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Cultivating emotional intelligence in girls' education

Cultivating emotional intelligence in girls' education

A reflection on David Brooks' How to Know a Person

By Dr. Marissa Muoio, Head of Upper School and Director of the National Center for Girls' Leadership at Stuart

If you spoke to almost any educator today, they would likely share a deep desire and commitment to fostering emotional intelligence and meaningful connection among their students. In the ever-evolving landscape of education and leadership, David Brooks' insightful book, "How to Know a Person," can serve as an invaluable guide. In the context of schools designed for girls, where cultivating leadership skills is paramount, the principles outlined in the book become not just valuable but indispensable. I wanted to share a few distinct insights I have been reflecting on since recently finishing this read. 

Brooks, a seasoned observer of human behavior, articulates the complexities of modern relationships, shedding light on the importance of emotional intelligence in deciphering the intricacies of human connection. "The eulogy virtues are the ones that get talked about at your funeral," Brooks writes. "They are deeper: who you are, in your heart, whether you are kind, brave, honest, or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed." These virtues form the crux of understanding and engagement, and as educators, we must equip our students with the tools to cultivate them.

Making Emotional Engagement Tangible:

The pages of "How to Know a Person" are brimming with tangible examples that resonate deeply with those seeking to foster emotional engagement. Brooks underscores the significance of nuanced conversations, encouraging us to delve beyond the surface. "We should be more interested in how a person moves from step one to step two," he asserts, urging us to explore the narrative beneath the actions.

Brooks emphasizes the significance of meaningful conversations as a tool for understanding others on a deeper level. He states, "Conversation deepens the mind. It promotes the complexity of understanding. It teaches you to see another person in all their depth and uniqueness." In an environment where fostering strong relationships is essential, this insight is particularly relevant.

As educators and leaders, we must encourage our students to engage in conversations that go beyond surface-level interactions. By doing so, we empower them to develop the ability to perceive the complexity of others, thus laying the foundation for effective leadership.

In a world where digital communication often overshadows face-to-face interaction, cultivating genuine connections becomes paramount. Brooks aptly observes, "The people we admire have the ability to hold opposing ideas in their minds. They can see nuances, different angles, and self-contradictions." This ability to navigate complexity is a skill that must be instilled in our students, preparing them to embrace the diverse perspectives prevalent in our interconnected world.

Emotional engagement is not a one-size-fits-all concept. Brooks reminds us, "There is no permanent 'self' just waiting to be uncovered. There are better and worse ways to live a self." As educators, our responsibility is to guide students in discovering their authentic selves, fostering an environment where they feel empowered to express their unique identities while appreciating the rich diversity that surrounds them.

Empathy as a Core Leadership Skill:

Empathy lies at the heart of effective leadership, and Brooks eloquently captures its essence in his book. He states, "Empathy is not an automatic response but a skill, a habit, a perspective, a mode of interaction.”

One of the key takeaways from Brooks' book with regard to developing empathy is the art of asking questions. He writes, "The act of asking a question is the act of seeking, the process of listening, and the creation of a space for another person to enter." This principle can be transformative when applied to the development of communication skills in our students.

Encouraging girls to ask thoughtful questions not only demonstrates a genuine interest in others but also creates a space for meaningful dialogue. By fostering a culture of curiosity, we equip our students with a powerful tool for building connections that transcend the superficial.

In a girls’ school setting, where collaboration and mutual support are fundamental, instilling empathy in our students is paramount. By emphasizing the importance of understanding and resonating with the emotions of others, we pave the way for a generation of leaders who can navigate complex interpersonal dynamics with grace and compassion.

The Role of Vulnerability and Self-Reflection:

Brooks delves into the concept of vulnerability, highlighting its role in establishing authentic connections. He writes, "Vulnerability is a form of courage because it entails being open to others, allowing oneself to be influenced and changed." In a world where vulnerability is often perceived as a weakness, teaching our students to embrace it as a source of strength is a powerful lesson. By fostering an environment that values openness and authenticity, we cultivate leaders who are not afraid to show vulnerability, creating a culture of trust and collaboration.

Brooks eloquently states, "The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it." We guide our students in the journey of self-discovery, encouraging regular self-reflection. Through journaling, mindfulness practices, and peer discussions, students develop a deeper understanding of themselves, laying the foundation for meaningful connections with others. He also reminds us that "The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It's to lose yourself." Through intentional leadership and a commitment to emotional intelligence, we guide our students on a journey of self-discovery, preparing them to lead with authenticity, compassion, and a deep understanding of the human experience.

By incorporating the lessons from Brooks' book into our educational approach, we have the opportunity to shape a generation of leaders who not only excel academically but also possess the interpersonal skills necessary to navigate the complexities of the modern world. As we embrace the power of conversation, thoughtful questioning, empathy, and vulnerability, we pave the way for a future where meaningful connections and understanding define our society.

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