Building emotional skills for success
The Anglican Church Grammar School, or Churchie, is reaping the rewards of a long-standing partnership with the Emotional Intelligence Research Unit at
Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, which involves investigating young boys’ emotional intelligence and its impact on their academic achievement.
Primary educators know some students fare better in the social world than others. Social-emotional development can also have a substantial impact on academic achievement. Churchie and Swinburne’s researchers are looking into the area of emotional intelligence to help explain why.
Emotional intelligence (EI), as defined by American psychologist Daniel Goleman, refers to ‘the capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships’.
EI is emerging as a substantial marker in the way we behave, think and interact in the 21st century. In his 2010 book, Goleman suggests: ‘If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far’.
There is mounting evidence that EI is directly related to academic achievement, and contemporary research suggests that EI competencies have a more important role to play in the lifelong success of individuals than more traditional measures of intelligence.
Traditional measures of intelligence assume it is fixed and relatively unchangeable by education. EI can be improved at any age, however, and most notably during the early school years. With the development of the Swinburne University Emotional Intelligence Test for Early Years (SUEITEY), Churchie aims to measure the EI of boys and examine links with academic achievement; use EI data to deliver programs that personalise the approach for individual boys; develop an EI intervention program to implement in Year 4 classrooms; and develop an academic profile for each boy in the middle primary years to optimise teaching and learning.
The SUEITEY assessment combines an online self-report and an ability-based test. It measures the participant’s ability to monitor, recognise, express and label their own emotions and the emotions of others, as well as their ability to use emotions to help prioritise thinking. Initial research at Churchie reveals that a targeted EI program can have a positive impact on the development of boys’ EI,
with mean scores higher after classroom intervention than before.
During this intervention, boys and teachers develop a consistent meta-language of thinking and emotional response. They use these ideas and concepts to develop positive self-talk to assist with emotional regulation. Characters such as the ‘Thought Thug’ and ‘EI Erik’ (pictured right) help to make the intervention fun. The boys are then able to better express their feelings as well as recognise the emotions in others.
This data adds to an academic profile that can help determine the individual learning needs of a student. Research published by Professor Con Stough’s team at Swinburne this year revealed a positive relationship between EI measured by the SUEITEY and scholastic performance, suggesting that children with higher EI are already performing academically at a higher level than those boys with lower EI.
Stough commented: “This is one of the first, and certainly the most in-depth and comprehensive development program that targets the emotional development of young boys. There are no other specifically developed programs available anywhere in the world that does this to this extent.”
If a boy is underachieving academically, his EI
profile may assist in building a more robust understanding as to why, while also suggesting what might be done to build a more healthy achievement. Boys with EI scores in the lower ranges are given a more personalised approach through mentoring and targeted social-emotional programs.
The staff at Churchie understand that boys are relational learners. Through their work with Swinburne University, and through the development of positive relationships within the school context, teachers continue to develop and equip the boys of Churchie with the skills that will see them develop as successful, effective and fulfilled young men.
Data has shown that high EI is an important factor in success during and after school. There is a relationship between EI and high level leadership for example. In several studies, Stough’s team has revealed that chief executives and senior managers commonly have high emotional intelligence. Improving a child’s EI will therefore best equip him for success throughout life. Starting at an early age may afford Churchie boys an important advantage as they grow older.
Headmaster Dr Alan Campbell told Whichschool: “Churchie has for some years now understood the importance of recognising and developing emotional intelligence in our young men. Consistent with the school’s mission of educating well-rounded young men of good character, strong intellect and generosity of spirit, it was identified that exploring emotional intelligence could have great potential for academic and personal growth. In pursuit of this goal, the school has been delighted to see this partnership with the Emotional Intelligence Research Unit expand to provide exciting academic and pastoral opportunities across the primary and secondary years, for students and staff.”