Teaching is an emotional activity with emotional highs and lows as a natural part of the many interactions teachers have when working with students, teaching teams, school leaders, administrators and parents.
The capability to meet the challenges required to respond to the Curriculum Guidelines requires teachers who understand their own emotional reactions and have strategies to cope with these. The way a teacher handles those emotions is called emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognise and understand the meanings of emotions and their complex relationships, and to reason and problem solve on the basis of these emotions. This ability allows you to:
• identify and express emotions accurately;
• understand the cause of emotions and how they can change;
• use emotions to redirect attention and to encourage different approaches to decision making;
• manage positive and negative emotions and emotion-laden situations
A teacher with high emotional intelligence is able to understand complex emotions and to know how emotions move from one stage to another. An understanding of emotional intelligence gives teachers the capability to better understand how to manage personal interactions in a work setting.
Is everyone emotionally intelligent?
We all have emotional intelligence but some individuals have developed a higher ability than others. In any population the levels of emotional intelligence is evenly distributed. In our research we used the Reactions to Teaching Situations questionnaire (RTS) designed specifically to measure levels of teachers’ emotional intelligence and surveyed over a thousand primary and secondary teachers.
The results (in the chart below) show that some teachers have very low levels and some very high levels and the majority of us have normal levels of emotional intelligence.
What are the implications for teachers with high or low emotional intelligence ability?
Our research shows that teachers with high levels of emotional intelligence are more sensitive than their lower scoring colleagues to their own emotions and the emotions of others. These teachers give consideration to the needs of students and to their own needs. They can manage their own emotional responses more effectively.
Teachers with low levels of emotional intelligence are less able to take the opportunity to ‘capture the moment’, to deal with feedback in a constructive way. In situations involving teaching peers, teachers with low levels of emotional intelligence may experience negative emotions but are not able to transform this emotion into a constructive solution. They remain trapped by the emotional state. They have very little opportunity to develop emotional resilience. These teachers are less able to ‘bounce back’ from negative emotional experiences.
Teachers with varying levels of emotional intelligence react differently to emotions that are positively charged than to emotions that are negatively charged.
What’s the difference between positive and negative emotions?
As illustrated in the chart on the opposite page, teachers do react to positively charged emotional situations differently than they do to negatively charged emotional situations. Levels of emotional intelligence play a part in these reactions. Teachers with high levels of emotional intelligence respond differently than do teachers with low levels of emotional intelligence. Teachers with high levels of emotional intelligence deal more constructively with negative situations turning their responses into positive solutions. These teachers always respond appropriately in both positive and negative situations. Teachers with low emotional intelligence are sometimes likely to respond appropriately in positive situations but are seldom likely to do so in negative situation.
What are some emotional situations for teachers?
This situation might occur – Your students are actively involved in their group work, but you sense that a few are taking advantage of you, and becoming noisy and unproductive.
Your response to this negatively charged situation might be – I would feel trapped in such a situation. (This is an example of identifying the emotion)
I would realise that my feelings will affect what I do next. (Here you would be understanding the emotion) I would feel comfortable about being able to handle this. (Here you would be using the emotion) I would introduce another way of doing this in the future. (This is an example of managing the emotion and looking forward). Or perhaps you are faced with this positively charged situation. A student, who has recently made a special effort with a piece of work, says : “You are the best teacher I’ve ever had”.
Your response might be to –
• identify the emotion, for example ‘I would feel acknowledged’.
• understand the emotion, for example ‘I would know that my reaction to this comment is linked with my knowledge of learners’.
• use the emotion, for example ‘I would say that they did well because of their effort not mine’.
• manage the emotion, for example ‘I would enjoy a feeling of pride and know that it would help me through difficult classroom situations in the future’.
How is emotional intelligence linked to effective teaching?
Within the essential learning identified in the current school curriculum are the domains of personal and social learning.
These involve skills associated with emotional intelligence.
Teachers need to have these skills in order to pass them on to students.
Teachers are encouraged to provide a supportive and productive learning environment for their students.
To do this relies very much on the teacher’s emotional intelligence.
A teacher’s level of emotional intelligence is related to their sense of efficacy.
Self-efficacy is a person’s sense of being able to deal effectively with a particular task or situation.
So a teacher with high emotional intelligence is able to work harder and persist longer because they have a belief in their ability and feel that they are in control.
Efficacy is a strong predictor of coping behaviour and teacher self-efficacy is strongly related to positive student achievement.
Can you improve your emotionally intelligence?
As with any ability, you can continue to develop your emotional intelligence. You can focus on enhancing skills such as –
• Try labelling your feelings, for example ‘I feel confident’, ‘I feel discouraged’ – try making a list of ’emotional’ words.
• Focus on recognising the difference between thoughts and emotions, for example, a thought would be ‘I feel like a fool’ but an emotion would be ‘I feel rejected’. A thought would be ‘I feel as if they like me’, an emotion would be ‘I feel appreciated’.
• Take responsibility for your feelings, for example ‘My anger made that situation worse’.
• Develop ways to gain time in emotional situations so that a positive end can be achieved.
• Listen to others without taking on personal emotions
• Distinguish between what others do or say and your own personal reactions and judgements.
We are often not skilled in expressing our feelings; we often express our emotions indirectly. We often mis-communicate our emotions.
• Try making a list, alphabetically, of positive emotional words and negative emotional words.
• Increase your skills in reading non-verbal communication.
• Increase the number of situations where you lead and also the number of where you follow.
• Involve yourself in situations that require your co-operation and encourage the contributions of others
Teachers are emotional practitioners, For the classroom teacher, understanding the impact that their own emotions and those of others have on the effectiveness of the teaching-learning situation is important. Such understanding can only prepare more effective teachers in a profession that relies on the ability to establish good relationships with others. It is important to understand the role emotional intelligence plays in the interactions between teachers and students, and between teachers, their colleagues and other adults.
Authors, Dr Chris Perry and Ian Ball are Faculty Fellows at Deakin University, Melbourne. Their work has combined school-based consultancies with research into individual growth and development and personality development. Contact: [email protected]