Anne de A’Echevarria looks at practical activities that can be used to help young people explore the idea of ’emotional resourcefulness’ in the context of young learners’ self-management, using a circle diagramdoc-5085314

Example Circle Diagram.ppt

This e-bulletin continues our focus on developing ‘self-managers’ – one of the six areas of the QCA’s Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills framework. Last time, we began with an introductory strategy that can help young learners to start thinking and talking about the concept of ‘self-management’, and thereby begin to uncover for themselves the skills and dispositions involved. This issue, we will begin to look at practical activities that can be used to help young people explore the idea of ’emotional resourcefulness’.

Emotional resourcefulness
Emotional resourcefulness is the capacity for self-knowledge and understanding – and the ability to make the best use of that understanding. This involves:

  • noticing your own emotional responses
  • recognising your abilities and potential
  • becoming aware of the blocks and limiting beliefs that get in the way of that potential
  • taking responsibility for your current states – how you are thinking, feeling and behaving – and taking positive action to modify those states
  • learning to respond more flexibly to circumstances, incidents and situations
  • becoming sensitive to other people’s feelings and perceptions and how these can effect you
  • developing the ability to respond more capably to other people’s emotions.

In today’s educational culture, we are immersed in notions of targets, goals, outcomes, standards and competitiveness – the pressure is for us to achieve. But intellectual ability, however much it is developed and expressed, is but one aspect of our cumulative resourcefulness; our self-wealth, which Howard Gardner calls the intelligences – that inner field of potentials that any effective educational system will draw out and allow to be expressed. Arguably, emotional resourcefulness underpins all other abilities: literacy, numeracy and the whole spectrum of skills that we would like to develop in young people, not least their ability to manipulate ideas creatively, which is considered the mark of an educated person. Since creativity flourishes when a person is confident, unstressed but challenged, possessed of high self-assurance and self-esteem, and able to use emotions elegantly, it follows that offering young people the means to enhance their emotional resourcefulness amounts to giving them a sound platform from which to develop the range of their other abilities.

The activities that will be shared this term have all been designed to stimulate reflection and dialogue with young people in order to develop these capacities. They can be used flexibly as part of a dedicated programme, in 1:1 work, or integrated into any teacher’s regular classroom practice. They are underpinned by the notion of self-determination – that our behaviours are accessible and modifiable – that if there is something about the way we think, feel or behave that we don’t want, then we can take direct positive action to change it.

Our thoughts, feelings and actions are interlinked, but this interplay often operates at a non-conscious level – we are often not fully aware of the influences on our behaviour. For example, how many of our students have learned to be attentive to negative self-talk – those consciously constructed thoughts which continue to run in our heads, but which we fail to attend to subsequently? (This is a bit like a pop song that goes round and round in our minds; it’s there, but we don’t notice it after a while, so it carries on by default.) After a while we come to buy in to the scenario that these thoughts describe, without really having chosen to: ‘I’m no good at Maths’; ‘ I’m not a creative person’; ‘People from my family never..’; ‘I’m a born pessimist’. The problem is that if a particular belief begins to become entrenched, then our perception of the world will tend to reconfirm this belief again and again – the world is often what our thoughts make it.

Working to develop our students’ emotional resourcefulness helps them to develop greater self-awareness. It can put both positive and unhelpful feelings and patterns of behaviour under the spotlight and, through dialogue and reflection, can provide young people with the support they need to make changes and develop a greater repertoire of responses.

Self-intelligence is a capacity that we can all develop further in ourselves. Perhaps the most effective means of allowing young people to grow in this way is for us to try new techniques for ourselves, first of all. You may prefer to work alone or, if you choose to work with a partner, you will have someone there to help you find your way through the activity, and maybe subsequently to discuss ways of adapting it to fit more closely with your particular students, their needs and circumstances.

Below is a circle diagram activity, for which I am indebted to Stephen Bowkett. It is designed to help participants explore their current ’emotional landscape’. It is a powerful technique that may lead to deep insights, but be aware that issues currently recognised may be negative as well as positive. The process of self-reflection leads to increased awareness, which results in greater self-understanding. And, as Bowkett comments, ‘from that firm basis of understanding, we inherit control.’

Exploring your emotional landscape
Draw a large circle on a blank sheet of paper. Pretend that circle represents you. Prepare to draw other, subsidiary circles which represent emotions, issues, problems, dilemmas, ambitions – positive or negative. The rules are:

  • The larger the subsidiary circle, the more significant the issue to you.
  • Subsidiary circles which overlap are somehow connected (in ways perhaps that you do not completely understand or have not fully explored).
  • Circles drawn inside the main circle represent issues which are more or less internal – ie other people cannot pick up clues about this issue in your appearance, speech or behaviour.
  • Circles overlapping the edge of the main circle represent issues which you are expressing to a greater or lesser degree – ie other people can pick up clues about this issue in your appearance, speech or behaviour.
  • Subsidiary circles drawn outside the main circle represent external issues, which may be a person, an event, a place, or a combination of these. These could be issues approaching (show with an inward arrow) or issues being left behind (outward arrow).

For an example circle diagram, follow this link.

Once you have drawn the circle diagram – which is to say, begun to map out your emotional landscape – you can develop the technique in various ways:

a) Put the diagram in an envelope and open it after three months. Note how things have changed in the meantime.

b) Ask yourself ‘what if?’ questions. What if particular subsidiary circles were larger or smaller? What if inner issues were more obviously expressed? What if current issues were replaced by others of my own choosing? What if I could arrange for this to happen – what would I need to do? What if negative issues were looked at in a positive light? And so on.

c) Future Base: Draw a circle diagram of how you’d like to be at some point in the future. Think about what would need to change for this to become a reality.

d) Take a closer look at the ‘ingredients’ of subsidiary circles. What emotions are attached? What are the positive and negative ingredients of the circle? How would a change in the circle (pick a change) affect the other circles on the map? How would that change feel to me?

e) Mind-read: Draw somebody else’s circle diagram. (What you express about them is telling you something about yourself.) Think about why you have reached these conclusions. How can your insights make you more effective in dealing with this person? If they don’t, what would you need to do to achieve greater effectiveness?

f) Scrapbook and Journal: If certain emotions have a dominating influence in your life, learn more about those emotions. Collect extracts from fiction, poems, items from newspapers and autobiographies that define and describe your chosen emotions. Take time to write about your emotions; what triggers them, how it feels while they’re happening, what effects they cause, what things lessen or intensify them. Personify the emotion and write a ‘day in the life’ of the emotion in the first person, referring to yourself in the third person.

g) Back to Basics: Explain important emotions as though to someone who has never experienced them. Use any descriptive technique available to clarify as far as you can what these emotions are like.

h) Fantasy Scenario: Pretend a chosen emotion simply didn’t exist anywhere in the world or in the human psyche. What differences would result?

This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 2009

About the author: Anne de A’Echevarria is the author of the award winning ‘Thinking Through School’. Previously a teacher, PGCE tutor and head of ‘Thinking for Learning’, a research and development team partnered with Newcastle University, she now works as a freelance education consultant and writer.