Teaching ecology with emotional intelligence

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Bestselling author and self-help guru Daniel Goleman is known worldwide for stressing the importance of emotional intelligence in developing one’s full potential.

While the term had been around for decades, Goleman’s 1995 book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ,” popularized the concept. Broadly speaking, emotional intelligence is seen by many as an ability to gauge one’s own emotions as well as the emotions of others, and to build relationships around this understanding.

Now Goleman is incorporating his environmental passions into his educational philosophy. His latest, “Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Incorporating Emotional, Social and Ecological Intelligence,” was written in partnership with the Berkeley-based Center for Ecoliteracy.

“In teaching people about ecological issues — whether it’s K-12 or in the university — there’s something that happens on an emotional level, and that’s fear and anxiety,” says co-author Lisa Bennett. “We’ve pushed nature’s systems to the brink in a lot of ways right now, so if you bring emotional intelligence to teaching about ecological issues, you can be a lot more effective.”

“Ecoliterate” investigates eight cutting-edge environmental education programs, from Kentucky to Alaska, looking for effective blueprints for this new curriculum. While the book is primarily directed at K-12 teachers, the authors suggest that these programs could be easily adapted for the college level.

“In Dan Goleman’s seminal books, he showed how critical emotional and social intelligence is to allowing people to be effective,” says Bennett. “We discovered in ‘Ecoliterate’ that, actually, each form of intelligence is an extension of the other, and eco-intelligence is related to both: It boosts academic achievement, because it’s tied to emotional learning, and it develops strength, hope and resilience in students.”

Five key points

The Center for Ecoliteracy has outlined “five vital  practices” for teaching      environmental studies to   K-12 students.

1. Developing empathy for all forms of life
2. Embracing sustainability as a community practice
3. Making the invisible visible
4. Anticipating unintended consequences
5. Understanding how nature sustains life


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