A VIGOROUS round of applause greeted the world's foremost expert on emotional intelligence when he condemned the preoccupation with target-setting and test scores as "a damaging and stupid policy".
In his first visit to Scotland, Daniel Goleman, the acclaimed American author, said they were "sabotaging children's learning because they create anxiety about learning; teachers are anxious and the children are made anxious".
Dr Goleman added, however, that the policy is not going to go away and teachers need strategies to cope. Their first priority should be to keep an eye on the "emotional climate" in the classroom.
Dr Goleman advised schools to "bootleg programmes of social and emotional learning into these targets". Teachers should argue that, if targets are to be retained, such programmes are essential to help children learn and raise achievement test scores (one of his recommended websites showcases material developed by Chicago University at www.casel.org).
Dr Goleman was addressing a conference in Glasgow last Saturday organised by the Scottish Network for Able Pupils and the Scottish Health Promoting Schools Unit. Ministers have said that all schools must be a community school and a health-promoting school by 2007.
After Dr Goleman's talk, Gregor Henderson, director of the national mental health improvement campaign, told The TES Scotland: "Emotional intelligence is a key ingredient in taking forward new community schools and we have got to feed that into the raising achievement agenda."
Other experts at the Edinburgh conference called for an "emotional literacy hour" to help pupils deal with feelings and for an "emotional curriculum" which would include such issues as self-awareness and delayed gratification.
In his address, Dr Goleman said: "Emotional upset and anxiety get in the way of learning." Pupils and teachers who are deficient in social awareness and empathy and managing relationships create problems.
Dr Goleman singled out bullying. "Bullies misread others and they see themselves not as aggressive but as defending themselves against the other person," he said.
But he stressed that emotional capabilities can be learnt. The brain was not fully developed until the mid-20s. "So if you give children structured learning experiences, you can make a difference," Dr Goleman said.
Social and emotional awareness programmes would provide emotional intelligence so that the deficits of childhood did not live on into adulthood.
One solution is "social problem-solving" which deals with the things young people most care about, such as stress in relationships. Dr Goleman commented: "Our children need and deserve lessons in emotional judo."
He rejected the suggestion that the promotion of emotional intelligence could lead to emotional and social conformity. He added, however: "If you acquire emotional intelligence, you can really get away with a lot."
But Chris Smith, a lecturer at Glasgow University's department of educational studies and one of the prime movers behind the conference, cautioned that emotional intelligence could result in "self-advancement and manipulation" rather than making wise choices.
"So it is not just about developing emotional intelligence or about teaching emotional literacy, it is also about the use of such abilities once developed," she said.
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