Ann Arbor-based Quest Education works at increasing emotional literacy for students and teachers alike. Yale University psychologist Dr. Marc Brackett (right) works with a group of middle school teachers in Springdale, Ark.
An Ann Arbor firm is helping public schools apply emotional
literacy – long a staple in the corporate world – in order to raise test scores,
close achievement gaps and increase workplace satisfaction.
"Humans are social beings, and they need to feel comfortable
in their surroundings," according to William Carpenter, co-founder of Quest
Education. "It is only at that point that the brain can be conditioned to excel
at various tasks."
Based on a concept created by Yale researchers on emotional
intelligence, which focuses on how to perceive, generate, understand and manage
the emotions of yourself and others, emotional literacy aims to help teachers,
administrators and students do the same in an academic setting. Quest Education
uses Dr. Marc Brackett’s book, "Emotional Literacy in the Middle School," as the
building block for the services it provides to school districts.
"For many years, schools have been going through a succession
of disjointed fads," Carpenter says. "They are very reactive."
Carpenter says his firm is different because it is focused on
application, not theory.
"We are more of a professional development firm," he
explains. "Some call us school improvement specialists."
An example of Quest Education’s work can be seen in a project
it is doing for North Dallas High School, part of the Dallas Independent School
District in Texas. Quest uses what it calls a "Learning Life Cycle" which
entails planning and design, a customized solution, support and resources and a
Dina Townsend, principal at North Dallas, said she used
Quest’s services previously, while at an elementary school.
"I’m having them back, so that kind of says it all," Townsend
said about Quest’s performance.
"We’re working with their curriculum director to identify
very specific areas of instruction," Carpenter said. "We want to look close
enough to see teacher A in classroom A and why the students are scoring poorly
Quest will design a "professional learning curriculum" for a
school, looking at details all the way down to class schedules.
"Sometimes students aren’t given enough time between classes
to get from one to the next," Carpenter said. "They start off the class with a
high level of stress and anxiety and may never get to a point where they can
Carpenter said the concept is based on a belief that a
student’s emotional state directly affects what people learn, how they learn it
and how long they will remember it.
"Emotions have everything to do with how we process
information," he said. "This is not some pop psychology, ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’
thing or even character education. This is proven research based on
Once a plan is designed for a particular school, Quest spends
about 20 days on-site, performing teacher workshops, observing classrooms and
fine-tuning the program.
"I think teachers would resent it if it was just a three-day
thing where they had no input," Carpenter said. "This way, they can use things
from the workshops in class, then come back and discuss it and see how well it
works, or what needs to be changed."
Carpenter said it also helps being a private company, as
opposed to having this type of instruction come from within the district or from
a state education department.
"We don’t have any power to hire or fire the teachers, so it
makes them more comfortable," Carpenter said. "We’re not saying they are bad
teachers. Anyone with the passion to be a teacher can learn key strategies, it’s
just knowing how to employ them in different circumstances."
Carpenter said by modeling certain techniques in class and
providing coaching opportunities, it gives the teachers confidence to use the
emotional literacy approach.
"A teacher has to be a performer, to some degree," Carpenter
said. "They have to know the content they are teaching, so they can command
respect academically, but they also have to command respect socially and
emotionally in order to run their classroom effectively."
Townsend said she thinks modeling successful teaching is what
Quest does best.
"It goes beyond theory," she said. "They actually get in the
classroom and do it."
Carpenter relates the use of emotions by giving an example of
a teacher in a history class.
"Let’s say the students are studying the Revolutionary War,"
he explains. "Before they even start in on the subject matter, the teacher can
move the emotional level of the class to a level for learning. The Revolutionary
War involved people with a lot of dissatisfaction, so the teacher can start by
asking the kids if they ever wanted something and didn’t get it. Then that can
be related to how the colonists felt."
The process also can be used to identify why students are
having problems with a particular subject. Carpenter, who grew up wanting to be
an orchestra conductor, says a teacher trained in emotional literacy could have
spotted his own aversion to algebra as a student.
"I’m right-brained, so I was fine with words and music and
concepts, but not very analytical with numbers," he said. "At the same time, I
was smart enough to mask it. Students like that define the achievement gap, and
it takes a mature person, with emotional literacy, to pull those students aside
and say ‘OK, you and you and you, three days a week you’re going to get extra
help,’ because the worst thing you can do is point them out in class and
embarrass them about why they didn’t do their homework or why they never answer
Emotional literacy training also is available for
administrators, so they can better communicate with teachers.
"There are a lot of things administrators have to do, both at the building
level and district level, that come down to them from the state and federal
policies," Carpenter said. "If they are very clear about these with their staff,
and also are able to empathize with staff needs or concerns, it goes a long way
toward increasing job satisfaction. Employees are about more than just wanting a
paycheck. They want to feel like they matter."