Where children learn to love

An emotionally intelligent school is where every stakeholder, the children, teachers, non-teaching staff and the management engage in daily mindfulness practices.
Last Updated : 29 August 2023, 00:03 IST
Last Updated : 29 August 2023, 00:03 IST

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The recent events of teachers thrashing students and egging other students to beat a child from Kathua in Jammu Kashmir and Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, respectively, have hit the headlines.

What lessons do we glean from these shocking episodes? And what can educators do to ensure that schools are physically and psychologically safe spaces for all children, irrespective of their religion, caste, gender, learning profile, disability status, sexual orientation, socioeconomic or linguistic backgrounds?

Foremost, schools need to delve deeply into what we mean by the term “educated.” Parents send their children to schools, assuming their wards receive an “education.” Broadly speaking, we assume that children acquire knowledge and skills and develop positive character traits that can help them grow into conscientious citizens capable of contributing to and participating in a democratic society.

Unfortunately, that assumption isn’t always true in more ways than one. The yearly Annual Status of Education Reports show that many children lag behind in basic literacy and numeracy skills. And, then, news like the episodes described above makes us question the very purpose of schooling. If we aren’t taught to realise the “better angels of our nature,” what is the point of an education?

Socioemotional literacy (SEL) should be at the heart of every school and pervade every aspect of a school’s functioning. Right from the watchman at the gate to the principal, everyone in the school needs to practise emotional literacy on an ongoing basis. SEL programs cannot be delivered only during “value education” periods but need to be woven into the curriculum and built into the culture and fabric of the school.

Overcoming biases

In his bestselling book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman outlines various facets of emotional intelligence that schools may incorporate to become safe and secure learning spaces. The first, self-awareness, refers to knowing and understanding your own thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. Though we may dismiss this skill as a no-brainer, we must realise that emotions often operate at a subconscious level. We may be influenced by feelings we aren’t even aware of. We may harbour biases that impact our behaviour and interactions. Just like emotions, prejudices may also operate at implicit levels.

Stepping back, every now and then, from ourselves and viewing our thoughts, feelings and sensations like outsiders can help us gain a greater awareness of our inner selves. Mindfulness practices, like focusing on your breath, can also promote self-awareness. An emotionally intelligent school is where every stakeholder, the children, teachers, non-teaching staff and the management engage in daily mindfulness practices.

Emotional regulation

Emotional regulation is the second facet of emotional intelligence, which is closely linked to self-awareness. Knowing that you are frustrated, angry, envious, sad or bitter is the first step in learning to cope with negative emotions. While they are an endemic feature of the human condition, we must help children recognise and respond to their inner demons in healthy and constructive ways.

Teach children to label their emotions and help them appreciate the distinction between reacting to versus responding to our emotions. Help them understand that when we are overwhelmed by our emotions, our thinking faculties shut down. Called emotional hijacking, this is the antithesis of being emotionally literate. Techniques like deep breathing, distancing yourself from your thoughts and reframing them in ways that are more conducive to individual and collective well-being may be taught and practised by children and teachers alike.

Parents and teachers must model humanistic values, not only of tolerance but a celebration of difference, whatever forms that might take. Help children build positive relationships with all kinds of people and not judge others based on singular criteria. As psychologist Marc Brackett says In Permission to Feel, “If children are to develop emotion skills, all the adults around them need these skills too.”

For India to continue reaching for the moon and beyond, we must ensure that schools are safe learning spaces for all children. A mind clouded by negative emotion, whether fear or hate, cannot pay attention, think rationally or remember. At its core, mindfulness is about erasing barriers between the ‘self’ and ‘other’ and embracing the whole world as one.

Cultivating a compassionate outlook starts by accepting and respecting neighbours and classmates who may be different from us but realising that we are all part of a larger collective that encompasses all living beings.

Published 29 August 2023, 00:03 IST

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