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Emotional Wellness - The Realest Work

Casey Powell, Student Wellness Manager

When I tell people I help teach emotional wellness in schools, I usually get a surprised look, followed by “that’s a real job!?” I smile, nod my head, and then ask what emotions are coming up for them (just kidding). Many may not know, but besides tending to students’ physical needs in the health office, I spend a lot of time tending to students’ emotional needs in the classroom. Phillips Brooks School is an exceptional place for many reasons, but what attracted me to join this community is our renowned emotional intelligence initiatives.  

Emotional intelligence education has not been in the mainstream for very long. In fact, this has been an actively dismissed area because it is considered a “soft science,” an indulgence and distraction to the progress of “real” work. At my previous school, the EI curriculum was defunded and replaced with a computer coding class because there was pushback from the community. This is not uncommon and is symptomatic of our hyper-individualistic society. Teaching how to identify, communicate, and cope with feelings does not hold hands well with the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” American way. But ironically, people who learn emotional intelligence have “increased performance in their careers, greater leadership skills, and healthier relationships (platonic and romantic) overall” (as reported by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence). 

I have always seen people as the synthesis of their biological, environmental, and cultural circumstances. Demeanor, skills, and intellect typically reflect this fusion, not free will. In Dr. Erickson’s GATHER talk about empathy, he referenced a quote from President Obama that read, “…learning to stand in someone else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that is how peace begins.” Although we are all unique, a common denominator is the experience of emotions. An important part of my job is to stand in the students’ shoes, see through their eyes, and understand how they are experiencing their emotions.

In my role as Student Wellness Manager, I work under the philosophy that “kids do well if they can,” (Dr. Ross Greene) meaning that if a child is not meeting expectations, there is an underdeveloped skill or invisible barrier that has yet to be made visible. My job is to collaborate with students and work on developing those skills or create interventions that can enable us to access those skills. This can look different for everyone. I have had students who need to wear headphones while they work so they can focus. There is a student who needs to wear a weighted vest to feel calm so they can pay attention in class. Personally, I need my desk to be clean before I can be productive. All these interventions are byproducts of a conversation about our emotions. 

As an emotional intelligence educator, my job is to teach not only the language of emotions, but also the skills to navigate them. In class, we talk about “invisible toolboxes” that we all have. So when we are feeling angry, sad, or excited, what can we do to help us navigate through that specific emotion? Whether that is to go for a walk, take deep breaths, or talk to a friend, there are many tools to support our needs. We all have individual needs. 

 Learning about our emotions is much like understanding a map. When we can identify and care for our own emotions, we can identify and care for others. When we understand where our own emotions come from, we can better understand where other people’s emotions come from. When we consider how our unique fusion of biological, environmental and cultural influences shape our own experience, we gain empathy for others’ experiences. 

The goal of emotional intelligence education is to be able to identify, communicate, and cope with one’s own and others' feelings. Studies prove over and over that there are major benefits to learning about emotions. We at PBS are privileged to have had this type of education at the core of our pedagogy for so long. Our students benefit daily from early development of these skills; however, the learning never stops. We are always students of emotion, and that is the realest work any human can do. 

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