By Shabana Anwar
The present social environment presents teachers with a daunting challenge: how to ensure a positive school experience for their students. Many students carry the burden of adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse, poverty, divorce, authoritarian parents, academic pressure, favoritism, negligence and numerous other social, emotional and academic issues. Schools, unfortunately, focus only on the intellectual development of children, training the brain to fulfil tasks in subjects like Mathematics, Science and English, in order to have an edge in career competitions. It is worthwhile to note that the current school curriculum has its basis in the times of Industrial Revolution, where technologically advanced and market-ready individuals were required and schools performed the role of manufacturing products for the society and hence, the culture of making humans work like machines. The need to change the system may not have been felt, for many people led what they regarded as ‘successful’ lives, amassing material wealth and equating it with happiness. But a recent spurt in seeking out help for depression, anxiety, anger, envy, pride, arrogance and other kinds of emotional imbalance has led us to question: When will our schools include social-emotional development in the existing curriculum? Is it not important for children to identify emotions and separate themselves from the intensity of the emotion? Is it possible to teach children how to manage anger, anxiety, jealousy, hate, feelings of superiority or inferiority, and so on? Why don’t we consider teaching about emotions and feelings as important as teaching Sciences and Humanities?
Marilee Sprenger in her book Social Emotional Learning writes that Social Emotional Learning (SEL) should become foundational in our education system. She asserts that when students walk into the classroom, backpacks and textbooks are not the only baggage they bring with them. Each student enters the room in a different mental, emotional and physical state, which affects their readiness and willingness to learn. The experiences children bring with them and how they feel about those experiences play a central role in shaping a child’s personality. A child who has been made to feel ‘no-good’ will have limiting beliefs about him/herself. It is frustrating for the teacher and the child to be unable to identify how the child is actually ‘feeling’. Children in this situation may fear humiliation, and almost any social situation is difficult for them. Conversely, a child who enters the classroom with a feeling of “I am as good as others” will have a different approach to academics as well as socializing with classmates.
Most times students who show behavioral issues in the classroom are doing so because of a ‘feeling’ they have. We need to help them name that feeling or emotion. Emotions guide behaviour. Therefore, it is important to build self- awareness in children from preschool years. Self-Awareness is the ability to recognize our emotions in various situations and put a name to them. For example, it is common among children and adults to say they are stressed because of feelings of anxiety, fear, pressure, worry, frustration, hostility, apprehensiveness or a combination of emotions. The more specific the language of identifying the easier it will be to help children in dealing with emotions and feelings. The goal is to help the child know that emotions are different from their being.
Research highlights five competencies to build self-awareness:
- Be able to identify emotions: Self-awareness begins with identifying and labelling their emotions.(I am feeling angry because……)
- Have an accurate self-perception: This competency requires children to have a realistic perspective on who they are.
- Recognize strengths: Each student is unique, with their own strengths and weaknesses. Realizing these and working towards building or getting rid of them, as the case might be, is important to students’s sense of self.
- Self- confidence. When students recognize themselves, their self-confidence grows which is vital to a strong sense of who they are.
- Demonstrate self-efficacy: Self-efficacy is the students’ belief in their ability to achieve a goal. Doing so requires a growth mindset.Teachers must keep in mind that every student will have a different level of emotional self-awareness.
(Shabana Anwar started her career with teaching preschool children in California and slowly grew as a professional to become a teacher educator. She has taught children at the pre-primary and primary levels in USA and India and has been working towards bringing innovative pedagogies in the classroom. Currently, she is a faculty in the Modern Academy of Continuing Education and a guest faculty in Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy. She is an Early Literacy Specialist and believes in lifelong learning.)