Growing student emotional intelligence: A worksheet just won’t cut it!

As I explore different online information, I often come across a variety of mindset-type resources. Whilst the idea of supporting students to develop self-confidence, resilience and an ability to reframe their thinking is hugely important, some approaches I come across (in my opinion), do not go to the depth we need to be exploring.

Stats of the Nation

In 2016 a NZ Ministry of Health annual report highlighted the realities of student emotional well-being finding:

“Children diagnosed with behavioural or emotional issues has doubled to 34,000 since 2006/7”.

“More than 15,500 children were diagnosed with anxiety – up from 2800 in the 2013”.

There were a staggering 606 suicides in New Zealand in the year 2016-2107!

The UN agency has ranked New Zealand 34th out of 41 OECD and European Union nations after averaging out a series of key social indicators.

The report found New Zealand had the worst rate in the world at 15.6 per 100,000 people in the designated age bracket (15-19).

It was twice as bad as the American youth suicide rate and almost five times worse than Britain’s.

If we really want to support our youth to develop deep resiliency and self-belief, we need to do things differently.

A tool to help

Within the field of mBraining, there is a belief that we have three brains; head, heart and gut. In actual fact, we have neurons in each of these brains. Each of these brains have differing functions.


  • COGNITIVE PERCEPTION – cognition, perception, pattern recognition, etc.

  • THINKING – reasoning, abstraction, analysis, synthesis, meta-cognition etc.

  • MAKING MEANING – semantic processing, languaging, narrative, metaphor, etc.


  • EMOTING – emotional processing (e.g. anger, grief, hatred, joy, happiness etc.)

  • VALUES – processing what’s important to you and your priorities (and its relationship to the emotional strength of your aspirations, dreams, desires, etc.)

  • RELATIONAL AFFECT – your felt connection with others (e.g. feelings of love/hate/indifference, compassion/uncaring, like/dislike, etc.)


  • CORE IDENTITY – a deep and visceral sense of core self, and determining at the deepest levels what is ‘self’ versus ‘not-self

  • SELF-PRESERVATION – protection of self, safety, boundaries, hungers and aversions

  • MOBILIZATION – motility, impulse for action, gutsy courage and the will to act

Oka, M. & Soosalu, G. (2012. P. 45).

Putting mBraining into action

To influence student thinking at deeper levels, we need to be able to access not just their head-brain through worksheets, but create rich learning opportunities for students to experience being in the ‘pit’, then support them to move out of it. These opportunities are everywhere; however we do need to recognise and optimise them.

One example of this comes from my mahi alongside a teacher who was supporting her Year 4 & 5 students to explore the use of digital technologies in their learning. The students were working on various projects. Whilst there was a digital technology learning focus, there was also deeper learning occurring. As the teacher roved, she was asking questions such as

  • “ Who/ How do you need to be as you do this learning?”,

  • “I noticed that when you found this tricky, you gave up and moved to another task – where else in your learning do you repeat this behaviour and what might you do differently?”,

  • “What helped you to get out of the pit and where else could you apply these strategies?”,

  • “To what extent have you stretched yourself within this project – how might you take yourself into the pit?”

These were questions that challenged the students to address their emotions (heart-brain) and dig-deeper into the underlying patterns of behaviour (gut brain) that were helping or hindering their learning and personal growth. No worksheet can do this.

If we want our youth to develop their emotional intelligence, we need to do three things:

  1. Create rich learning opportunities for them to experience challenge.

  2. Share information about how new neural pathways are created, and the learning pit we experience as we create these pathways.

  3. Ask the deeper questions that support them to reflect-on their emotional responses and behaviours, then support them with alternative strategies.

Need a speaker?

There are plenty of speakers to choose from. I am not the norm. You won’t be bored to tears by the same ole’ approach and dribble. How about bringing Mary-Anne for the conference or all-staff day.

Give me a stage and I’ll own it. Give me a room and I’ll energise it. Give me your people and I’ll inform and inspire them. 

Need virtual delivery – no sweat! I have facilitated virtual full and half-day workshops, virtual keynote speaking at online conferences, and might I say, you still get the Mary-Anne goodness you deserve!

More details here


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