Classroom Environment Part 2: Integrating Emotional Intelligence

We were in my senior English class and a few students had volunteered to share their essay drafts aloud as models for whatever writing focus we had designated that day. I don’t remember. It doesn’t matter because we got completely derailed when one student read his essay which wasn’t an essay at all but an emotional outpouring about the girl he likes, his recent battle with depression, his parents struggling marriage, and his desire to have sex with the aforementioned girl.

I wasn’t sure where to go with this. I wanted to shut it down and compartmentalize by sending him to the counselor who is trained for that stuff—unlike me. But, I could feel the energy of all the other kids completely focused on this boy, and I knew that we were going to have to process this here and now.

I have to be honest; adolescents and teenagers sometimes tend to overdo the drama, and when I was teaching them, I often wished we could put all the emotion and social skirmishing aside and get on with the actual learning. Please. It’s exhausting. Can we just get back to the text?

However, as I learned more about classroom environment, emotional intelligence, Maslow’s theories, etc., I came to understand that not only can we not set our social and emotional selves aside, but rather that by welcoming them into the classroom we enhance students’ cognitive abilities. What I had been seeing as distractions and “time-wasting tragedies” were actually doors and bridges providing access to my students’ minds and hearts.

In his book Emotional Intelligence, Dan Goleman (1995) documents the ways in which emotional intelligence is a greater predictor of academic success than IQ. He introduced emotional literacy as “a shorthand term for the idea that children’s emotional and social skills can be cultivated, and doing so gives them decided advantages in their cognitive abilities, in their personal adjustment, and in their resiliency through life.” He builds a strong case that social and emotional guidance should be an essential part of any learning experience.

In her article “Social and Emotional Learning: An Emerging Field Builds a Foundation for Peace,” Rachael Kessler (1997) observes that the angst of adolescence is the very thing that makes this a great time for learning and growth.

“Adolescence is a time when these energies awaken with a force that many have misunderstood and dismissed as “hormones.” It is a time when the larger questions of meaning and purpose, about ultimate beginnings and endings begin to press with an urgency and loneliness we can all remember.”

Let’s say we’re persuaded by the research but still wondering how to go about building a classroom environment that not only makes room for, but even invites the integration of our social and emotional intelligence? And, where do we find the class time for that?

Excellent questions, and far too grand for this modest little post, but we will provide a few tips and ideas in upcoming posts. In the meantime, we recommend anything and everything written by Rachael Kessler.

We also like this very pragmatic Edutopia article, “Creating an Emotionally Healthy Classroom Environment,” by teacher and educational journalist Mark Phillips.

And if you’d like something a little more heady, check out “Creating a Warm and Inclusive Classroom Environment: Planning for All Children to Feel Welcome” by Jessica L. Bucholz Ed.D. and Julie L. Sheffler.

Also, leave us a comment sharing how you’ve made your classroom emotionally safe and welcoming for students.


Check out the other posts in this series!

Classroom Environment – Part 1
Classroom Environment – Part 2
Classroom Environment – Part 3
Classroom Environment – Part 4