Focus on feelings

29th October 2004 at 01:00
Robert Fisher looks at resources for schools and individuals that help develop emotional skills

Developing the Emotionally Literate School

By Katherine Weare

Paul Chapman Publishing pound;18.99

Becoming Emotionally Intelligent

By Catherine Corrie Network Education Press pound;17.95

Emotional Intelligence Out of the Box By Chris Henshaw, Nijen Ltd pound;25.99 (includes VAT and pp)

The first head I worked for had the philosophy "keep 'em busy". When he brought parents round, he hoped to see children with heads down, quietly busy. "All working hard, I see," he would beam. I wanted to say: "Yes, but they are not learning anything." In those days, no one had heard of "emotional intelligence", the theory popularised by Daniel Goleman, which has bred a growing range of books on its implications for education.

Katherine Weare's Developing the Emotionally Literate School provides working definitions of what emotional literacy is and links the concept to mental health, wellbeing and competence in learning. It wisely cautions against trying to impose one template on all and in short informative sections offers ways in which whole-school policies can be developed. It explores new ways in which emotional literacy can be profiled and assessed and shows how it can be developed in all areas of the curriculum.

The book suggests we begin by listing the "competences" we want pupils to achieve when developing emotional literacy. It is true we need to define our aims, but are aims the same as "competences"? Does emotional intelligence consist of skills or competences that can be measured? Is it an applied science, as some American researchers hold, or a matter of values, attitudes and virtues of character? We need to foster relationships of care and trust, but not simply as a means to achieve learning competences - they are valuable ends in themselves. The book provides a useful guide to ways in which school policies for promoting emotional wellbeing can be developed. But to change the world, or at least our schools, we may first need to change ourselves.

Catherine Corrie's Becoming Emotionally Intelligent provides a simple and practical introduction to activities that aim to promote your own and your children's emotional intelligence. The author believes that you can fundamentally change a child's life by being the "real" you. The book includes some well-known circle-time activities, but it's not just a bag of tricks, it is about who you are as a person and what kind of role-model you might become. The author's challenge is: "Who are you being as you do your work?"

The book is light on theory, and is more focused on practical activities that foster positive attitudes to self and others. This means being positive about all the children in your care, being relentlessly upbeat and thinking "you are wonderful" no matter what the child does. If you find this difficult you are advised to "act it out" and later you will come to believe it. Suggested activities, such as getting children to make aspirational posters, though not new, may help in motivating children and ourselves by posing the question: "What is important for you?"

In 16 short chapters the book provides useful introductions to notions such as self-esteem, intrinsic motivation and sense of identity. It also explores less common themes, such as the emotional effects of grief and "spiritual intelligence" (which is equated with emotional wisdom) and is partly defined as "listening to our inner voice, our intuition, not our ramblings". But the author gives me no guide on how to differentiate my intuition from my ramblings.

Emotional Intelligence Out of the Box is a box of colour-coded activity cards that offer "starting points, ideas, discussion points and opportunities for reflection". Many of the suggestions are so general that the reader is left to do all the work, eg "Find out about different faiths", or the helpful reminder "IJto turn off the lights when you leave a room".

The activity cards are presented in bite-sized chunks with enough information to fill a thin book. Some you might want to keep; others you might want to challenge, such as an introductory card entitled Excitement, which says that generating excitement in a classroom helps children strive towards their personal and academic goals. But does excitement or activity guarantee learning or a striving for goals?

A number of grammatical errors were annoying, but the advice from a blue card to list "all the things that make you laugh" helped to overcome this.

I didn't learn much, but it kept me busy and made me feel better.

Robert Fisher is professor of education at Brunel University

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