Developing emotional intelligence

There are two skill sets that have always been crucial to the successful functioning of society, and I believe that these will need to be enhanced during this current wave of technological change: one is our capacity to think critically; that is, to be able to challenge and question respectfully, to find and assess the value of information, and to construct and deliver a logical argument. The other is to develop greater levels of emotional intelligence; that is, to be able to recognise, express and manage emotions in ourselves and others. Together, these two provide a template by which we can enable younger people to build a better world, or at least to prepare them for a future when we do not really know what that future will look like.

Emotional intelligence is something which we can strengthen by consciously and regularly training. Often, much of our learning is subconscious, but people learn about themselves and others in every interaction; this emotional learning gets added to our memory. How well we relate to others, how well we understand ourselves and what motivates and upsets us, whether we have empathy for others – these are skills which are becoming increasingly important as young people spend more time on devices. There is evidence to suggest that it is harder to recognise facial expressions and read emotions on screens. It is even harder to pick up emotional cues through texts.

This year, we have partnered with Swinburne University to begin the implementation of their Aristotle (EI) Emotional Intelligence programme. This has begun in Junior School and we are also using parts of the curriculum in the new Middle School Turas programme. It also forms part of the Year 9 Wellbeing course and I include elements in our Wellbeing sessions at the Year 9 Rottnest camp.

We speak regularly with the boys about the importance of recognising emotions and being able to put these emotions into words. Doing so brings the pre-frontal cortex back into play. The Amygdala can 'hijack' our minds and force us into a "fight/flight/freeze" response. Using words engages the PFC and this is where our higher order thinking occurs, enabling us to better assess options and generally make better choices. We know that the PFC takes time to develop (mid-20s for males) and so we need to practise using it as often as possible.

Understanding others' emotions is the flipside of understanding our own emotions and how others affect us. As many people are trapped in an increasingly echo-chamber like existence, we must encourage young people to be empathetic. To this end, we have begun to emphasise the concept of Dignity – that all human beings have value and want to be valued. Empathy is further developed through the Aristotle EI course, but also through reading – particularly reading fiction. Putting ourselves into another person's or character's position is key to being able to see the world from different points of view. Ultimately, this is an experience of humility; knowing that we do not know it all and that we are likely to get things wrong.


In terms of managing and controlling emotions, we encourage students to "get out on the balcony", meaning that they need to find a way to break from the spiral in which they may be caught. This is a way of buying some time so that the Pre-Frontal Cortex can be re-engaged. Another key aspect of finding the space to focus is to pay attention to one's breathing, which is an important part of Mindfulness, a critical element of Resilience. Emotional Intelligence is critical in developing attentiveness: if we cannot attend to reading the emotional states of those around us and if we cannot develop an awareness of how we ourselves are feeling, we are unlikely to get the most out of life. EI is critical in acting with humility: it is only through understanding that all of us make mistakes that we can repair damaged relationships. EI is also critical in demonstrating empathy: when we understand what drives us and others to act as we do, we can withhold or delay judgement, or we can judge more gently because we understand or have a glimpse of what others are going through. It is only by understanding ourselves and others better that we can hope to meet the challenges of the next 20 years.

Mr James Hindle
Director of Pastoral Care

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