Recent open access publications

Two of my recent papers published in peer-reviewed journals are now free to access online.

Teachers’ perceptions and practice of social and emotional education in Greece, Spain, Sweden and the United KingdomInternational Journal of Emotional Education, 11(1).
Significant cross-cultural differences were found in social and emotional education (SEE) provision, as well as in teachers’ beliefs about the purpose of SEE. Teacher education in SEE was found to be available to only a minority of teachers in all four countries. In terms of practice, SEE was more likely to be introduced in schools by teachers themselves (or a partnership between teachers and headteachers) rather than by educational policy. Furthermore, the findings show that SEE provision was more likely to be implicit (taken into consideration in existing classes but not taught as a separate subject), than explicit (having dedicated time and curriculum devoted to SEE).
See publication

Towards a Cross-Cultural Conceptual Framework for Researching Social and Emotional EducationIAFOR Journal of Education, 6(3).
A conceptual framework using two dimensions was created in order to aid future cross-cultural research regarding SEE provision and the study of emotional rules in the teaching profession: the Ideal Affect (likelihood of suppressing rather than expressing emotion) and the Ideal Self (likelihood of developing skills for independence versus interdependence).
See publication

No profit, no hierarchy: A comparative study of the ‘lower left’

A comparative study of 66 ‘lower left’ organisations (groups that are autonomous from the state, use horizontal organisation for planning and decision making, not for profit, and anti-capitalist). The study was conducted between March and September 2018.

No profit, no hierarchy. A comparative study of the lower left (Version 3, November 2019) (PDF)

The Potential for Internal Solidarity in the Lower Left (Version 1, November 2019) (PDF)

Social and emotional education: A cross-cultural study of teachers’ perceptions and practice of SEE in Greece, Spain, Sweden and the UK

What is the role of emotion in the classroom, and how do teachers talk to students about emotion? Is it treated as ‘noise’? Okay in small amounts? A barrier to learning? And do emotions happen to you, or do you create emotions yourself?

I created this infographic for teachers about my latest research that included 750 teachers from Greece, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Please send the link to the infographic to any teachers in your life:

These were the main questions for teachers in the study:

On Creating a Taxonomy of All Human Knowledge for HAHA Academy

When I started the quixotic journey to create a taxonomy of all human knowledge the most common (and well meaning) questions people asked me were: Why? What’s the point (you know Wikipedia exists right)? And the more obvious: Are you bonkers?

These are fair enough questions to ask. When we think of a taxonomy of all human knowledge we instantly think that we’ve been there and done that in the form of encyclopedias or the Dewey Decimal System. But I’m not interested in creating or remixing a reference resource- if it ain’t broke I ain’t fixing it (although we really need an open-source Dewey Decimal System, just sayin’). What does interest me is creating a taxonomy of human knowledge as a teaching resource: a ‘road map’ of every topic so that anyone that wants to can learn a specific subject in its entirety. And you can’t do that with an encyclopedia, be it on or offline. 

Why? For two reasons:

1. A knowledge taxonomy needs to differentiate between knowledge types

Encyclopedias have been designed, conceived and constructed as reference resources, not teaching resources.

One of the first attempts to categorise the sum of human knowledge was the tree of Diderot and d’Alembert with its three categories:  History, Philosophy, and Poetry. More recently, Wikipedia has 12 categories, Encyclopedia Britannica has 20 , the Dewey Decimal Classification system has 10, and the Library of Congress Classification Outline has 21. Some recent efforts to recategorise human knowledge,  Jose Sanchez-Cerezo de la Fuente‘s map for example,  has 15 sections and is shaped in the form of a globe (worth checking out!).

So what’s the problem? Well, none of the systems of categorisation mentioned above differentiate between  knowledge types. This is a problem because different knowledge types require different instructional strategies appropriate to each. In other words, encyclopedias are wonderful to reference knowledge, but not to teach knowledge. As Robert N. Carson (2004) demonstrates in his paper A Taxonomy of Knowledge Types for Use in Curriculum Design, the distinctions governing different types of knowledge are fundamental to good teaching:

Let us consider the following statements, all of which might be regarded as valid, or true, by at least some people. As you read them, consider why and in what sense each might be considered true:

“When placed in water, rocks sink.”
“This is the symbol for five: 5 ”
“Five plus five equals ten.”
“The word programme is spelled p-r-o-g-r-a-m-m-e.”
“Water boils at 212°, and freezes at 32°.”
“The Greeks in the time of Pericles discovered the standard for aesthetic beauty.”
“A circle has 360°.”
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
“The angles of a triangle always add up to 180°.”
“If you mix yellow and red paint you get orange.”
“Two wrongs never make a right.”
“Earnest Hemingway was one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century.”
“In music, an A and an E will sound in harmony, but a C and a D will be discordant.”

All of these statements represent knowledge claims seen, by some at least, as valid. But if true, they are true for different reasons, and it makes a difference whether teachers and students understand this. While it may be possible to assert all of these statements as if they are solid, Platonic truths, it is poor practice to do so … the potential richness and depth of our teaching is dependent upon the extent to which distinctions between different kinds of knowledge are part of the conversation.”

Because HAHA Academy’s knowledge taxonomy is designed, conceived and constructed as a teaching resource, it thus takes into account the different types of knowledge which are so fundamental to good teaching. These include:

  • Rational Knowledge
  • Conventional Knowledge
  • Conceptual Knowledge
  • Cognitive Process Skills
  • Psychomotor Knowledge
  • Affective Knowledge
  • Narrative Knowledge
  • Received Knowledge

Each of these knowledge types highlight a different way in which knowledge is created, and effective teaching simulates this process:

“It made a difference whether the key transformation was taking place because of an act of reason, an act of keen observation, an experiment, an invention, the development of a new procedure, the advent of a new way of characterizing what was being looked at, and so forth. The way a given quanta of understanding enters the scene very often reveals the kind of knowledge it is, and, significantly, there are different kinds of knowledge. Each knowledge type, we concluded, could be taught in a way that mimics the way it came on the scene originally, and often that is the best way to teach it” (Carson, 2004, 74).

Of course, categorising subjects into what knowledge they belong to wasn’t easy as they are not mutually exclusive. As Carson admits himself, all these domains are intertwined. For this reason the HAHA taxonomy was built to specifically highlight ‘intertwined’ subjects and topics from various knowledge categories. This is why when you hover over a particular topic in the HAHA taxonomy, a different section ‘lights’ up from different knowledge types. Give it a try!

And if you find related subjects that are not currently highlighted in the taxonomy, we’d very much appreciate it if you add them to the HAHA Academy wiki.

2) A knowledge taxonomy needs a course of study for each topic.

Another difference between a knowledge taxonomy used as a reference resource compared to one used for teaching, is that the former cannot provide you a road map to learning the fundamentals of a particular subject. What does it mean to know physics? Or World War II? Or poetry? What fundamentals do you need to understand (and be able to apply) to master a subject?

This is why HAHA Academy has attempted to crowdsource a course of study for each subject . By incorporating different types of knowledge, HAHA Academy also includes a course of study for different skills which haven’t been emphasised in encyclopedias to date: be they cognitive, affective or psychomotor skills. This is a huge undertaking. HAHA Academy, like Wikipedia, relies on crowd-sourcing content, so if you can add anything to the existing taxonomy, please do! To contribute to the ‘road map’ for your subject please click here.

I will discuss the process of creating ‘road maps’ for knowledge in the next post. I’m a comparative education scholar specialising in social and emotional education, and as part of HAHA Academy’s Affective Knowledge category I created a taxonomy of social and emotional aptitudes. This process involved over 750 teachers from four different countries – the first hivemind taxonomy for social and emotional skills to date.  More on that soon!

Creating material for HAHA Academy

Phew! My PhD thesis is now finished and available to read online (open access) on the UCL website:

So what now? I’m creating free content regarding social and emotional education for HAHA Academy which will be uploaded soon. The overall taxonomy for the social and emotional aptitudes has already been created so please check it out:

All material will be posted on this blog for collaboration and feedback purposes before being published on HAHA Academy, of course.

Becoming fluent in giraffe: nonviolent communication is the future of social and emotional learning

007-which-ears-e1424268985753-258x300Marshall Rosenberg is the creator of nonviolent communication, and one of the most gifted social and emotional learning (SEL) teachers of our time. I predict that future SEL frameworks in schools and SEL pre-teacher education will be largely based upon his simple but life-changing theories about ‘giraffe’ thinking (coined as such because giraffes are the land mammal with the largest hearts on earth).

In a nutshell, Rosenberg’s ideas can be split into the following six themes:

1. There is no such thing as right or wrong, good or bad, normal or abnormal, and we should teach children to observe life without evaluating other people and events as such.

To observe without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence. When cultures teach their children to see a judgement rather than a person, Marshall warns that violence is never far away.

People brought up to think there’s such a thing as right or wrong are naturally prone to think that there is a right and wrong amount of anything and everything: How loud others talk, what they’re wearing, how they speak their minds, how long they stay over at your house after dinner, so on and so on and so on. These people even think that they know what the ‘right’ amount of anything is! It’s this thinking that allows for violence to occur and what Marshall calls ‘jackal thinking’.

Jackal thinking is an integral component of the game ‘Who’s Right?’, a game we all regularly play where everybody loses. It involves punishment, because if you’re wrong in the game of ‘Who’s right?’ you deserve to suffer, and rewards, which keep you hooked in the game.

In Western culture, the majority of children are educated to use feelings as a means to manipulate people in the ‘Who’s Right?’ game. For example, these exchanges between adults and children (and later on between adults themselves) are common in jackal thinking:

‘It really hurts me when you…’

‘You make me angry when you say…’

If you accuse others of being wrong – or even evil – you begin to see ‘enemy images’ and judgements of others which make it hard to separate fact from opinion. You also begin to think that the way to correct this bad behaviour is to make others hate themselves for what they’re doing. It’s this thinking that makes violence enjoyable – people ‘deserve’ violence because they are judged to be wrong or even evil.

So what to do? Firstly, is to understand that any evaluation of others that implies wrongness is a tragic expression of our own unmet need. Tragic in the sense that it decreases the likelihood that we will get what we want, and that it also increases the likelihood of violence. Secondly, is to change our objectives from changing or educating others, to making giving to others a habitual pleasure.

2. Needs give us the most power with people. Their willingness to give to us and to enjoy giving to us. We’re designed to like giving – to give from the heart.

Feelings can connect us at the heart or contribute to more division. The root of feelings are needs and therefore behind every feeling there is a need. When we feel angry, depressed, guilty or ashamed it signals that we’re not directly connected to our needs. Instead we are making moralistic judgments about another person (or ourselves!)

All humans have the same needs, and what varies immensely are the strategies we are educated in for meeting the needs. Different cultures educate the needs to be met in different ways, but the needs are still the same. These include the need for connection, wellbeing, honesty, play, peace, autonomy and meaning (for more examples of needs click here).

We have to un-train ourselves from the power ‘over’ others model to meet our needs, to the power ‘with’ others model. The best way to have power ‘with’ people’, that is, to have people be willing to give to us, is if we bring attention to our needs that need to be met. When people’s full attention is on our needs, they hear no criticism, no demand, and tap into their desire to give willingly. The phrase to use is therefore:

“When you do ________, I feel like _________ because I’m needing _________.”

Our need can have no reference to the other person but only to our own need. When we believe our needs involve another person doing something, we take a very abundant world and make it scarce very quickly. Take others out of your own needs, and yourself out of others’ needs – all of your needs can be met without them, and all their needs can be met without you.

3. It is only after we acknowledge our needs that we can request clear action

Much of our oppression in close relationships is saying we need love or respect and not being clear what we mean by that. When you say you need love, what do you want from other people to meet that need for love? This will catch ‘jackal’ thinking out because jackals don’t want to be responsible for what they want and they will say something along the lines of, “If you loved me you would know what to do.” For this reason, ‘giraffe’ thinking makes needs clear with positive requests.

“I would like you to _____________.”

The action has to be a request, not a demand. And you can tell the difference between requests and demands by how the others treat you if you don’t do it. The request cannot be a feeling either. Requesting others what to feel puts them in a paradoxical bind – tell them instead the action that will get them there.

Demands are toxic because they lead to either rebellion or submission. Anything we do in life that isn’t natural giving, we pay for it and everyone else pays for it. Anything that we do out of fear of punishment, anything we do for a reward, everything we do to make people like us, everything we do out of guilt, shame, duty, obligation, we pay for it and everyone else pays for it too. That’s not what we’re designed for. We’re designed to like giving – to give from the heart.

For this reason we need to learn how to say please in a way that makes it enjoyable for other people to give it to us. The formula for this is as follows:

  • Say what you’re feeling and needing
  • Make a clear request
  • Make sure no words come out of your mouth that imply wrongness on the part of the other person
  • Do everything you can to promote in people the trust that when you make a request it’s not a demand

4. By listening for people’s needs (using ‘giraffe ears’ rather than ‘jackal ears’) you will never hear criticisms or demands again.


Marshall says that all criticisms are people trying to meet their own needs.  They are a crude way of saying please. Even, for example, someone saying, “You know what your problem is…” is simply a request for people to have their needs met, and as Marshall reflects, “Isn’t it sad that people say please in a way that guarantees that they won’t get what they want, or if they do it will be motivated by fear, guilt and shame and they will eventually pay for it?”

Therefore, when people are on the attack or the defensive, using judgements or evaluations, it is very important to listen to the need by asking them (or even silently reflecting if it is not appropriate to ask):

Are you feeling _______ because you are needing ________?

Even if it’s not accurate, asking this question brings people’s attention to their needs.

By using this phrase you are not trying to make their pain go away or to try and fix the situation or make it better. You are trying to make an empathic connection. The solution will find you when the connection is there, that is, when you are focused on each other’s needs.

Even saying ‘no’ in giraffe is a matter of identifying and saying the need that keeps you from saying yes to the other person.

5. We live in peace by conscious choice

We need to teach children that they never have to do anything they don’t choose to do and thus instil the language of conscious choice. Hitler, for example, never killed a single Jew, but by creating a system that allowed others to deny responsibility for their own actions – where others were taught to think that they had no choice but to commit murder – Hitler was able to make others kill millions of Jews because it had been branded as the right thing to do that people had no choice in.

This is why it’s important to remember and show children that you have a conscious choice at every moment to act nonviolently. Even if other people were a stimulus for your suffering – whether you’ve been raped, had your family killed in front of you, were abused and neglected as a child –  it is not the stimulus that determines our emotional reaction but our own choice – that part is always up to us.

6. Express gratitude rather than compliment others

Positive moralistic judgements are as violent as negative moralistic judgements – to say a positive judgement is to highlight that its opposite exists (‘You’re very clever’, ‘You’re the best’), and that you’re the judge that knows the difference. Don’t praise or compliment – especially as a reward – it destroys the beauty of thank you.

How do you express gratitude in giraffe?

  1. Bring to the other person’s attention what they’ve done that makes life more wonderful for you. Be specific and concrete – an action that they do.
  2. Tell them how you feel about the person having done that.
  3. Say what need of yours was fulfilled that made you feel like that.

Jackals will be extremely uncomfortable with such expressions of gratitude but do it anyway – it’s our light not our darkness that scares us the most!

To watch Marshall’s lecture in full you can view it here:

Redefining Intelligence


In the early 20th century, The Binet Test was created as a means of testing children with significantly below-average intelligence, but in the modern day it is better known as the IQ test. One of the lasting legacies of this test is the idea that linguistic and mathematical abilities are the essential components of intelligence- or in other words, that there is only one specific way of really being smart. A key purpose of social and emotional learning in the past century has been to challenge the ‘monopoly on intelligence’ held by traditional abstract intelligence. This conservative view supported the sociopolitical view of eugenists as a means of solidifying a class system based largely on educational opportunity and attainment. The psychologist E. L. Thorndike popularised the theory of multiple intelligence which allowed him to solidify his position in the nature versus nurture debate that was brewing on either side of the Atlantic. His theory was that knowledge comprises of abstract, mechanical and social intelligences – and was published in Harper’s Baazar in 1920. 

The monopoly on intelligence by abstract, rational thought extends beyond the 20th century. From Cartesian-based systems defining reason as Godly, to the Enlightenment debating the role of the individual to society, to the 19th century and its positivist science and nationalism, abstract intelligence as the main driver of reason has been privileged in most post-Enlightenment thinking. After World War II, this was challenged by the Frankfurt School- according to Theodor Adorno, reasoning created “abstract, coherent, architectonic systems’ (the main example being the Holocaust) and did not promote ‘subjective, private reflection.’ These insights allowed for humanistic psychologists like Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, part of the affective education movement, to start emphasising the experiential parts of personality. Though such movements allowed for the advancement of social and emotional learning – and could be argued to have founded them – abstract intelligence still dominates the modern education system and its sense of educational accountability with its emphasis on basic academic skills, frameworks and – since the 1980s – international competition.

More recently, physics and computer science have begun to add to the definitions of intelligence, even creating an equation for intelligence, F = T ∇ Sτ. Intelligence being a force (F) that acts to maximise future freedom of action with some strength (T), with the diversity of possible accessible futures (S), up to some future time horizon (τ). 

As computer scientist and physicist Alex Wisnner-Gross describes it, intelligence tries to maximise future freedom of action and keep options open. With this definition of intelligence in mind, social and emotional learning can be respected as one of many components of a process that tries to maximise future freedom of action and void constraints in the future.

In Defense of Negative Emotion

What states of consciousness do we want to foster, cultivate and integrate into our societies?

According to the latest curricula in social and emotional learning – in the English-speaking world at least – the answer can be summed up in two words: emotional harmony. Achieving this state of consciousness is a matter of self-control, which can be boosted through practices such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga. In fact, meditation and mindfulness practices are now blossoming in schools.

The greatest testament to the popularity of emotional harmony is that it can be used synonymously with terms such as wellbeing, mental health and emotional intelligence. In other words, voicing negative emotion is showing a lack of control, lack of harmony, even lack of intelligence. Should this come as any surprise to a culture where reason has been privileged over emotion for centuries? The psychologist Daniel Goldman, who wrote the popular book ‘Emotional Intelligence’, sums it up in his treatment of anger, which he wrote as needing to be ‘defused’, ‘deflated’, ‘de-escalated’ and ‘cooled down’.

The fact is that it’s natural to have negative emotions. Anger and sadness are vital to the human experience. Under the ‘emotional harmony’ curriculum, if someone insults you or your loved ones, the right response is to cool your anger. To ‘un-attach’ yourself from your rage so as to respond reasonably and emotion-free. To count to 10. What utter bullshit. Modern neuroscience research shows that the emotion/reason dichotomy which the Enlightenment era got its thrills on was false: that is, that emotion is permeated by reason (and vice versa). As philosopher Michalinos Zembylas put it: anger and sadness – a negatively evaluating emotion – can in itself be the emotionally intelligent reaction to a certain state of affairs.

So what could possibly be the preferred state of consciousness if it isn’t emotional harmony, tranquillity, harmony and wholeness? Aristotle believed it to be emotional vigour, unencumbered by the self-imposed policing of reason. Religion believes it to be self-renunciation. Education and wellbeing policy states it to be harmony and happiness. And I guess that’s the point – if you’re not careful, the preferred state of consciousness will be decided for you, and imposed on you.

This is not to say that all SEL programmes subscribe to this idea- the Center of Emotional Intelligence, for instance, highlights that high-energy negative emotion can be used within school curricula for activities that require heightened awareness: debating or passionate expression promoting a cause. These are skills that are fundamental to a healthy democracy after all. The way in which Anglo governments are fervently promoting social and emotional learning as a means of achieving emotional harmony are extremely alarming for this reason alone – self-policing citizenry refusing to become angry? What a dream come true for the entrenched political elite!

The goal of social and emotional learning should not be about teaching us how to feel, but how to take care of ourselves. As Foucault concluded, the essence of education is to teach ‘care of the self’, “taking up the challenge of creatively and courageously authoring one’s ethical self.” Education is – and should always be – the freedom by which you become your own authority. Nothing more, nothing less.

Emotional intelligence: Innate or Learned?

Watching videos of highly emotionally intelligent children, like this six-year old girl talking about the dangers of being mean to her recently separated mother, highlights the problem with the Tabula rasa theory that humans are born without built-in knowledge. Chomsky’s innateness hypothesis did away with the idea that infants can only speak what they themselves have heard with their own two ears – so why then do we still subscribe to the blank slate theory for social and emotional behaviour?

This isn’t a case of nature versus nurture. The field of epigenetics is now discovering how outdated this duality is in explaining human behaviour, especially when nature can be nurtured to be more nurturing in nature. That’s right. Epigenetics argues that our experiences – be they a harrowing childhood or the love and attention of consistently nurturing parents – can be passed onto future generations for better or worse.

As Dan Hurley explains:

Like silt deposited on the cogs of a finely tuned machine after the seawater of a tsunami recedes, our experiences, and those of our forebears, are never gone, even if they have been forgotten. They become a part of us, a molecular residue holding fast to our genetic scaffolding. The DNA remains the same, but psychological and behavioural tendencies are inherited. You might have inherited not just your grandmother’s knobby knees, but also her predisposition toward depression caused by the neglect she suffered as a newborn. Or not. If your grandmother was adopted by nurturing parents, you might be enjoying the boost she received thanks to their love and support. The mechanisms of behavioural epigenetics underlie not only deficits and weaknesses but strengths and resiliencies, too.

In theory then, when you’re dealing with the social, emotional and behavioural difficulties of a student in today’s classrooms, you’re not only dealing with that child’s nightmare conditions at home, but that of her mother’s, her mother’s mother and far beyond.

So too then that small child – like the one in the video above – who have become a repository of knowledge accumulated by generations perfecting the craft of empathy, active listening, self-worth, coping skills and problem solving, among many other social and emotional aptitudes.

What do you think? Are some children more innately emotionally intelligent than others?