By Laura Taylor, LCSW, Lower School Counselor and Keith Sarkisian, Lower School Director
Have you ever eavesdropped on a group of 1st Graders discussing the difference between feeling included vs.feeling liked? Have you had the opportunity to listen to two 4th Graders disagree over the subtle nuances of feeling optimistic vs.feeling hopeful? How about a class of Kindergarteners voting on which they would rather feel: excited vs. happy?
As members of the Brentwood Lower School community in Los Angeles, we have had the privilege of watching our students embark on the next step of their Emotional Intelligence work: designing classroom Emotional Intelligence Charters. Under the leadership and guidance of Head of School Dr. Mike Riera, our K – 12 faculty and staff engaged in a training this past summer with Marc Brackett, the Director of the Center of Emotional Intelligence at Yale University. One of the ways we are cultivating a positive emotional school climate is by having students construct their own class charters. The charters will help the children understand and deal effectively with the spectrum of emotions and stressful situations they may experience, while at the same time growing their EQ.
Led by their grade level teachers, students met several times during the first month of school to ask themselves three questions:
- How do we want to feel as a grade?
- What will we do in order to have these feelings?
- How will we uphold our commitment to the charter, and thus one another, and resolve differences when they arise?
The first step in the creation of a grade-level charter was brainstorming all of the feelings and emotions they would like to feel with their classmates. This was an extremely enjoyable process to witness, as students often brainstormed well over twenty options. The hard work came next, however. Students then had to narrow the list down to five or six feelings/emotions. It was fascinating and inspiring to watch students debate the subtle (or not so subtle) differences between certain words. According to Marc Brackett’s research, students can experience significant EQ growth in understanding the differences between certain feelings (and thus hopefully be able to recognize and regulate them down the road). After hearing 3rd Graders engaged in a discussion about whether to select feeling proud vs. accomplished in their class charter, it was clear that Marc Brackett’s findings hold true. After much deliberation, students decided that they would rather feel proud because they can feel proud of themselves and of one another, whereas accomplished tends to be a feeling they would attribute only to themselves. At eight and nine years of age, they collectively decided on a feeling that is inclusive, rather than a feeling centered on one’s self. The EQ growth that took place in this classroom, and all others throughout the school, stemmed from more than simply understanding the difference between two feelings.
The students continued developing their charters by deciding on how they will uphold their commitment to the charter and one another, as well as resolve differences when they arise. When a student in 3rd Grade isn’t feeling included, for example, s/he will look to the class charter and find comfort knowing that together, the class has agreed to talk about feelings and not bottle feelings up. When assisting students who may be experiencing difficulty at lunch or recess, faculty and staff are emphasizing feelings, asking students what feelings are in their charters, and which strategies their class uses to resolve conflict. Reinforcing the charters and all that they embody will heighten students’ emotional awareness of themselves and others, which cultivates empathy and kindness. Whether a class has selected Rock, Paper, Scissors or Active Listening Skills among their strategies to resolve conflict, perhaps the most significant reason for a charter’s success and effectiveness is that it was created by the students, for the students. As a result of creating their own charters, the students have a strong sense of pride and uphold greater responsibility in honoring their agreements.
Creating a positive, compassionate climate is a shared school responsibility, just as creating a compassionate society is a shared civic responsibility. Along with academic excellence and character development, our school’s focus on emotional intelligence is certainly helping our students shape a future with meaning. If you ask our kindergarten students whether feeling excited vs. happy prevailed in their voting process, they will gladly share with you that both feelings were included in their charter. We simply can’t think of two better feelings to have as they begin to shape their future.
Learn more ways you can create a foundation of character in your school in Character.org’s Guide to Principle 1, Creating a Foundation.