As a former classroom teacher, I had my fair share of challenging students. Whether it was the child who was constantly searching for new ways to draw attention to himself, or the occasional student who suffered from a severe case of “rightitis” (always needing to be right) and consequently argued until she was blue in the face, the common denominator was always a series of behaviors that disrupted the entire classroom culture.
Like most teachers, when these behaviors escalated to a level of serious disruption, I sought the help of other school staff (i.e. administration, psychologists, etc…) in hopes that we could somehow curtail these behaviors. The end result was typically the development of something called a behavior intervention plan. Consisting of various behavior modifications (i.e. desk location, task chart, etc…), the ultimate goal of the plan was to create an environment that would assist the child in making appropriate choices. Unfortunately, at least in my experience, the results were often short term and in many cases the behavior plan was simply another game for the student to manipulate, or take advantage of. Even though the data may have suggested improvement, I knew that there was still something missing. If a child’s behavior was a puzzle, I was determined to find the missing piece.
Today, several years removed from the classroom, I believe with all of my heart that I’ve found that missing piece. Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with a behavior modification plan and everything to do with a heart modification plan. You see, everything we do (our behavior) is fueled by how we feel (our emotions). Furthermore, everything we feel is influenced by the way we think. While I spent years as a classroom teacher trying to modify behaviors, I realize now that while these strategies were well intentioned, my efforts were akin to whacking a weed in my backyard. If the weed symbolizes unacceptable behaviors in our students, it’s the root of the weed that represents the thoughts and emotions underneath it.
A few years ago, I wrote a blog about the invisible backpack that all students bring to school each day. This emotional backpack, which often takes a backseat to traditional curriculum and academic rigor, contains invisible thoughts and emotions that play a tremendous role in a child’s behavior. As teachers and parents, we may think we know what’s in that backpack, but in many cases we have no idea.
Unlike a traditional backpack, which is emptied each morning and filled again at the end of the school day, I believe that it’s absolutely crucial that we begin to address the power of the emotional backpack. Thankfully, with the relatively new field of emotional intelligence, it’s now possible to provide all students with tools and strategies that will help them manage their thoughts and emotions in an effective way. These tools and strategies will serve as the heart modifications I referred to earlier in this piece.
I invite you to watch a video I created, which explains emotional intelligence in a bit more detail. Please join me in making emotional intelligence a part of EVERY child’s education.