We may be able to give students the knowledge and tools with which to make the best socially-emotionally intelligent choices possible. We can even remind them of the multiple benefits of doing so. However, ultimately it is their responsibility to make and act on those choices. As we all likely know from our own lives, even with the best information and intentions, it is not easy to make those choices.
It takes great will to express and let go of rather than indulge in or take out our emotions. It takes persistence to remain mindfully aware of and thankful for what we have rather than focusing on accumulating more. It takes awareness to remember to measure ourselves fairly, allow our mistakes and focus on our strengths. It takes strength to keep our rights in mind, fighting the urge to go along to get along. It takes patience to wait for what we want, to give up something we want in order to compromise, to not push people to do what we might them to do.
Despite the work that it takes to make these choices, we can maximize the likelihood of their occurrence. We can help students remember that choices lead to consequences. We can help them put aside their youthful tendencies to live completely in the moment in order to consider future consequences of present choices.
We can remind students that even if they do not do the work to make these socially-emotionally intelligent choices, that are still responsible for the choices they have made.
Students can be helped to understand that they are responsible for an outcome if it is a direct result of what they did, intentionally or not. They are responsible for a choice they have made, even if others have made that same choice. We can help them realize that since they are responsible for the results of their choices, they would benefit from making the best ones possible.
Students can learn that the accumulation of choices, whether made intentionally or unintentionally, add up to the person one is. We can help students understand the power they possess in being able to determine the kind of person they want to be. They can use the knowledge and tools we have provided in order to consciously make socially-emotionally intelligent choices in order to become the person they most want to be.
We can help students determine who they want to be by helping them determine their values, what is most important to them. They can then learn to pause and consider the bigger picture when making a choice. We can help them determine if the probable consequence of making a particular choice would be in accordance with those values.
We can first help students determine the values that are most important to them. We can offer ideas of possible values and ask for their ideas. Examples of values could include kindness, honesty, helpfulness, success. We can then help them to rank the values from most to least important. We can then help them decide what they are willing or not willing to do; to remind themselves of; to give up; to work hard on, in order to make choices in accordance with those most important values.
For example, let’s say that they rank success as a very important value. They could be helped to determine the choices they might make in order to achieve that success. They could be asked to decide if they would pick a particular time and place to do homework every day. They could be asked if they would do their homework daily, even if their favorite show was on or they wanted to play with a friend. As a consequence, they might miss some shows and give up some play time with friends, but they would get better and better grades.
Or they might choose to do their homework sometimes. However, if a friend called to play they would leave and not do their homework that day. That might lead to grades that went up and down, and feeling less good about themselves.
Working with students in this way, we offer them not only the skills and knowledge with which to make the most socially-emotionally intelligence choices possible, but true agency over their lives.