For decades, education focused on developing students’ academic intelligence but not their emotional intelligence. Since the 1990s, however, educators and researchers have begun to realize that developing students’ emotional intelligence may be just as important.

Emotional Intelligence in Education

Remember those mornings when you fought with your parents getting out of the car, then found yourself trying to take your government test later that day, but you were unable to concentrate? What you experienced was driven by your emotional intelligence. Studies in human behavior first coined this term in the late 1990s. It addresses two aspects of our psyche. First, it includes our ability to understand, and manage our emotions. Second, it includes our ability to understand, and in turn influence, the emotions in other people. Today, many professionals and scholars are making an argument that we need to teach emotional intelligence on the same level of importance as we teach the ABCs.

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Emotional Intelligence & the Class

There is a strong correlation between students’ emotional intelligence and their classroom behavior. Students with low emotional intelligence may struggle to focus and have relationships with their peers or may even show aggression. Students with lower emotional intelligence tend to struggle to communicate their feelings with their peers, and this can result in struggling to form friendships with classmates or even relationships with adults. Aggression is a common issue with students with low emotional intelligence, because they don’t have the skills they need to communicate or manage their emotions appropriately. These behavior problems typically surface in preschool and early elementary school and increase in seriousness from that point on.

Some expect children to learn aspects of emotional intelligence implicitly from family dynamics and by participating in school, church, and community activities. These aspects, or skills, include self-expression of emotions, conflict resolution, and empathy. Self-expression is a person’s ability to communicate how he or she feels in any given situation. Conflict resolution refers to our ability to discuss our issues with another person calmly and work together to resolve the issue. Empathy refers to our ability to understand the emotions of those around us.

Often we assume that these are innate in people or develop naturally by casual interactions with others throughout childhood. For many children, however, this is simply not the case. Therefore, they need to be taught explicitly through classroom instruction, modeling, and even role playing.

Preschools and elementary schools that use structured emotional intelligence instructional programs reap some benefits. For example, students who participate in emotional intelligence instructional programs exhibit less aggressive behavior towards adults and their peers. Developing emotional intelligence improves the environment in the classroom as well, making it easier for teachers to teach and students to learn.

The importance of explicitly teaching emotional intelligence follows students into secondary school. Students who explicitly learn how to recognize and manage their emotions reap positive benefits. These pre-teens and teens are less likely to engage in a variety of risky behaviors, including alcohol and tobacco use, have greater self-confidence, and make safer choices.

Emotional Intelligence ; Academics

Emotional intelligence and academic achievement go hand in hand. Students who develop a higher emotional intelligence have better coping skills to deal with the challenges that education presents to them. For example, students with a higher emotional intelligence tend also to have better coping skills regarding stress management. This helps students cope with the stresses of classes, tests, and term papers. Research has shown that students with a higher emotional intelligence persist through the stresses of high school and college and are less likely to dropout than students with a lower emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence also plays a role in students’ interpersonal skills. As mentioned earlier, we often assume students innately possess the ability to interact with others. More often than not, however, they need to develop these interpersonal skills through explicit instruction and practice. Interpersonal skills are our ability to communicate and form relationships with other people. These skills are tied to success in collaboration, which is critical in secondary school, higher education, and in the workforce. The vast majority of careers students will enter into once they join the workforce will require them to have conversations with, plan, and develop relationships with their coworkers. The ability to do this is tied to the area of emotional intelligence known as interpersonal skills.

Lesson Summary

Emotional intelligence is a critical component of education, our ability to understand, and in turn influence, the emotions in other people. Many students struggle in the classroom with behavioral issues tied to a lack of appropriate self-expression and conflict resolution skills. They may even struggle with empathy and be unable to understand the emotions of others.

Self-expression is a person’s ability to communicate how he or she feels in any given situation. Conflict resolution refers to our ability to discuss our issues with another person calmly and work together to resolve the issue. Empathy refers to our ability to understand the emotions of those around us.

The lack of these skills will interfere with students’ academic progress in the classroom. Therefore, many say emotional intelligence needs to be taught explicitly in the classroom. The development of emotional intelligence plays a role in the long-term academic success of students. By acquiring the skills related to academic intelligence, such as stress management, students are more likely to persist and finish high school and college. They will also have better interpersonal skills. Interpersonal skills are our ability to communicate and form relationships with other people, enabling them to be successful in the classroom and beyond.