Emotional intelligence is an important element in people’s well-being and is being seen as an increasingly important life skill that helps us achieve in education and work. Studies have shown that people with high emotional intelligence often succeed further in life than those with a high IQ.
Gardner’s study of multiple intelligences highlighted intra- and inter-personal intelligence which gives people the ability to understand their own and other’s feelings and emotions. Further research showed emotional intelligence as a sub-category of social intelligence, providing competencies such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, good decision making, and relationship management. This leads to an individual who is good at teamwork, uses effective communication, engages with projects, upholds ethical expectations, inspires innovation, and offers high levels of productivity. With the recent drive to embed employability skills into education, there has never been a better time to incorporate emotional intelligence into your teaching practice!
Teaching has been recognised as a career that requires a high level of emotional intelligence and is a necessary part of successful student-centred learning and creating a positive learning atmosphere. Teachers with higher emotional intelligence have also shown greater resilience to teacher burnout.
Emotional Intelligence is also highly important in a young person’s development. It has been shown to help them with stress resilience, relationship development, and handling transitions by using their emotions effectively and allowing them to adapt quickly. This is why it is taking an increasingly valued place in all aspects of education and it is important that the teacher facilitates learning that will help to increase this way of thinking because although some people have a high level of natural emotional intelligence, there is also much we can do to increase it.
Emotional intelligence helps to manage our emotions and rationalise our response to them. This has been linked to higher academic achievement on the grounds that those with higher emotional intelligence find it easier to remain calm and optimistic, can set themselves achievable personal goals, and are self-motivated to achieve them. It has also been suggested that it will help with transitions such as going to university; where new relationships need to be formed and personal independence increases rapidly.
So how can we help our students to develop their emotions?
Active Listening can be a useful tool for teachers to understand student mindsets and their motivations. Teachers can use active listening to facilitate open dialogues with their students. For ESL students, it is also a great way of eliciting independent answers from your student and building a rapport with them. Here are some top tips on achieving active listening with your student:
• Use positive body language to show that you are focused and interested in the conversation, such as maintaining an open posture and nodding to acknowledge what they are telling you. Use your hands to be expressive and incorporate TPR to help support understanding.
• Use appropriate verbal responses, such as asking extension questions or paraphrasing what they have told you to show they understand, for example, if the Bready tells you about an upcoming exam, you can say ‘So you have an exam next week. What subject is it in? Are you nervous?’
• Ensure the environment encourages positive communication. A bright, warm, and engaging environment will help make your student feel comfortable. For online teaching, ensuring you have good lighting, clear audio, and a decent quality camera goes a long way to achieving this.
• Allow students to play an active role in constructing the feedback you give them in class, to avoid a one-way dialogue that makes them feel they have no control over the process.
Another way to help facilitate your student with emotional intelligence is the use of self-awareness exercises to help them become attuned to their internal thoughts and feelings, especially any negative self-views they may be holding, and help them to challenge these views. Unfortunately, as human beings, our internal dialogue can be somewhat negative and critical when it comes to how we view ourselves and the responses this invokes can sometimes be irrational, especially with teenage students who also have the added pressures of exam stress, high social expectations from their peers, not to mention the avalanche of hormones flooding their body.
One example of how a teacher can help a student with this is to get them to keep a diary. This can help them to better understand their feelings and look out for any patterns. What is triggering their anxiety? What helps them to feel better? This can also be a great homework task that promotes writing skills and sentence construction.
These types of activities do not need to be standalone aspects of your lesson. You can incorporate self-awareness exercises into your everyday teaching topics with the use of extension questions that allow the student to reflect on their own thoughts and feelings regarding a situation. This may vary from a closed question such as ‘would this make you happy or sad?’ with a beginner, right through to fully self-aware and independent responses from a higher-level student.
If a teacher decides to tackle emotional intelligence in the classroom, the most important aspect is to help students avoid a negative spiral of self-talk. After a negative experience, it is natural to feel bad, but if you then start a negative internal dialogue this will make you feel even worse. Your behaviour in response to this could lead to more negative experiences. As a teacher, we need to help young people understand their feelings.
• Acknowledge the reality that negative things do occur and that feeling bad about them is natural.
• Emphasize that it’s when we repeat these negative thoughts and allow them to take over, that situations can become worse.
• Focus on positive aspects and allow these areas to flourish.
This can be developed further through the use of examples and inviting students to give positive alternative self-talk alternatives. At the end of the lesson, emphasize again that the first step to challenging negative self-talk is to become aware of it.
The world can be extremely stressful for children and young people and as teachers, it is important that we promote not only academic learning but also life skills to help students succeed and maintain wellbeing. Whether you decide to fully encompass this new approach, or just add a few small aspects, you could be making a big difference for your students!