The Primary Kindness Project

Twenty years ago, Daniel Goleman's groundbreaking book on emotional intelligence redefined what it means to be "smart" (Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, 1995). Goleman had first encountered the concept of emotional intelligence in a 1990 academic article by two psychologists, Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey - a read that inspired him to further develop the concept. Since the early 1990s, research has continually demonstrated that an individual's Emotional Quotient (EQ) is often a better predictor of social and occupational success than traditional IQ scores.

A person's emotional intelligence is typically defined as their ability to identify and manage their own emotions in addition to identifying the emotions of others and gauging how to best respond. Unfortunately, according to the latest wave of data from the Human Early Learning Partnership's Early Development Instrument (2011/12-2012/13), Central Okanagan's kindergarten population is increasingly vulnerable in terms of their social competence and emotional maturity.

While a growing public awareness about the importance of early literacy and numeracy has resulted in improved scores in Language and Cognitive Development, we must now learn how to better foster social and emotional skills. Looking ahead, the challenge for parents and teachers will be the fostering of children who include others in play, share, display empathy, and are capable of recognizing and appropriately communicating emotions.

To better understand pro-social behaviours among young school-aged kids, Dr. John-Tyler Binfet, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, executed innovative research on children's perceptions of kindness. With support from the Central Okanagan Foundation, Dr. Binfet and his research assistants conducted 652 interviews with kids aged five to eight years old (K-3) within School District #23. Students were asked to draw two pictures: one of him or herself showing kindness at school and one of their teacher showing kindness. With a researcher taking notes, students interpreted their drawings, explaining who is depicted and what's happening in the image.

Binfet then analyzed the drawings for thematic patterns. Students' drawings of their own kindness depicted them doing acts that maintained friendships, showing respect to others, and physically helping others. Students' drawings of teacher kindness revealed teaching itself as a kind act, however there was a distinction between teachers academically helping individuals and teaching directed towards the entire class.

Boys and girls of the same age group tend to perceive kindness in similar ways, yet thematic differences were evident between the age cohorts. In student drawings of themselves showing kindness at school, those in second grade emphasized physically helping others. In student drawings of teachers showing kindness, 54% of kindergarten students viewed teaching as an act of kindness. By third grade, this number fell to 4%. Nevertheless, as Binfet concludes, "educators may take comfort in the overall finding that, through providing instruction to students, they are both modeling and enacting kindness and that this kindness does not go unnoticed by students."

Dr. Binfet's latest research on social-emotional learning brings him back into the classrooms of School District #23. This time, however, the study focuses on the teaching of social and emotional competencies in schools from the perspective of teachers and administrators. Knowing what we do from the data collected by the Human Early Learning Partnership, Binfet's research is both timely and valuable for our community.