20 April, 2009

Teaching with Emotional intelligence

By Alan Mortiboys

Alan Mortiboys is course leader for the Postgraduate Certificate in Education programme for academic staff at the University of Central England. He also works independently, providing staff and educational development for professionals in education and healthcare. He is the author of The Emotionally Intelligent Lecturer (SEDA 2002) and Teaching with Emotional Intelligence (Routledge 2005).

Here is a question for you. Think of any occasion when you were a learner that aroused strong feelings in you. What is the word or phrase that captures how you felt at the time?

I have asked this question to hundreds of higher education lecturers in workshops I run on teaching with emotional intelligence. The range of feelings recalled is vast but common responses include ‘angry’, ‘elated’, ‘embarrassed’, ‘frustrated’, ‘humiliated’, ‘relieved’. I ask the question in order to make the point that:

Learning itself is an intrinsically emotional business (Claxton 1999:15).

It follows that if you are responsible for assisting others to learn, then you need to recognise this emotional component of the teaching-learning exchange and to be able to work with it; in short, teachers need to use emotional intelligence. This term was popularised by Daniel Goleman with his 1995 publication, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. Goleman defined emotional intelligence as the capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships (Goleman 1998: 317).

For me, to use emotional intelligence in teaching means that you need to:
• Be able to recognise and respond to your own feelings of both you and
• those of the learners in the classroom in order to make you both more effective in your respective roles.
• Encourage an emotional state in the learners on your course, which is conducive to learning.

When carrying out teaching observations in a number of contexts in post-16 education, I was constantly reminded that as a teacher, you have three things to offer your learners. Firstly, your subject expertise, derived from your qualifications and/or professional experience. Secondly, you have your expertise in how to teach and in how people learn, which informs your practice. Thirdly you have your emotional intelligence. Too often, I observed that learners were not getting the full benefit of the teacher’s expertise in the subject and in learning and teaching methods because of the teacher’s failure to use emotional intelligence. This resulted in learners wasting energy on negative, unproductive emotions, less satisfaction for the teacher and missed opportunities for enhancing the teaching session.

What does it mean in practice to use emotional intelligence in the classroom? Examples of its use include: acknowledging and discussing with learners the expectations that they bring to a new course or session; acknowledging individual learners within a group; listening fully to learners; developing a critical self-awareness of yourself as a teacher, particularly how you interact with learners.

Using emotional intelligence is a prerequisite for developing a good relationship with a group of learners, which then can be the basis for producing learners who have:
• More engagement,
• Greater motivation,
• A greater readiness to take risks in their learning,
• A more positive approach,
• A readiness to collaborate,
• More creativity and more tenacity.

Barbara Harrell Carson gathered responses of former students who graduated over a period of 26 years from Rollins College in Orlando about teachers who they perceived to be most effective. She found that ‘the single quality the Rollins alumni most frequently associated with effective teachers – more often than brilliance and love of subject and even more often than enthusiasm in the classroom – was a special attitude toward and relationship with students’ (Carson 1996: 14).

When I run workshops on this, participants often say to me, ‘I agree, Alan, but I do this anyway. I could not live my life, or be an effective teacher, without using emotional intelligence’. What I say in response to this is that there is more to be done. We need to do three things:

Firstly, we can rescue emotional intelligence from being an extra quality that a minority of teachers offers to learners. Instead, it should be recognised as an essential component of what all teachers offer.

Secondly, rather than let the use of emotional intelligence just be intuitive, we should be more deliberate in using it, for example in planning.

Thirdly, we should give the use of emotional intelligence as much attention as we give to content and methods; we should give it a greater share of our energy.

The recognition of the role of emotions in learning and teaching in higher education is long overdue. It does not mean that we have to sacrifice a higher education which values and fosters coherent critical argument, independence of thought and academic rigour but that these aspects can be enriched by infusing them with humanity. The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s explorations of the workings of the brain lead him to the conclusion that: ‘certain aspects of the process of emotion and feeling are indispensable for rationality.’ (Damasio 1996: xv). We need to recognise and work with the power of emotions in learning by teaching with emotional intelligence.

Submitted by: Vishal Jain