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Many specialized programs and curricula used in schools today have been inspired, in part, by emotional intelligence theory. They were created to help educators both understand and apply emotional and social intelligence in their schools, mainly for the purposes of preventing and managing behavioral issues as well as fostering safe and supportive learning environments. These programs help to address the emotional needs of the students, which literally helps to develop the architecture of their brains, making it possible for them to learn (brain architecture). Emotional intelligence is not innate knowledge; it’s learned. So, it’s important to be mindful that children who are considered to be gifted may also lack EI skills (Brackett, M. A., Rivers, S. E., and Salovey, P. 2011).
In other words, emotional intelligence skills help to meet the needs of students. There are varying personality types and demographics across the spectrum. By cultivating an emotionally intelligent classroom, we can meet the emotional needs of students who, through no fault of their own, might not have learned these skills yet. Doing this fosters better relationships: between students in the classroom, the teacher-student relationship, and ideally, outside of school as well. Learning these skills has the potential to positively impact lives throughout their lifetime, including but not limited to developing a positive self-concept and forging healthy family-life relationships now and into adulthood. This ultimately helps foster healthy communities. This paper aims to provide basic knowledge about emotional intelligence and why educators should consider this when conceptualizing their classroom environment.
How it works
Emotional intelligence is not necessarily a new concept, and yet coming to a consensus about exactly how to define and measure it is still a work in progress (Mayer et al., 2016). In this paper, emotional intelligence will be defined as one’s ability to accurately understand, perceive, and manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others (Mayer et al., 2016). I believe the first and crucial step in the implementation of creating an emotionally intelligent classroom is the ability for the educator to become fluent in the understanding, practicing, and applying of emotional intelligence skills.
Today, many programs, books, and other forms of learning materials are available for individuals desiring to improve their emotional intelligence for personal growth, and for teachers and entire school districts. It’s notable to mention that, like many other skills, it’s not going to be learned overnight. It takes time and practice to really gain the benefits, which is important when trying to teach and model it for others. An excellent place to start learning about EI is by reading the academic journal(s) written by the two psychologists responsible for coining the term emotional intelligence, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer (1990).
There are also tests for measuring your EQ (emotional quotient). These tests can be expensive, such as the Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT). However, there are cheaper and more simplified versions available, such as the book “Emotional Intelligence 2.0,” which includes a simple, quick questionnaire. This allows you to sign up online and get the results of your EQ score right away (Bradberry, T., and Greaves, J. 2009). It also advises you on your strengths and weaknesses regarding EI and then helps guide you on ways that can help you improve in those areas.
Yale University has a center dedicated to emotional intelligence. It was founded by Peter Salovey. They offer a program to assist educators in implementing emotional and social intelligence in schools. The program is called RULER: Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing, and Regulating Emotions (Brackett, M. A., and Rivers, S. E., 2014). Daniel Goleman’s book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ,” is credited with popularizing Salovey’s work, Mayer’s original EI theory, and connecting the concept of EI to issues many people can relate to in their daily lives (Goleman, D., 2010). Goleman’s book interested many readers. It addressed questions like how to have better marriages or experience greater success and satisfaction in the workplace. But it also gained attention for making the connection between emotional intelligence, learning, and societal impact. He also hypothesized how EI could be used as a preventive measure against mental illness (Goleman, 2010, p. 276). I couldn’t agree more.
Mental illness isn’t a topic many of us want to broach; however, many of us have been directly affected by it. The National Alliance on Mental Health reported that approximately one in five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year (NAMI). One in five! In other words, we cannot ignore the fact that we, and the ones we care about, to an extent, are affected by mental illness. NAMI further clarifies that “approximately one in every 25 adults experiences mental illness in a given year, which considerably interferes with or limits one or more major life activities (NAMI).”
This means that perhaps the adult cannot hold down a full-time job, maintain healthy relationships, might need hospitalization for some duration, or perhaps has to drop out of school to address their mental health needs. The implications for a family’s income, a person’s self-concept, and their ability to learn could be significant. NAMI’s statistics report that approximately one in five youth aged 13–18 will have a serious mental illness at some point during their lives. The average delay between the onset of symptoms and intervention is 8–10 years. They also report that 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24 (NAMI).
These statistics show just how crucial it is to address emotional health as early as possible. Although these reports can be sobering, the flip side is the fact that we have the statistics and, with them, the ability to effect change. We can use this information to help prevent or decrease symptoms in those individuals who are genetically predisposed to mental illness and/or those who may have been impacted by environmental stressors such as mental and/or physical abuse, neglect, or other traumatic events. And perhaps it is sobering, but I would argue that we as human beings aren’t experiencing anything radically new; rather, we are gaining more exposure to others’ experiences. We now have more refined models for gathering and interpreting data in relation to our modern societies, as well as the ways in which it can be shared, compared, and contrasted so quickly through the internet and other social media outlets.
Along with learning about your EQ, it’s beneficial to become more familiar with your personality type and the personalities and characteristics of others. I’m not suggesting that you become an expert on personalities, but merely indicating that it can be beneficial to gain insight into how you interpret and relate to the world around you and what needs you have based on that information. The same goes for others, namely your future students and co-workers, who will not always share your traits.
For instance, I know that I am considered a highly sensitive person, or HSP (Aron, E. N., 2017). This doesn’t mean I cry a lot; it means that I have an extremely sensitive nervous system. As a result, I am extremely aware of stimuli around me, which makes it difficult to filter the abundance of incoming information and then interpret the data while at the same time trying not to become overstimulated physiologically, which can further stress the nervous system and be energy-draining. On the other hand, it helps me to be intuitive, pick up subtleties in my environment, and sometimes spot patterns that others may fail to see. This became really evident when I was working in banking: I would spot counterfeit money at higher rates than other co-workers. However, on the downside, I would often feel completely drained by the end of the day from the constant small talk with clients and teammates.
I enjoy having fewer but deeper, more meaningful conversations and friendships, both of which are characteristics of being an HSP and an INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging) based on the Myers-Briggs personality test, another way to assess personality traits (Keirsey, D., and Bates, M. M., 2006). Understanding these aspects of my personality helps me to navigate through the world better, making use of my natural gifts while respecting the limits of my mind and body—perhaps creating an internal homeostasis. When we don’t understand these things about ourselves, it can lead to burnout and frustration.
It’s important to respect that kids generally come to school having developed certain personality traits; however, they are not yet able to understand why things are overwhelming to them (over-stimulated), not fulfilling enough (under-stimulated), or why they are introverted (meta-cognition, internal processes of thinking that may be mistaken for daydreaming or inattention). This lack of understanding may cause a teacher to think the child isn’t engaged. As educators, having some knowledge in these areas can help cultivate an environment that doesn’t necessarily cater to each student’s needs but rather helps recognize different students’ needs in a way that can be realistically applied. This allows you, as the teacher, to teach and model for the child how to make adjustments within their environment or internally to meet their needs, and therefore, learn.
I wholeheartedly agree that integrating programs and curricula that teach social-emotional learning into our schools help meet and address some of these needs. Some schools have even adopted trauma-informed programs, representing a step in the right direction. Stopping further trauma is vital, but now we need to work on preventing the trauma in the first place. I believe that we have yet to realize the full potential of emotional and social learning as a means to prevent the onset of mental illness before it fully manifests itself, or at least to foster greater resilience within those who are currently managing a mental illness.
Moreover, I don’t believe there is anyone who can’t benefit from learning about emotional intelligence. Many aspects of life are static, including emotional intelligence, but our brains, at least to a certain extent, are adaptable. To me, this is exciting and encouraging; it’s up to us as educators to teach this to our students and inspire them to consider how they want to shape their minds. After all, the collective emotional health of our children is what is going to shape our future communities.
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