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Civil Groups Blog

The Unintended Lesson

October 5, 2009

The following is an entry from my CiViL Groups Log on March 30, 2004.  All names have been changed to protect privacy.

All That Over a Pencil

Abdul said he hated his 5th period class. Apparently he broke his pencil lead and got up to sharpen his pencil. His teacher asked him to sit down, and he protested. The teacher, probably reacting to his protest, argued with him and made him take his seat. As a result, Abdul couldn’t do his work. He protested some more, and brought on more argument from his teacher. By the end of the class he was angry, and he didn’t get any work done at all.

 Got EQ?

After listening to Abdul’s story, I went to the board and wrote “IQ, GRADES, EXPERIENCE, EMOTIONAL/RELATIONAL SKILLS” up on the board. Then I asked the boys to tell me which of these plays the most important part in achieving career success. They mostly voted for IQ, GRADES, and EXPERIENCE. I told them that in his book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman argues that emotional and relational skills are twice as essential to workplace success as the others. Abdul’s experience today illustrates Goleman’s point.

 Today’s Unintended Lesson

I asked Abdul which emotional and relational skills might have helped him today in 5th period. He didn’t seem to know how to answer that, so I asked what he really wants from his 5th period teacher. His answer was “an education.” And what does he have to do to get that from her? I asked the other boys to offer their opinions too, and I wrote their answers on the board. All the answers involved some kind of emotional or relational skill. In fact, you could make a case that Abdul’s class is actually a class in emotional and relational skills. That was his lesson today, even though it was presented by accident in an English class. Based on Goleman’s research, the unintended lesson may be the more important one. After all the group discussion was finished they decided Abdul needs to learn four emotional/relational lessons and one practical one:

 1. Learn how to stop making the teacher mad.

2. Learn to stop arguing with her.

3. Learn to talk things over with the teacher.

4. Learn more productive way to express your anger.

5. Bring extra pencils to class.

 Leon had the same kind of issue with his first period teacher. He says that his coach also saw what this teacher is like, so he has some corroboration that it’s not just his fault. After some discussion we decided that he still needs to learn a few emotional/relational skills too:

 1. Learn how to put his resentments aside, so he can get his work done.

2. Learn not let the teacher bother him so much that he says or does the wrong thing

 More Hard Questions

Its one thing to make a list of things you need to learn and quite another to learn them. I concluded today’s group with the really hard questions. How will you learn these lessons? How do you let go of anger and resentment? How do you keep frustration from getting the best of you?  I hope we can discuss these questions next week because they hold the key to the emotional and relational abilities that lead to success – or failure. And in many classrooms they are the unintended lesson.

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