Emotional Intelligence: Why It Matters And How To Teach It

Teaching youngsters life skills that can help them achieve academically and socially includes active listening, self-awareness, and empathy.

In our work with schools, we often hear experts in the field of education discuss the need of fostering the emotional intelligence of both children and staff. But just what do we mean? Why and how should instructors encourage their student’s growth in this area?

The five key components of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, emotional regulation, self-motivation, empathy, and relational skills. It is necessary for effective interpersonal communication and, as a result, opens the door to greater education, friendships, academic achievement, and jobs. These kinds of abilities, which we build throughout our early years in school, often provide the groundwork for later-in-life routines.

The book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by journalist Daniel Goleman, published in the middle of the 1990s, popularized the phrase emotional intelligence. Psychologists disagree with the book’s assertion that emotional intelligence is more significant than IQ, although it seems that emotional intelligence may have a role in academic success.

Illustrious research that followed high-IQ kids from early adulthood to late adulthood discovered that those who were successful in their adult careers had higher levels of “willpower, tenacity, and drive to improve.” Deferred gratification and self-control are crucial, according to research from the landmark marshmallow test, which allowed kids to choose to have more sweets if they could wait to consume them. These traits have been related to improved academic performance, financial success, and work satisfaction.

We think it’s important for schools to examine some of the emotional intelligence’s key characteristics, regardless of disagreements about whether it can be assessed. How? Read on.

Active hearing
Genuine two-way communication depends on the ability to actively listen, which involves much more than merely paying attention. It involves actively listening to what is being said, responding to others with your body language, and then verbally summarizing back the main points you have heard to show that you have understood.

In the classroom, this can affect how students take on feedback from teachers. A recent review found that 38% of feedback interventions do more harm than good. This may be in part because people often make common mistakes when receiving feedback – misinterpreting it as being a personal judgment on who they are, for example, and thinking about when the speaker will finish talking so they can reply instead of listening fully to what is being said.

For more details on the importance of Sex education

A vocabulary for feelings
According to researcher Lisa Barrett, increasing students’ emotional vocabulary can improve their interpersonal skills. Students should be encouraged to distinguish between being “sad,” “disappointed,” and “upset” so that they can develop the best strategies for each. In other words, each new emotion word you learn gives you a new tool for developing your emotional intelligence.

Playing the alphabet game with the class to see how many different emotions you can think of for each letter of the alphabet is an easy way to explain this to the students. Afterward, talk about the differences between the two, what might cause the emotions, and how each student might react. If you’re looking for ideas on this, this poster is a good place to start.

Increasing awareness of oneself
Low self-awareness puts us at risk of failing to recognize how we appear to others and allowing an inflated self-image to influence our behavior and social interactions.

In a well-known study, researchers once asked students how they felt they performed on a test before comparing their feelings to their actual scores. The majority of students overestimated their aptitude, with students who performed poorly the most likely to exhibit this. This is known as The Dunning-Kruger effect and is one of the most common thinking biases in education.

They also found that strategies to help students improve their self-awareness include teaching them metacognitive strategies. One way of doing this is to encourage them to ask self-reflective questions such as “What could I have done differently?” Or use a communication self-evaluation questionnaire, which can help students begin to understand their interpersonal skills.

Showing empathy as being ‘with’ others
Empathy is the ability to take the perspective of another person while being non-judgemental, recognizing the emotions they are feeling, and being able to convey their perspective back to them. Evidence suggests that reading is a great way to develop this skill. Researcher Brené Brown’s animated short video is also a great conversation starter to use with students.

Reflecting on the other person’s perspective helps to make the other person feel understood, which in turn increases the likelihood of collaboration and support. Children generally develop empathy through observing how others show it – including watching teachers and students empathize with each other. Using phrases such as “I understand/realize/can see” can help to show students how understanding of other perspective can be expressed.

Managing emotions and self-regulation
The Sutton Trust states that helping students improve their self-regulation – the ability to manage thoughts and feelings – is one of the most effective and efficient ways to support students. This is especially so in secondary schools, with the gap between impulse control and sensation seeking being at its widest in early teenage years.

What do self-regulation techniques look like? There are approaches that are used by athletes which can be applied to the classroom – the principles remain the same. These include seeing events as an opportunity rather than a threat and helpful self-talk , for example. Reinforce to students that emotional management skills are not fixed but can be developed. This takes a considerable amount of effort and patience from both the student and the teacher, as it is often a gradual process over a large period of time.

Bradley Busch is a registered psychologist, director at InnerDrive and author of Release Your Inner Drive. Follow @Inner Drive on Twitter. Ben Oakley is a senior lecturer at The Open University.

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