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Does Developing Emotional Intelligence Matter?

Emotional Intelligence can be described as an innate response to emotions and the ability to effectively use, regulate and communicate one's feelings. It is also encompasses one’s ability to recognise, remember, describe and identify those feelings. As a result one is then able to learn from, manage, understand and explain those emotions.

Theoretical Aspect

In some circles E.I. has become the new “buzzword” in education since the publication of “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman in 1995. Despite this heightened level of interest in E.I. over the past decade, philosophers and theorists have been studying social and emotional development as far back to the Greek philosopher Plato. In 427BC Plato philosophised that “all learning has an emotional base”. The word “philosophy” means “the love of wisdom”. This in itself reflects Plato’s words and reinforces that to learn, one must have an emotion or feeling that compels one to want to learn. Plato’s idea of E.I. been connected to IQ or general intelligence is significant when we have late 20th century contemporary theorists, such as Gardner (1975), Goleman (1995) Mayer & Salovey (1997) and Bar-on (2006) suggesting the same.

In 1872 Charles Darwin published the first known work about emotional-social development based on the importance of emotional expression for survival and adaptation (Bar-on, 2006). Additionally, Edward Thorndike (1920) was the first to coin the term “social intelligence “ (S.I.) (Indiana Education, 2008) and included S.I. in his three facets of intelligence: Abstract, Mechanical and Social. Thorndike was also one of the first pioneers on the theory of “active learning” (Cox, 1997). His theory suggested that children are more motivated to learn if they direct their own learning rather than them receiving instructions/directions from teachers.

More recently, Mayer and Salovey (1997) defined emotional intelligence as, “an individual’s capacity to reason about emotions and to process emotional information to enhance cognitive processes and regulate behaviour”. The authors discovered that some people were better than others at identifying their own and others feelings and solving problems involving emotional issues. They also suggested “general intelligence that includes emotional Intelligence will be [a] more powerful predictor of important life outcomes than one that does not” (p. 67).  Goleman (cited in Business Summaries, p 4, 2003) suggested that this limits of using IQ alone to assess one's success in a job. He points out that when IQ test results are correlated with how well people perform in their careers, “IQ at its highest only accounts for 25% of the score and that the remaining 75% of job success is unexplained”.

In 1975 Howard Gardner published “The Shattered Mind”’ where he introduced his concept of Multiple Intelligences  (M.I.) in which two of his intelligences are related to social and emotional development.  These include Interpersonal Intelligence, which means “the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people”, and Intrapersonal intelligence refers to “the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one’s feelings, fears and motivation” (p.103). Lately, Bar-on (2006) suggests, “Emotional-social intelligence is composed of a number of intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies, skills and facilitators that combine to determine effective human behaviour”. He refers to this construct as “emotional-social intelligence” (ESI).

These theorists strongly suggest that having a well-developed or strong E.I./E.S.I can be a significant predictor in why “some people become successful while others fail despite natural talent, gifts, or intelligence.  While some people possess varying degrees of ability, often the most talented are not always the most successful, happy, or wealthy” (Richburg & Fletcher, 2002, p.31). If this is the case, then we must consider practical aspects or applications on how to develop E.I. or S.E.I in the classroom setting. It is therefore apparent that if a student is and/or working towards being socially competent and emotionally intelligent then they have a better chance of becoming more successful and an active contributing member of society.

Practical Aspects
According to Goleman’s (2002) follow-up paper Emotional Intelligence: Five Years Later’, the best “social and emotional learning programs teach the full spectrum of E.I. abilities, from self-awareness to social problem-solving. They repeat the lessons over the full course of a child's school years in a developmentally appropriate way and fit seamlessly into standard curricula in ways that enhance other topics without stealing time from them” (p.1).

This practice appears to be happening in some schools with the implementation of whole school curricula that focus on social and emotional issues. For example Criterkin's Not Perfect Hat Club, Life Education Happy Harrold program and the anti-bulling and self-empowerment schemes such as, I Have the Power, It’s My Choice and You Can Make It, Habits of Mind. The Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) program also appears popular with schools and many classroom teachers are implementing Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences model into learning stations, that cater for the individual needs of students.  The aim of the program is to help develop emotional competence in children and provide them with the social and emotional tools to develop personal responsibility, overcome adversity, face fear, maintain self-control and build inner strength and resilience.

Developing emotional intelligence undeniably starts within the home and family context. However, the school environment, educators and school curriculum are considered to be the next important aspects of children’s lives.

The teacher’s level of E.I. is an important factor in creating a classroom that is conducive to learning. It is how the teacher reacts and responds to actions (especially the negative ones) within the classroom environment that strongly influences students. For he or she to be a successful role model they must according to Gordon (1970) handle their “feelings in an authentic, real and healthy way”. Teachers can help students develop their E.I. by helping student's to label their feelings – teach them a range of feeling words, express their own feelings and most importantly talk about feelings regularly. Giving real choices and honour students’ decisions. Respecting their feelings and asking them how they feel. Validating and accepting their feelings by showing understanding and empathy. Gordon (1970) suggests this empowers students as it helps them to identify  "What would help them feel better?” Teaching them strategies to solve their own problems. 

The Learning Environment
The classroom environment needs to have a positive “vibe” that promotes open, safe and honest discussion between teacher and student and student and their peers. Students will more likely develop stronger E.I. skills if their learning environment is safe and supportive, free from threats, force, manipulation, pressure and punishment. 

Allowing students to have real choices within their learning program and subsequent activities and lessons (e.g. some lessons are not compulsory) promoting the feeling of empowerment that they are contributing to their own learning via the choices they make.
A learning environment that is respectful of all participant’s feelings, emotions, and beliefs is critical in developing strong E.I.  Students and teachers who feel valued and are aware that their own unique qualities are recognised by others is paramount to developing their self-esteem and awareness. These are important characteristics of E.I.

Classroom set-up plays an important role in enhancing an E.I. culture. These could include the physical layout of table/learning stations; for example do they provide opportunities for communication and teamwork?

Ensuring that E.I/S.E.I is not only a component of the formal school curriculum, but is also included in the informal/hidden curriculum. Providing appropriate literature (classroom, library, staffroom, articles, blogs, newsletter, notice board) is one way of educating staff, parents and children informally about the importance of social skills and emotional intelligence.

The content and materials the teacher uses in the school environment needs to relevant, meaningful and practical to students if their life and relationship skills are to be developed. Additionally, student's natural curiosity and need to learn will be enhanced if the lessons are flexible, stimulating and interesting.

“Emotions are known to be powerful organisers of thought and action” (Chieh, 1999) and ultimately children model what they see. According to Goleman (2002), E.I. can be learned and that the inter-relation of IQ and E.I. is important for a degree of success in one’s life. If students can master a range of social and emotional competencies that help them to solve complex and uncomplicated problems, or make important decisions about their lives and/or actions, then they have a toolbox equipped with life tools that will enable them to better anticipate uncertainties and plan their actions accordingly.


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