Let’s face it. Teachers are leaders in their respective classrooms, and therefore they hold a high degree of responsibility for themselves and their students. In the business world, there has been much research on the success of a leader being contingent on having a high degree of emotional intelligence. The same must be true therefore for a teacher. It’s vital. Although it is probably one of the least discussed leadership proficiencies, self-awareness which falls under the emotional intelligence umbrella, is possibly one of the most valuable. Developing self-awareness is paramount in the navigation of a teachers’ career and for the students who sit in their classrooms.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
We must first look at the term (EI) as the umbrella term. It appeared in 1995 with Daniel Goleman’s work and has been critically discussed since then. In general, it is defined as an ability to identify, regulate, and manage emotions in the self and in others. To date, there are several models, but one thing they all have in common are two domains: personal and social skills.
The two under the personal domain are Self-Awareness and Self-Management.
If these two are strong, then the last two, Social Awareness and Relationship Management can further be refined and improved.
Why should teachers have high EI?
First, these skills do not come naturally especially for a teacher being thrown into a highly populated classroom with various need-filled students. Most teachers get overwhelmed due to the many hats they wear. Of course, salary and large class sizes are out of their control, but, according to Nelson and Low (2005), “Teachers can learn and choose to develop skilled behaviors to deal with stressors.” Many teachers enter with little practice in how to handle the high demands. It’s a vicious cycle. Teacher is stressed; students feel this stress and feed off the stress which leads to more conflict. The classroom behavior deteriorates and the teacher becomes more emotionally exhausted. Consequently, teachers impulsively punitively punish without perhaps addressing a root cause. The cycle continues. These emotionally exhausted teachers harden and lose interest dropping out or staying in with little desire to inspire students.
We are role models and if we want our students to become emotionally intelligent, we must be proactive for ourselves.
The first of the four areas of EI development is self-awareness, and increasing self-awareness is the key to increasing one’s EI. Therefore, looking at a teacher’s self-awareness is a good place to start to become the emotionally intelligent leader we need to be.
It’s important to realize the emotions are just that. They are not positive or negative unless we act upon them. But what is causing them? What is the root of a reaction to an emotion experienced? Travis Bradberry, an expert on EI, suggests that, “Self-awareness is not about discovering deep, dark secrets or unconscious motivations, but, rather, it comes from developing a straightforward and honest understanding of what makes you tick.” (Albers) Knowing this, one can begin the process of becoming more self aware.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What triggers me emotionally?
Many times, we can automatically respond without realizing our reaction. The truth is that this reaction, like everything else that we do, is a choice.
Example, let’s say you feel tense every time a certain parent walks in your classroom. Or when a student is late and interrupts your flow, you feel anxious. When these emotions are “triggered” it’s important to see how we react. Bradberry continues, “Your reactions to your triggers are shaped by your personal history, which includes your experience with similar situations.” If you can be more cognizant of your reactions, you’ll be able to isolate your triggers and then practice Being more self aware, you can spot your triggers and practice steps to lowering an emotional response.
- How am I processing my emotions?
This is where it’s important to identify how you process your feelings. Do you internally have a dialogue or do you process out loud with another? Either way, it’s important to recognize the difference between constructive venting and a dribble of complaining. Meditation, prayer, and/or reflection will make you more aware. However, it has to become a habit. Keep a journal of your feelings and allow yourself to think about your emotions and reactions through the day.
Also, take some time to reflect on your conversations with others. Are they fruitful in helping you lessen your anxiety or are they fueling the fire?
- Do I know my strengths and weaknesses?
Self-awareness can really help you maximize your strengths. At the same time, if you allow it, it can also help you grow and understand how to work with your weaknesses. If you know your weaknesses you can be preventative and proactive with dealing with a trying situation. Seek help if needed and be open to learning.
Being aware of your mistakes and owning them sends a message also. It models that you don’t have all of the answers and also allows you to be more transparent to those around you. It never hurts to show your students also that you are human who makes real mistakes. This is also a key factor in building relationships (another key to EI).
- How often do I laugh as I teach?
Is your sense of humor showing? Having a sense of humor is not just about telling jokes. It’s an attitude of positivity with an energetic outlook about life’s craziness. According Richardson (2003), “Teachers who have an appropriate sense of humor convey to their students that they enjoy their jobs, like their students, relish playful exchanges, and do not take themselves too seriously.” There is a story told about a school where 80% of their discipline issues coming from only 10% of their teachers. These teachers shared one thing in common. According to the assistant principal, “They all seem to take themselves and their jobs too seriously. They seem unhappy when they teach.” (Richardson). Maybe they need to find a way to be more self-aware!
We must continue to be reminded that our attitude as the teacher sets the classroom climate for students far more than anything. If we can be mindful of our emotional triggers, understand how we process, learn to journal and share with constructive thought, be more aware of our strengths and weaknesses (and seek help if needed), then we will transform or attitude. Our strong self-awareness has now begun the process to an increased emotional intelligence and a happier, more successful classroom and teaching career.
Albers, Susan, Dr. (2012, May 27). Emotional Intelligence 2.0: Learning the Art of Self-Awareness. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-susan-albers/emotional-intelligence_b_1377591.html
Nelson, D.B., Low, G.R., & Nelson, K. (2005). The emotionally intelligent teacher: A transformative learning model. Retrieved December 29, 2016 from http://www.tamuk.edu/edu/kwei000/research/articles/article_files/emotionally_intelligent_teacher.pdf.
Richardson, Brent G., Shupe, Margery J. The Importance of Teacher Self-Awareness in Working with Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. Teaching Exceptional Children, Vol. 36, No. 2, 2003, pp. 8-13. Retrieved from http://www.casenex.com/casenex/cecReadings/theImportanceOfTeacher.pdf
Stephanie Knight is an experienced 7th and 8th grade English language arts educator. She taught in Title One schools for eight years—helping them grow from underperforming to excelling—and then in an independent school for four years. Knight is now is part of Grand Canyon University’s adjunct faculty where she teaches graduate level education and reading courses.