Q&A with Daniel Goleman: FOCUS for educators

Daniel Goleman recently spoke with CASEL about the implications of Focus for educators. Below are some highlights from the conversation.

Educators role as facilitators of learning

One of the main concepts in Focus that every educator should know about is cognitive control. It’s the ability to focus on one thing and ignore distractions, to keep your mind from wandering. Cognitive control is the basis for delaying gratification and emotional self-regulation. The strongest evidence for the importance of cognitive control was a longitudinal study done with more than 1,000 kids born over the course of a year in one New Zealand city. The children were assessed for cognitive control between the ages of 4 and 8 using a sophisticated battery of measures as well as teacher and parent reports. Then they were tracked down in their thirties. Cognitive control turned out to be a better predictor of their financial success and their health, and also whether or not they had a prison record, than their IQ or the wealth of their family of origin.

Helping students pay attention

In terms of getting students to pay attention to the work at hand, sometimes the digital media are the enemy. If kids are sneaking peeks at their texts during their time in the classroom, the technology is undermining teaching. On the other hand, more and more schools are using media to engage students in the learning process. But if you let students roam on the Web, you’re opening them to distractions as they search. It’s a complex question, and it will only become more complex as time goes on. If you hold as fundamental the ability of students to pay attention, it sorts itself out pretty quickly.

Neuroscience’s contribution tp education, learning and the development of social-emotional competencies

When you see the different phases that children go through as they age and grow, what you’re observing are the external behavioral signs of the growth of the brain. The brain is very plastic. It doesn’t reach its final form and size until the mid-twenties. SEL helps children develop their brains in the best way because we’re paying attention to children’s social and emotional skills in addition to their cognitive skills. What’s often missing is attention skills. That’s an independent developmental line, one that schools need to do a better job of helping children with.

Read the complete Q&A with CASEL here.

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