Thinking and Feeling in the Classroom

03/17/2015 10:08 am ET | Updated May 17, 2015

Cognitive empathy means understanding people's perspective on the world. It goes hand in hand with emotional empathy, which is "feeling with." In a discussion I had with Peter Senge, Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Sustainability at the MIT Sloan School of Management, I wanted to know how feelings and emotions are addressed in systems education. Here's what he had to say.

SEL and Systems Thinking

Educators who have been leading this systems revolution encourage students to really inquire into the social systems they find themselves in. I would say that the accelerating confluence of the social and emotional learning and systems thinking gives educators a repertoire of pedagogical strategies. The combination can really get the kids doing good, reflective work on emotional states, and the interactions they have with one another.

We Don't See the Whole System

When studying how students develop their systems thinking skills, the one thing that I find really interesting is how sensitized they become to how each other sees the world. They realize that we're all looking through a peephole of our particular sense of sensory apparatus. No one sees the whole system. We all see aspects of the system. So if you really want to understand and improve a system, you need to get really good at seeing how you see it, and how she sees it, and how he sees it. When you're able to see it differently, then you'll be able to learn.

Intelligence Is Multifaceted

I've worried for a long time that for some the social/emotional learning work is a little too peripheral in the sense of, "Well, it's good the kids also have emotional intelligence." No. It's good that kids are intelligent. Intelligence is multifaceted. It is cognitive and emotional. I've been around a lot of people at MIT who are great in their lab and a disaster in their family. People would not call those people particularly intelligent. They'd say they're a bunch of nerds who can really do something specific. But as soon as they walk out of that lab, they're dysfunctional as human beings. So, I think that where this is headed is simply to understand intelligence as innately a multifaceted phenomenon.

Intelligence Is a System

Also, we need to break down the walls between what we think of as academic intelligence and emotional intelligence. For example, the brain ignores all of those barriers. It's a very interrelated and integrated system. Anyone who looks at the brain and how it works knows that your emotional state directly affects how you can use your academic skills. If you're upset, it shrinks your working memory. You can't pay attention to what the teacher's saying. You can't learn. So in a way, it's totally arbitrary to separate them. If you open up the brain, you're not going to find a bunch of little boxes.

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This post first appeared on LinkedIn.