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:

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 The field of epigenetics is now discovering how outdated this duality is in explaining human behaviour, especially when nature can be nurtured to be more nurturing in nature.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?

Emotional Intelligence: Accumulated, Unarticulated Knowledge

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In the documentary, ‘Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?’ Noam Chomsky mentions how farm yields dropped in Liberia after the latest in scientific agriculture was introduced. After much investigation it was found that this new technology had failed to take into account the extensive, detailed local lore about planting passed on from mother to daughter for thousands of years; a lore that gave very high yields in not very productive soil.

Chomsky called this knowledge passed from one generation to the next “a repository of endless tradition … accumulated, unarticulated knowledge.”

This is a great analogy for the development of emotional intelligence for every culture on earth- not an instinct, but rather culturally-specific lore. In the past a bad interaction with another person could have as deadly a consequence as a poor yield (i.e. death), so it makes sense that humans would try to develop the best strategies for dealing not only with their emotions but that of others- as time went on we got better and better at it, thus creating and developing this accumulated, unarticulated knowledge we have today.

However, in the 21st century, where parents are spending an average of 95 minutes with their children every day (an hour with Mum, 35 minutes with Dad) (Sevilla 2014), is it any surprise that the responsibility to transmit the ever-expanding lore of emotional literacy is slowly shifting to school rather than home?

What this phenomenon allows educational scholars to do for the first time in history is investigate what an emotional literacy curriculum looks like (at least, its secular version), how the role of teachers is changing and whether lores taught from culture to culture differ to a great extent.

What do you think it means to be emotionally intelligent?

Do you think this should be taught at home, at school or a mix of both?