The Foundation of Performance: Emotional Literacy & Intelligence
Education in the United States and around the world focuses primarily on results. There may be radically different approaches to the brass tacks of teaching children how to read, write, and do arithmetic. But the goal of education for almost every culture in every country is to lay the groundwork for success in life.
While success might not look the same in every culture and every country, most people agree the point of education is to prepare a child to do two things: lead a fulfilling life and become a productive member of society.
To achieve these ends, a child will need to learn, in varying degrees, the basics of reading, writing, and math. At the very least. These basic skills enable a young person to balance their own checkbook, apply for a job, and apply for a credit card or a loan. And perhaps attend college and pursue technical, general, or professional degrees. Experts far and wide confirm that early education is a solid predictor of academic, social, and professional success. However, an article published in Forbes Magazine in 2014 reveals a fact of which many people may not be aware. The greatest predictor of high job performance is not intellectual intelligence, job experience, or educational history.
It’s emotional intelligence, a.k.a. emotional literacy.
What Is Emotional Literacy?
The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning at Vanderbilt University offers a simple definition. It’s “the ability to identify, understand, and respond to emotions in oneself and others in a healthy manner.” Emotional intelligence forms the foundation of our ability, as human beings, to successfully interact with one another. Research shows that when compared to children incapable of identifying, understanding, and responding to emotions in themselves or others, children capable of these skills display a particular set of characteristics. These children:
- Tolerate frustration well
- Fight less
- Can handle being alone
- Engage less in self-destructive behaviors
- Are capable of greater academic achievement
- Are better able to focus on tasks and control their internal impulses
When a child learns these lessons before entering school, it makes the early grades much easier to navigate. If school-age children shore up these skills before entering middle school and high school, they can transform the increased workload and social pressures of adolescence into manageable tasks they can handle with the grace and poise of young adults. When students hone these skills in emotional literacy and intelligence through high school, adolescence, and college (if that’s the path they choose), peers and potential employers recognize them immediately. These skills they help grease the wheels of life as a full-fledged adult.
Teaching Emotional Literacy
Emotional literacy is fast becoming a key element in many approaches to early education. Most preschools and kindergartens stress the quality of both peer-to-peer interaction and teacher-student interaction. The importance of social and emotional skill building is also gaining recognition as an important curriculum component in private schools and public school districts across the country.
If emotional literacy skills aren’t learned early, it’s not too late. Parents and teachers interested in teaching teenagers the fundamentals of emotional and social literacy can find a wide variety of resources available online. The State of Ohio has a useful activity handbook that can help teach the fundamentals of emotional literacy to teenagers. Corporations such as Microsoft offer training programs for schools, parents, and teachers who wish to include social and emotional literacy into the overall education of their students or children.
All these developments are important steps toward recognizing that while the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic are essential for the education and success of our children, they’re not everything. The ultimate scaffold from which everything hangs is something else entirely. It’s a mindful combination of emotional awareness, intelligence, and literacy.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.