Emotional intelligence: why it matters and how to teach it

 In our work with schools, it’s now commonplace for us to hear those in education talking about helping students (and staff) develop their emotional intelligence. But what do we mean exactly? Why and how should teachers support its development in their students. Bradley Busch , a registered psychologist and author writes for The Guardian.

Emotional intelligence can be said to cover five main areas: self-awareness, emotional control, self-motivation, empathy and relationship skills. It is, of course, important for good communication with others – and is therefore a gateway to better learning, friendships, academic success and employment. Skills such as these developed in our formative years at school often provide the foundation for future habits later on in life.

An iconic study tracked high-IQ students from childhood to late adulthood and found that those who achieved notable adult career success showed greater “will power, perseverance and desire to excel”. Meanwhile, evidence from the seminal marshmallow test – which gave children the option to have more treats if they could wait before eating them – suggested delayed gratification and self-control are important, with these characteristics being linked to better school grades, earnings and job satisfaction.

Regardless of debates over whether emotional intelligence can be measured, we believe it’s worthwhile for schools to explore some of its main facets. Here’s how.

Active listening

The skill of active listening is a key part of helping create genuine two-way communication – and it is about far more than just paying attention. It involves genuinely following dialogue and responding to others using your own body language, then being able to demonstrate that you have understood by verbally summarising back key messages that have been received.

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 judgement 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.

A vocabulary for feelings

Researcher Lisa Barrett states that interpersonal skills can be enhanced by helping students increase their emotion vocabulary. Encouraging students to understand the difference between “sad”, “disappointed” and “upset” acts as springboard to develop appropriate strategies for each. In short, every emotion word you learn is a new tool for future emotional intelligence.

A simple way to introduce this to students is to play the alphabet game: as a class you see how many different emotions you can come up with for each letter of the alphabet. Afterwards, discuss the differences between each, what might prompt the emotions, and how students could individually respond. If looking for inspiration on this, we recommend this poster as a possible starting point.

Read more suggestions Emotional intelligence: why it matters and how to teach it

Do you think you can use any of these techniques in the classroom? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamisn

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