t expect our students to learn when we haven’t addressed their basic needs including safety, shelter, clothing, and food. I can’t wait for the school year to begin so that I can help my new students to be the best possible and emotionally intelligent versions of themselves.
Here are just a few realizations or thoughts I had on this invaluable resource, all of which I jotted down in the margins. A book can’t genuinely be digested unless you interact with it. Reading is, after all, a physical activity.
- Being able to accurately read the body language and facial expressions of others is crucial to being an emotionally intelligent person. When we are able to recognize the physical signs of sadness, anger, happiness, or any other emotion, we can then use empathy to validate the other person’s feelings and then respond to the situation at hand. I want to be sure that I teach my students how each of the big emotions manifests themselves on the bodies and faces of humans. Much of our communication takes place without the utterance of any words. While I’ve known this idea for years, it still smacks me in the head like a ton of bricks every time I revisit it. We say so much without saying anything at all.
- As teachers, we need to be specific and thoughtful with our feedback to students. Rather then telling a student that their answer or work is wrong, we need to provide students with kind words while also helping them learn how to grow and improve as writers, mathematicians, scientists, or any other type of great thinker or doer. While it’s much easier to say to a student, “That is wrong, now go fix it,” feedback of that type only negatively impacts our students. We need to lift while we climb.
- I used to think that acting out or role playing traumatic or violent events was harmful to people. Wow, was I ever wrong. It turns out that when kids act out or play games that seem violent or inappropriate after having survived a traumatic event, they are safely and effectively processing what they went through. It’s the brains way of dealing with powerful memories, experiences, and emotions. I guess the old adage of “never judge a book by its cover” remains true.
- Our brains are plastic and changeable. Nothing is fixed, unless we think it is. We can change our mind, our attitude, and our outlook on life through practice, training, teaching, and sometimes counseling. Having a growth mindset in life helps one to be emotionally literate. If we are having a bad day, we need not allow negative emotions impact how we view what comes next. We can choose to be happy or choose to be miserable. I choose happy.
- We need to help students learn how to express and talk about their emotions in effective and meaningful ways, This can be done through various activities, but it needs to happen in our classrooms. We can’t teach students about the gas laws if they don’t know how to process the negative emotions they are feeling regarding an interaction they had with a peer in the hallway prior to Science class. Teaching students how to be emotionally intelligent is far more important than teaching them how to properly use a comma.
- Many schools prevent students from feeling any sort of negative emotion much like the community in Lois Lowery’s dystopian novel The Giver. How can we expect students to learn how to process and deal with negative feelings or emotions if we don’t teach allow them to experience them? We can’t shield students from life. What we can do, however, is help teach students strategies for dealing with, processing, and responding to emotions. It is not good to shield students or people from feeling sad, angry, or mad, as then they will never learn what to do when they actually do encounter those emotions. We can guide, help, and teach students, but we should not try to manipulate or control situations so that students are always in a constant state of happiness. We need to experience all emotions to better appreciate life in all its magnificent glory.
“And that’s all I have to say about that,” Forrest Gump once said. Like I did last evening at the concert in which I was an attendee, we need to help our students assess various situations and respond appropriately. Emotions are wonderful things to experience, as long as we remain in charge of our actions and respond in kind and thoughtful ways. Dancing crazy-like at a concert is socially acceptable behavior, while dancing at a funeral is not. Goleman’s fine book reminds us that we need to help our students navigate their emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Life is hard and fun and silly and unfair and beautiful all at once. It’s like looking at a Jackson Pollack painting, we feel so many different things all at once, like controlled chaos. So, to you fine followers of my blog, I say, go dance like no one is watching, as long as you are not at a funeral or a golf tournament.