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Teaching Emotional Intelligence

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

As adults, we take for granted that we have the ability to understand and manage our emotions and related behaviors in our lives. However, as teachers, we need to be sure we give students an opportunity to develop their own emotional awareness in the classroom. This lesson will look at strategies for teaching emotional intelligence in the classroom.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Did you ever have an argument with someone, such as a friend or a coworker, and then find yourself unable to concentrate at work or in church? This phenomenon is driven by your emotional intelligence. This term was coined in the late 1990s as part of studies in human behavior. The first aspect this term addresses is the ability of a person to understand, and manage, their emotions. However, it also includes our ability to understand and influence emotions in other people in both positive and negative ways.

Start off the Day on the Right Foot

The simplest, and easiest strategy, to develop emotional intelligence in your students is the morning meeting. This is a whole class activity that you conduct each morning to start your day in the classroom. This can include reviewing the agenda for the day, but it also is an opportunity to teach students skills beyond your state standards. As adults, we take for granted that children arrive in the classroom with the emotional intelligence to communicate their feelings. However, many of your students will need to practice how to communicate their feels about topics appropriately.

For example, one activity you might have in the morning meeting is a class discussion on a chosen topic. In this discussion, the teacher models how to have a conversation, and gives each student in the class a chance to practice communicating their ideas and feeling about the topic to their peers. The teacher would also model active listening for students, by modeling and then encouraging them to use phrases such as 'What I hear you saying is …' or 'You think that …'. The more students see the teacher and their peers practicing ways of communicating their feelings, the more likely they are to begin to incorporate those communication strategies into their conversations.

Teaching Emotional Intelligence in Morning Meetings
Teaching Emotional Intelligence in Morning Meetings

Teach Responsibility Explicitly

Part of building students' emotional intelligence revolves around teaching responsibility, or accountability for our actions, in the classroom. This means finding ways to give students opportunities to practice responsibility in the classroom, and deal with the positive and sometimes negative consequences associated with responsibility. Depending on the level you are teaching, this system of 'jobs' in your classroom may look a little different.

For example, if you teach in an elementary classroom, you may develop a series of jobs that students will rotate through every week. You might have a line leader, a snack helper, and a paper passer-outer. Other students may have a job to help clean up your learning centers, or even clean the tables at the end of the day. In middle school or high school classrooms, the responsibilities may be assigned a bit differently. For example, when doing lab activities or team projects, you may assign team roles: one student may be the supply manager, while another is the recorder, and a third is the team leader.

Regardless of what level you teach, you want to find ways for as many students as possible to practice responsibility daily in your classroom. While some may have a specific job each week, you want to be sure to find ways for your other students to practice responsibility. This could mean giving them smaller tasks, such as collecting library books to return or being in charge of making sure their team cleans up their space after an activity. The frequency with which a student practices responsibility will help build their emotional intelligence.

Examples of Student Classroom Jobs
Examples of Student Classroom Jobs

Build Students' Self-Awareness and Empathy

As adults, most of us realize that our emotions impact not only the decisions we make, but our ability to concentrate as well. Students with low emotional intelligence may struggle to follow directions or continually go off task in class. Therefore, it is important regardless of the level you teach to conduct activities designed to build students' self-awareness and empathy for others. Self-awareness is our knowledge of our emotions, motivations, or desires. Empathy is understanding the feelings of those around us.

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