Emotional intelligence: why it matters and how to teach it

In our work with schools, it’s now commonplace for us to hear those in education talking about helping students (and staff) develop their emotional intelligence. But what do we mean exactly? Why and how should teachers support its development in their students?

Emotional intelligence can be said to cover five main areas: self-awareness, emotional control, self-motivation, empathy and relationship skills. It is, of course, important for good communication with others – and is therefore a gateway to better learning, friendships, academic success and employment. Skills such as these developed in our formative years at school often provide the foundation for future habits later on in life.

The term emotional intelligence was popularised in the mid 90s by journalist Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. The book’s claims that emotional intelligence is more important than IQ is a source of debate among psychologists, but it does look as if emotional intelligence could be a factor in academic achievement.

An iconic study tracked high-IQ students from childhood to late adulthood and found that those who achieved notable adult career success showed greater “will power, perseverance and desire to excel”. Meanwhile, evidence from the seminal marshmallow test – which gave children the option to have more treats if they could wait before eating them – suggested delayed gratification and self-control are important, with these characteristics being linked to better school grades, earnings and job satisfaction.

Regardless of debates over whether emotional intelligence can be measured, we believe it’s worthwhile for schools to explore some of its main facets. Here’s how.

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