Read All About It
As such, SEL (social emotional learning) is appearing more and more frequently in our schools.
Yet, has it made its way into our lives? At school and at home?
No, I mean really made its way into our lives. Not just “I took a professional development seminar in it once” or “of course, I have to have emotional intelligence or the teacher next door would have known by now.”
A Word About Emotions
Emotions can be understood as the chemicals that affect our breathing, digestion, and nearly everything in our bodies. They are physically felt and experienced. As Joshua Freedman, CEO of Six Seconds, puts it, “we’re expressing emotion with a metaphor of physical sensation.”
Similarly, Antonio Damasio, one of the foremost neuroscientists leading the discussion on emotions and the brain, likes to say that emotions are embodied. A person is constantly feeling and experiencing emotions throughout the body in varying ways and to varying degrees.
Being that emotions are constantly at play within our bodies, we know that our emotions affect everything, from our physical health to our ability to make decisions. The more we know about the extensive reach of emotions in our lives, the more we seek to understand, control, and use them to the best of our abilities. That is why EQ is popping up all over.
Oh, That’s What EQ Is…
Dr. Richard Davidson, in the talk “Transform Your Mind, Change Your Brain,” suggests that there is no better way to produce changes in the brain than through developing skillsets such as emotional intelligence.
“Behavioral or mental interventions can produce more specific biological changes than any currently known biological method, that is any known medication for example.”
If EQ will be replacing medication as the default solution for certain issues, then we have to understand exactly what it is and how to acquire it.
Travis Bradberry, coauthor of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, defines EQ as a skillset with two main competencies:
“Emotional intelligence is the ‘something’ in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions that achieve positive results. Emotional intelligence is made up of four core skills that pair up under two primary competencies: personal competence and social competence.”
Bradberry further breaks down each competency into an awareness skillset and a management skillset. During awareness, we practice being able to recognize our (or someone else’s) emotions. Once we gain emotional awareness, the management skillset comes into play. This requires us to actively control our emotions based on the awareness we have achieved.
So, Why Is It So Important for Teachers, Specifically?
Well, the teaching career focuses around relationships–relationships with students, parents, school leadership, and fellow teachers. Relationships involve emotions, lots of emotions. Yet, similar to parents, oftentimes teachers can forget about the most important relationship–the relationship with oneself.
Taking time to cultivate our self-awareness and self-compassion is one step toward success in developing positive relationships. In “Stopping Teacher Burnout” Margaret Cullen, former cofounder of SMART in Education and current founder of Mindfulness Based Emotional Balance, discusses some of the benefits teachers experienced after attending her emotional intelligence program for educators:
“The [scientific] studies found SMART participants performed better on a task requiring focused attention and memory at program completion, and reported greater mindfulness up to four months after finishing the program. The teachers also reported experiencing less on-the-job stress, less worry about work when at home, less self-blame for when things are stressful at work, and fewer feelings of occupational burnout, anxiety, and depression.
Teachers in the SMART program also reported greater efficacy in regulating their emotions at work, better moods at work and at home, better and longer sleep, and more confidence in their ability to forgive their colleagues when inevitable conflicts arose at work. They expressed more positive attitudes towards their ‘most challenging student.'”
The rewards of cultivating our emotional intelligence reach into every aspect of life, at home and at school. More importantly, for teachers, this means not only gaining personally, but also gaining in a way that will allow us to fully give over SEL tools to our students.
Once we start educating a generation of emotionally intelligent youth, it will become a part of the culture to be habituated and bequeathed early on.
Slowly state governments are integrating SEL into the curriculum. However, the focus seems to be on SEL for students, not necessarily for teachers. Yet, if we want to educate our students in emotional intelligence, we had better have a handle on it ourselves.
One such course, the InspirED Professional Development Toolbox produced material in conjunction with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. This course offers a three-part series that focuses on EQ at a personal level, at a professional level, and as a part of the curriculum in the classroom. Other courses include an introduction to SEL, a parenting course, and a course in basic SEL assessment for students.
Another option for teachers is to attend an in-person event, such as the Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators. This yearly six day retreat focuses on developing EQ skills for oneself as an educator, as well as for students. You can catch a glimpse of their first ever summer session here to see what it’s all about.
If online courses and in-person institutes don’t necessarily speak to you at the moment, you can try reading up on EQ in one of the many bestselling books. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ are just two of the top reads on the subject-matter.
The Quick Start
All of the aforementioned options require a certain investment, whether of time or money. Perhaps, you just want to start small.
In addition, an entire section of their site devoted entirely to emotional intelligence in education. This is a great place to start if you want to gain some practical insight into EQ without investing too much.
What Does Practicing EQ Look Like?
One exercise in emotional awareness asks you to just stop and be mindful of your emotions. How do you feel? Do you perceive a physical sensation tied to your emotions, such as heat or tingling in your body? What does your face look like? Are you frowning? Is your brow furrowed?
Once you become more mindful of your feelings, you can begin to label them. Joshua Freedman suggests that putting a name on your feelings is the first step leading toward emotional management. He further suggests we should actually draw out our feelings. Whether in color splotches or caricatures, we should draw them in any way that will get them out of our bodies.
Another exercise asks you to reflect on how you acted in an emotional situation. This is done in order to better direct your emotional energy in the future. Educational Consultant, Barbara Fatum, Ed.D., asks us to fold a paper in thirds.
In the left portion, we should think about an intense emotional experience. Then, we should draw it to express it. Meanwhile, in the right portion, we should draw how we felt about the outcome of that experience. Finally, in the middle portion, we should write what we might have done to achieve a different result. What changes would we make in our thoughts, feeling, and actions?
Making these simple changes into a habit will help us become more emotionally aware. We will then be able to better manage our emotions, at home and at school. It can help us deal with difficult emotional situations that may arise in the classroom in a calm, professional, and caring manner.
*Stay tuned for our next article in the series about bringing emotional intelligence into the classroom.