Many educators are familiar with Harvard University’s Howard Gardner and his theory of multiple intelligences because of its implications that traditional IQ tests, including the SAT, are only measuring a small part of real-world intelligence. Gardner argues that the traditional views of intelligence are too narrow to realistically capture the actual nature of human intelligence.
One of the dimensions of Gardner’s work is the distinction between interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence. Intrapersonal intelligence is the ability to know and understand yourself, your motivations, and desires. Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to read and relate to the intrapersonal intelligence of others. Donald Goleman redefined this kind of intelligence as Emotional Intelligence (EI), which includes, “self-awareness, impulse control, persistence, zeal, self-motivation, empathy, and social deftness.”
People who excel in life tend to be emotionally intelligent, yet the value of EI traits are rarely recognized in our educational system. Approximately 57% of students who start at an institution of higher learning actually remain to finish their programs of study, Can EI training make a difference in retention? Studies have shown promise, especially when integrated into the first year, since college freshmen have to quickly become more independent, adaptable, socially adept, assertive, self-confident, and self-controlled in order to succeed. Their environment, responsibilities, rights, and challenges change significantly when they enter college, and it takes much more than academic preparedness to succeed under such instability.
Research in brain-based learning suggests that emotional health is fundamental to effective learning, but how can we teach it? First and foremost, it is vital to emulate what we are teaching. As educators and leaders, we must strive to cultivate our own emotional intelligence. EI development is critical for renewal and stability—two things that fail when burnout occurs, and an all-too-common occurrence in our increasingly pressurized world. EI development also enables us to interpret body language and hear the feelings behind words, allowing us to feel deeply and be genuinely moved by what our students express.
One of the most basic emotional skills involves being able to recognize feelings and name them. An important part of EI development is the ability to identify words associated with feelings and emotions, so vocabulary expansion in the classroom is critical. Introduce words and phrases associated with feelings and emotions, then point out the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and actions. What thought sparked off that feeling? What feeling was behind that action? Provide a safe place for such discussions by setting appropriate classroom guidelines and modeling your expectations. Be aware of what you are saying, avoid passing judgment, and don’t claim to be an expert on others’ feelings and emotions.
Maintain a positive learning environment. Developing quality relationships in the classroom models effective communication skills, empathy, and compassion. Happiness and optimism can be addictive, just as negativity and pessimism can be all-consuming. An inspirational classroom is characterized by hope, respect, and a sense of community, and creates a climate capable of unleashing positive energy, unified spirit, and cooperation. Effective learning is not built on domination but on people working together toward common goals. Recognize the value of your students’ contributions and encourage their participation. When conflict arises, remember that it is often self-perpetuating and the perceived cause for conflict is rarely the issue. Effective conflict resolution requires emotional intelligence skills in the teacher as well, so again, successful self-integration of these skills is of utmost importance.
Education continues to struggle with the fragmentation of the learning process in our current objectivist climate. Encouraging emotional intelligence in the classroom offers the potential to heal this rift because EI acknowledges the emotional influences on learning. When students are better able to express authentic feelings, not just emotional reactions, then real learning can begin. If we challenge the traditional models of pedagogy, a paradigm shift from education as a path to successful accumulation to a path of enriched possibilities will occur.
“We must help students to find the meaning in daily life, to feel connected to
other individuals and to their community—past, present and future; and to feel
responsible for the consequences of their actions. We must help them to achieve
the state of flow—the balance between skills and challenges—which motivates
individuals to return to a pursuit time and again. Plato understood this, 2500 years
ago when he stated, ‘Through education we need to help students find pleasure in
what they have to learn.’”