While academic attainment remains an important objective for all schools, the comprehensive development of each child is nowadays the ultimate goal. Yet with more and more children presenting with behavioral issues such as anger, attention deficit, bullying and lying, managing a modern day class room can be extremely challenging. Could the answer to this complex conundrum lie in the development of better social and emotional skills? Here we find out more about emotional intelligence and its application in the classroom setting.
What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is a term used to describe a person’s capacity to recognize, understand, control and evaluate emotions. It is a practical skill which means the individual is able to pick up on other’s emotions (through for example non-verbal signals), accurately interpret the meaning of emotions and respond in a controlled and managed way. These complementary elements form a powerful package which explains why some people with average IQs outperform peers with higher levels of measured intelligence.
Emotional intelligence and learning
According to the famous Greek philosopher Plato,
“All learning has an emotional base.”
A more recent study conducted by a Chicago based team of researchers would appear to confirm Plato’s position on this subject. This large scale project involved over 270,000 children from kindergarten up to high school age, and in excess of 200 school based programs which focused on social and emotional learning (SEL). According to their findings, the children who participated in the SEL programs exhibited better social and emotional skills, behavior, attitudes and their academic achievement jumped an average of 11 percentile points. Mark Brackett, a senior psychology researcher at Yale University also believes that there is strong evidence to support an increased focus on emotional skills development. In an address to a major educator’s conference last year he said,
“Something we now know, from doing dozens of studies, is that emotions can either enhance or hinder your ability to learn. They affect our attention and our memory.”
Emotional intelligence and classroom behavior
Applying emotional intelligence techniques can fundamentally alter the feel of a classroom and what goes on in it. Children learn better in an environment which is emotionally safe i.e. where they feel secure, happy and excited about what is going on. Positive emotions can significantly enhance their capacity to absorb and process information. On the flipside, negative emotions such as anxiety and anger can serve as a distraction and thus reduce their potential to successfully accomplish the tasks in hand. These negative emotions can manifest themselves in different ways – from the classroom fight to a student quietly withdrawing. Both outcomes are equally damaging to the overall performance of the class. In a poll of teachers across the country, 62 percent of those who responded said that behavior issues have considerably worsened with the biggest problem perceived to be at elementary level.
Emotional intelligence classroom strategies
Here are some examples of activities which will help children develop emotional intelligence skills:
- Self awareness and expression – Often when children, especially younger kids, encounter emotions they struggle to find the words to articulate their feelings. This lack of vocabulary can restrict them in clearly expressing their specific emotions, and result in them resorting to generic terms such as ‘angry’ and ‘sad’. Teachers can assist in addressing this challenge by asking questions which create a path for the child to recognize and label their emotion.
- Regulation and control- Once the child can recognize and describe their feeling it’s time to cultivate their ability to get a handle on the outward expression of the emotion, i.e. their behavior. Consistent and clear communication of the message that it is possible to choose how to react to a given set of circumstances is critical. Reassure the child that it’s ok to feel frustrated if someone takes their pencil, but also explain that there are alternative responses than hitting or shouting. This promotes confidence in their own capacity to control how they act and react.
- Nurturing empathy- This area focuses on listening and caring skills. Creating positive patterns of engagement with those around them can significantly enhance the child’s levels of emotional intelligence. The key abilities are to listen to what other people say and recognize their needs. The potentially tricky bit is being able to see a situation from another person’s perspective- in other words empathize. This can be challenging for adults never mind children and will take time to develop. Seize everyday opportunities to generate sympathetic responses from the class such as examples on TV. Ideally pick examples which the children can identify with.
Disney Pixar’s latest movie ‘Inside Out’ provides an excellent platform for such a discussion because it acknowledges complicated emotions prompted by a central event.
Baptist minister turned attorney Joseph Fort Newton once said,
“We cannot tell what may happen to us in this strange medley of life. But we can decide what happens in us – how we can take it, what we do with it- and that is what really counts in the end.”
Promoting emotional intelligence in the classroom could give the next generation of students the opportunity to make positive responses to the rich tapestries of their future lives and reach even higher levels of academic achievement.
This article was written by Helen Calvert.