Sunday, December 16, 2012

Lessons from Connecticut: Schools Must Teach and Test Emotional Intelligence

I'm the principal in a school district that publicly says it is committed to teaching 21st Century Skills. Broadly defined, this include the five C’s of Collaboration, Cooperation, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking. At a minimum, the first three of these require Social Emotional Learning (SEL) to fly. I’ve spent a lot of time recently at principals’ meetings 

that focus on raising district test scores in math and reading. Mind you, my district is among the highest scoring districts in the state of California. The conversation can seem wildly myopic, without anyone appearing to notice. We spend hours talking about academic goals, how to define them and meet them. This focus on numeracy and literacy happens continuously, yet we NEVER talk about teaching and measuring compassion, empathy and other social-emotional skills. Why? Because these are not skills that are used to measure a school's effectiveness. These skills are not tested. Nobody says, "Raise those empathy scores or else!" They do say however, "Raise the math scores or else!" and then if you don't do this well enough, the state will label you a ‘program improvement’ (PI) school district meaning “Improve your [academic] program now or else…!”

Alas, Adam Lanza was called a genius by several of his classmates, but he was not a genius as far as Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is concerned. I am struck by the fact that he was an 'honors student.' How can a school have an honors program, but not teach this boy about honor?

The blame for this tragedy rests on many factors, including a mom who collected guns, an older brother who says he hadn't seen Adam in over two years. Still, I can't escape the conclusion that he spent 6.5 hours per day, 183 days per year, for 13 years, around adults who were not necessarily evaluated on how emotionally well-adjusted he became in their presence, or in response to their teaching, but instead on how high his math and reading scores were. He did well by this narrow measure; after all, he was an honors student!