It is widely documented and accepted that we are living in times of unprecedented change. Exponential changes in technology are radically impacting society at both a global and local level. The future of our society and planet is in the hands of our children. Are the skills and knowledge that have been taught in our schools over the last 50 years, the right skills that our students need to create a better future?
Nobody can really predict the specific changes we will witness over the next 50 years. The only certainty is change itself. Increases in technology and medical advances mean that life expectancy is likely to increase. But in past times, by middle age our path was set and stable. This is not necessarily the case in times of change. The comfortable stability of middle age that current and past generations have enjoyed is gone.
To stay relevant in the future – both economically and socially – you will need the ability to constantly learn and reinvent yourself. To survive and flourish in such a world, you will need a lot of mental flexibility and great reserves of emotional balance. Yet teaching kids to embrace the unknown and to keep their mental balance is far more difficult than teaching them a mathematics equation or the causes of the New Zealand Wars.
This means we need to rethink education to grow the new generation that will make our world a better place. For almost 30 years now, scientists have known that intellect cannot work at its best without emotional intelligence. Strong emotional feelings have a direct impact on how well your working memory can operate. Yet there is still such little time dedicated to emotional literacy in schools. At Age School we are putting just as much importance on developing emotional intelligence as we are on developing traditional academic intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence incorporates a wide range of capabilities including:
- Knowing emotions (self awareness);
- Managing emotions;
- Motivating oneself;
- Recognising emotions in others;
- Handling relationships.
Specific examples of what children will learn include the ability to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations; or how to regulate their mood so that they can keep distress from swamping their ability to think. The goal of this is reaching a balance of emotions. Many schools will talk about self regulation but we think it is critical that students learn specific skills so they are able to do this. How to actually de-escalate anger, soothe anxiety and manage melancholy.
One of the challenges to growing future leaders is helping them find their sense of identity and belonging – especially in a world where the modus operandi is still to compete, to compare, to judge; where not everybody understands that differences are advantages. But differences are advantages. Our expressed differences are borne of many things, including our natural talents and passions, and our level of emotional agility. We strongly believe that curious, creative, compassionate learners will grow into curious, creative, compassionate leaders.
Last year we partnered with Tui Fleming, who is a Strengths Coach and Leadership Strategist, to work with our Junior High Students. Through a programme of workshops and strengths coaching, students were exploring their unique strengths. They have been taught practical tools to overcome challenges common to this age group – anxiety, fear of failure or judgment, a sense of belonging and understanding of their unique talents and potential.
At the end of the year, these Junior High students worked with Tui to coconstruct a programme that will spread this work over all of our students. Helping each and every student become more in tune with their own emotions, strengths and passions so that we can become a far more emotionally intelligent community.
It is more important than ever to know ourselves. As technology advances, people need to know their own operating system better than all the online marketing algorithms that are trying to hack your brain and understand you better than you understand yourself.
As for what skills are needed into the future, I leave you with the wise words of Daniel Goleman:
“While the everyday substance of emotional literacy classes may look mundane, the outcome – decent human beings – is more critical to our future than ever.”