Sunday, 11 March 2012

Handling Emotional Needs for Learners

Few days back, I was watching some little swimmers acting submarines with their swimming skills in our community swimming pool. It was a wonderful sight to watch them all. When the children were done with their swimming, I had this strange curiosity to approach a bunch of boys and ask them why they were learning to swim. I asked couple of boys and got an immediate reply from one, "My mom wants me to learn swimming". Another replied, "I like to swim in water". Another replied, "I want to become an expert and be a famous swimmer, win lots of medals". I came back home and asked my son, "Why do you want to learn swimming?" The answer came in a lightening speed - "I want to be brave". I was stuck with awe after hearing this authentic, innocent answer which he gave in an effortless manner.  I said, "So, swimming is about being brave for you!!!". He added after a moment, "Yes, swimming is an expression of my bravery".

The whole experience was full of rich lessons for me. Here are some of them that I'd like to share with educators and parents. With parents, schools and educators focusing on academic achievement more and more, recognizing learner's core desire to fulfill their emotional needs is ignored. Emotional achievement is a forgotten area that I'd like to throw light at.

In my son's case, it is not a surprise for me when he expressed his emotional need and its relationship to swimming. The only thing that I was bowled over was his ability to express this to me clearly. I have been observing since many months, in fact almost a year now; that his drive to learn just about anything originated from wanting to nurture his bravery. For example, he was inspired by a boy whose name is 'Veer' and wondered why he was not named as 'Veer'. 'Veer' in Indian language means 'Warrior'. He was always so fond of drawing the Chinese symbol that represented 'Bravery'. That triggered him to learn more about Chinese symbols. He had been learning a lot about warriors from different parts of the world. He was always perfecting his 'Warrior Pose' (Veerasana) in Yoga. The learning opportunities and the content that he chose was to braving himself. His every chosen learning activity was something that would actually make him a bit more valorous. I have been intently observing and journal ling all his behaviors for almost a year now, so that I am able to support him in his learning journey in a way that is relevant and pertinent to him.

I started to wonder that the child who expressed that he wanted to get medals may also have some innate emotional need beneath the desire to achieve. Emotional needs can be a major pre-cursor for achievement in academics and other competitive areas. Educators and parents have always looked at intelligence as one dimensional trait, accessible to evaluation by numbers. On the flip side, creating emotionally sound learning environment and opportunities help learners to improve academic outcomes.   As parents and educators, our job is to tap into this emotional need that is craving to be expressed in every learner and support them to handle such feelings at first place. Unleashing this internal desire of learners can lead educators to bring out the learner's best externally. A point to note here is that our job is to plan differentiated instruction as per the learner's requirement. A child who wants to swim for joy should be given opportunities to enjoy a calm learning experience. A child whose focus is to collect a couple of medals will be willing for more challenges and hard work outs. The child who wants to brave should not be put to shame and the facilitator might want to take careful steps to nurture that value for him. This is not only pertinent to young learners. I was surprised that even adult learners in a Corporate training program that I recently delivered, came up with a lot of emotional needs that needed to be addressed during when I was conducting needs analysis.

Abraham Maslows suggests in his theory that the following needs of a child should be first met before any child could learn.
  • Physiological needs: nutrition, sleep, exercise, health
  • Safety needs: both physical and emotional
  • Love and belonging needs: affection shown to the child, trust of those around him, someone who listens, daily order, a right to privacy, unconditional love
  • Self-esteem needs: someone affirms the child's worth, child is given the opportunity to achieve, to make choices, to be successful, respect of others, respect by others
  • Self-actualization needs: child is developing abilities and strengths, problem-solving skills strengthening, creativity, morality, spontaneity, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts
Emotional learning and skills related to that such as recognizing and managing one's own emotions can be the best predictors of both academic and life success. What steps can we take to help children to make them understand the nature of biology, emotions and intelligence and their relationship with success as well as happiness? How could you offer differentiated instruction as per the learner's emotional needs?

Enjoy learning and sharing