“Every New Jersey student will have the tools to be successful in pursuit of their chosen life goals in a safe, healthy, caring environment.”

NJSBA Strategic Plan, 2018-2020

During my years as a teacher, principal, superintendent and board member, I witnessed firsthand the incredible importance that school climate and culture play in the education of students.

That’s one reason NJSBA has placed this issue front and center. At our Workshop conference in October, our keynote speaker was Dr. Maurice J. Elias, a nationally known expert from Rutgers University’s Social Emotional and Character Development Lab. I have long been interested in the work of Dr. Elias; during my years as a superintendent, I regularly brought him in to speak to the faculty about the topic.

Recently Maurice Elias, along with Steven E. Tobias, published a new book, Boost Emotional Intelligence in Students, that is of interest to anyone involved in the education of children.

In the book, they discuss the importance of working to develop emotional intelligence, or “EQ” in students. EQ involves both the emotional skills and social skills necessary for happiness and success in school and in life; children who are not prepared with these skills will be at a serious disadvantage.

Elias and Tobias explain the three essential skill areas of emotional intelligence.

The first is self-awareness and self-management, which includes the ability to assess and know one’s own emotions, values and capabilities; the ability to cope with emotions and maintain self-control; and the ability to persevere to achieve a goal.

The second is social awareness and relationship skills. That involves the ability to understand others and empathize with an awareness of the individual and group similarities and differences; the ability to communicate effectively, both perceiving others’ messages and expressing oneself; and the ability to work cooperatively with others.

The third area is responsible decision-making and problem-solving. Individuals with these skills have the ability to establish positive goals; the ability to implement effective behaviors to achieve those goals, and the ability to resolve interpersonal conflicts constructively.

These are all skills that children need, and the book details activities that can be used to help students in the middle grades – grades 5 through 9 – acquire these competencies.

School boards, working with their superintendents, need to make sure that school climate and culture, and developing emotional intelligence, are always part of the dialog when discussing teaching and learning.

No one presents a better argument for developing our students’ emotional intelligence than Dr. Elias and Dr. Tobias:

“Teaching emotional intelligence is not optional or supplemental, but rather an integral facet of education. The learning of these skills is a developmental right and an issue of social justice and equity. Preparing students for the world of their adulthood is one of our most critical jobs as educators.”