George Lucas Educational Foundation

Daniel Goleman on the Importance of Cultivating Focus (Video Playlist)

Best-selling author and social-emotional learning pioneer Daniel Goleman offers tips and insights from his new book about how focus drives achievement and success.
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

Daniel Goleman: The Emotional Atmosphere of a Classroom Matters (Transcript)

Daniel Goleman: If I could change one thing in education, it would be making explicit the now implicit understanding that the emotional atmosphere of the classroom matters. It's not irrelevant; in fact, it's essential to learning. And the reason it's essential to learning, from the scientific point of view, is that the emotional centers of the brain actually can take over the centers for learning, and so our attention goes from what the teacher is saying to that thing that's upsetting us, and the failure to understand this, I think, handicaps education as a system. So, if we were to make explicit the fact that "yes" it matters that students feel safe; it matters that students feel calm; it matters that they're attentive. And they won't be attentive unless they're calm and now that we're ready to learn, we can go ahead.

Get Video
Embed Code Embed Help

You are welcome to embed this video, download it for personal use, or use it in a presentation for a conference, class, workshop, or free online course, so long as a prominent credit or link back to Edutopia is included. If you'd like more detailed information about Edutopia's allowed usages, please see the Licenses section of our Terms of Use.

  • Field Producer: Marjan Tehrani
  • Consulting Producer: Amanda Hirsch
  • Director of Photography: Gabriel Noble
  • Editor: Jessica Gidal
  • Gaffer: Brian Sachson
  • Audio Tech: Michael Martin
  • Second Camera Assistant: Rob Thomas
  • Associate Producer: Douglas Keely
  • Senior Manager of Video: Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Executive Producer: David Markus

Daniel Goleman is an internationally known psychologist, author, and science journalist. Goleman wrote the New York Times bestseller Emotional Intelligence; his latest book is Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. Goleman is also a co-founder of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Keep up to date with Goleman on Twitter or on his website.

View Individual Videos on YouTube:

  1. Daniel Goleman: The Emotional Atmosphere of a Classroom Matters (1:10)
  2. Daniel Goleman: Three Kinds of Focus (1:33)
  3. Daniel Goleman: Distraction is the New Normal (1:24)
  4. Daniel Goleman: Breathing Buddies (1:48)
  5. Daniel Goleman: Attention is Like a Muscle (1:16)
  6. Daniel Goleman: The Importance of Downtime (1:34)
  7. Daniel Goleman: Parents Teach Focus (1:34)

More Edutopia Resources for Cultivating Focus

Comments (14) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

valeriechernek's picture
Disability Advocate - Sharing what works in educational technology

Daniel teaches very important concepts on "emotional intelligence" that should be taught in every classroom. These lessons can change your life and help you touch the people around you in special ways. Children and adults who are more mindful and intuitive are more likely to be healthy and whole. Please share his works!

Jill's picture
Assistant Administrator at Georgia Cyber Academy

Working for a virtual school it is a constant focus for us to engage students and to create the environment the Daniel is referencing in the video. It is more difficult when you can't see the faces of the students. Does anyone have any suggestions that work for them if they are in virtual education as well?

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

Hi Jill,

I don't have any resources ready at hand, but I'll ask around the community to see if anyone has some recommendations for you.

Zainab's picture
K-12 teacher from UAE, Dubai

Hello Jill,

Based on my experience as an online teacher, I found that the best solution is to deal with the students as friends and only friends.

Actually, it took me a long time before I succeed in bringing "most of them" together and "persuade" them to attend and participate actively in the classroom. You will need to discover their interests and invest these interests to serve your classroom. I am using many tools to bring myself closer to them by using emotion faces in typing, sending simple gifts to their living address, sharing with them my room view or my picture when I was a baby and asking them to do the same.

In the classroom, online students will me more attracted to the lesson if it is built based on the idea of constructivism (social negotiation, complex learning environments, learner centered instruction together with instructional methods found in online learning such as collaboration, cognitive apprenticeships, and/or hypermedia, simulations, avatars, etc.).

Shelley- TheWriteStuff's picture
Shelley- TheWriteStuff
2nd grade teacher in British Columbia, Canada

Hi Jill,
I don't work in virtual education but some of the activities I developed in my resource may be what you need as they teach self awareness. I don't want to spam this with products so if you are interested in looking at it I can send you the link. My email is

:) Shelley

momof2's picture
parent of 2 in changing times south africa

I was extremely moved by your comments on emotional atmosphere of a classroom. My son has just started primary school and is so anxious about attending school that he cannot breathe as he gets to the gate. I am aware that his teacher shouts a lot and that the children are terrified of her but I cannot say that this has been directed at my son. I have spoken to the school about teacher who has a bad reputation for this. Despite being treated kindly, my son is still battling to settle. Im so concerned that by keeping him in this environment, I am not alowing him to develop a love for learning but don't want to create additional stress by moving him either. Other parents have mentioned to me that teachers harsh discipline caused stuttering in their children and adults who were taught by her remember it as a terrifying experience.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Wow- that sounds pretty intense. Are there other school options that would work for you and for him? Speaking as a mom, I can understand your desire not to exchange one kind of stress from another, but the stress of moving schools is actually quite brief, particularly in the early days and years while kids are still getting to know each other. It might be worth taking him on a visit to some other schools or classrooms, if that's feasible, to see if he feels better in a different environment. I'm not at all familiar with your local situation, of course, but I think you might find better long-term payoff by changing situations. (On a related note, I can't help but wonder why on Earth the school keeps this teacher on if she has such a reputation as a bully, but again- I'm not in your local context.)

Good luck and please check back in to let us know how he's doing!

momof2's picture
parent of 2 in changing times south africa

Thank you for your kind words of concern. I am considering a move to another school. Although, my son has been a bit happier, I am concerned that the children are being treated very harshly. For the past 2 consecutive days the children (grade 1 and 2) have had detention during their tea break as a couple of children were talking in the early morning line up. In the past, I have supported a disciplined approach to learning, as I feel that it is imperative that order and respect is maintained at school. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the discipline metered out is no longer having the desired effect on the offenders, as it is not uncommon for the whole school to be disciplined in this way on a regular basis. I feel that if they singled out the offenders rather than punishing the whole school, then school would be seen as a safer place and less of a punitive institution.

As with most things in life there are additional complications. South Africa has recently launched a new curriculum called CAPS in order to make up for the short-comings of the previous system. Whilst this system looks like a good idea on paper, practically it places both the teachers and learners under a huge amount of duress. I spoke to an experienced teacher last week about the system and she echoed my concerns. According to her there is simply not enough time allocated to consolidate basic fundamental principles before moving on to the next topic. The subject matter is too advanced for the ages its intended for, and children are not able to develop integral communication and language skills before being moved on. I was advised that the only way my children would learn these basic skills, was if they received further, lengthy instruction at home. Although, I am prepared to do this I do not want my children to suffer burn-out due to the excessive pressure being placed on them.

If I move the children to another government school, they too, will have to comply with this system. Another possible option is homeschooling, where I feel that I will limit the children's social activities and isolate them from society. Private schooling would have been ideal except for the fact that we don't have any private schools in our area and would have to move. Apart from that, it is prohibitively expensive, and, at the moment, not an option for us.

For now, I am keeping an eye on what is happening and considering our options. South Africa is such an amazing country and we are extremely blessed to live here.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

You have such a lovely perspective on such a difficult situation. I've seen very similar issues here in the US with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Teachers have many of the same complaints and the stress is, in many ways, very much the same as well. I agree with you that the discipline seems to be overly harsh (and I would add, not terribly developmentally appropriate). Can you visit another school or two, just to see how they might be different?

If homeschooling is an option for your family, you might also find that there are a number of "home school networks" where students come together for activities and social events. In the US these are very prevalent. (I don't homeschool my own children, but I have a number of colleagues and friends who have, for various reasons, and they've found that the isolation they feared never really came to pass.)

Good luck!

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.