Perhaps you know a child who struggles with math or has a difficult time with writing skills. However, if you put her on the playground with other kids, she has an amazing ability to draw others together. If another kid feels left out, she draws him back into the group with a joke or smile. This child may not tip the scales on traditional intelligence tests, but she exhibits an equally important trait–emotional intelligence.
The theory of emotional intelligence gained traction in 1983, when Howard Gardner published his theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner argued that traditional IQ measures focus too much on academic abilities and fail to assess other important competencies. He promoted the ideas of interpersonal intelligence (the ability to understand and relate to others) as well as intrapersonal intelligence (the capacity to understand and regulate one’s feelings and motivations). Several researchers, including Daniel Goleman, later developed these ideas to create the concept of emotional intelligence, which refers to a person’s ability to identify, understand, and modulate emotions–both one’s own feelings as well as the emotions of others.
It seems intuitive that emotional intelligence is just as important as traditional intelligence. Yet, with the current focus on raising standardized test scores and improving school performance, teachers are under increasing pressure to focus on reading, mathematics, science, and other “core subjects.” The time has come to shift the focus. Raising emotional intelligence in students can lead to better academic outcomes, safer learning environments, and improved behavior in children.
Developing Emotional Intelligence in the Classroom
Teachers can try the following techniques in the classroom to help students cultivate emotional intelligence.
- Identify emotions. Most students have rich emotional lives, but they may lack the vocabulary to adequately describe their feelings. Ask probing questions to get students to acknowledge their emotions. For example, “Are you really feeling angry right now, or are you hurt that Emily said mean things to you?”
- Validate feelings. Ask questions about how a student is feeling, and say “I can understand why you feel that way. I would be frustrated too if I was having trouble with that math problem.” This promotes empathy, compassion, and concern for others.
- Empower students to create solutions. Instead of instructing students on what they “should” do, allow them to resolve problems on their own. Asking, “What would help you feel better?” gives the student a chance to identify his feelings, determine his emotional needs, and enact a solution. These problem-solving skills promote knowledge of own’s emotions as well as consideration of others’ feelings.
Promoting emotional intelligence is just one part of employing SEL in an educational setting, but it has the potential to dramatically change classroom dynamics.
Ferrando, M., Prieto, M.D., Almeida, L.S., Ferrandiz, C., Bermejo, R., Lopez-Pina, J.A., Hernandez, D., Sainz., M., & Fernandez, M-C. (2011). Trait emotional intelligence and academic performance: Controlling for the effects of IQ, personality, and self-concept. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment 29(2), 150-159.
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.
Salovey, P. & Sluyter, D. (1997). Emotional development and emotional intelligence: Educational implications. New York: Basic Books.