By M.A. Maria A. Mora
From the perspective of an English teacher, in today’s world, we need to educate students emotionally to be better equipped for social and emotional challenges. However, these challenges rather than being measured by EQ tests are skills that we can teach, and students can learn inside and outside the classroom. In my case, I address these topics in my English class. I use the language as a trampoline to offer life skills that need to be introduced to students at an early stage, especially when entering college and embarking into a world that is commonly unknown to them and where emotions, decisions and new life experiences usually take a toll either positive or negative. As well, the fact that students are entering college at an earlier age, in their sixteens or seventeens, marks a true period of fitting in and self-discovery.
Emotional educated individuals can communicate, interact, empathize, resolve conflicts, solve problems and among all engage in friendships. As students, they tend to get better grades and establish long-term relationships that lead to success. As workers, emotionally educated employees are highly productive and teamwork oriented focused on results, engagement, and high quality of work. As common citizens, they can take on the world one situation at a time.
Dr. Claude Steiner proposes that we can achieve Emotional Literacy if we develop and nourish the ability to understand emotions, productively express our emotions and develop the capacity to listen to others and feel empathy towards their emotions. So, how can we transfer these premises into our world today? Moreover, into our classrooms? Dr. Steiner sets five simple steps: Knowing your feelings, having a heartfelt sense of empathy, learning to manage our emotions, repairing emotional damage, and putting it all together. Although staged, putting them in practice is challenging on their own. I will try to walk you through these steps from the perspective of the classroom setting and how I transform them into life skills.
To begin, we first need to understand our feelings. When students learn this stage, they become self-aware of their emotions. How can we teach our students to become self-conscious of their feelings? First, when they can identify what their state of emotion is at different moments, they learn to express these or hold them depending on the situation. In my class, I usually begin by teaching them how to name and identify different types of emotions. Later, I work circles of trust or lead them through the reflection of a movie like “Inside Out” or “Ice Age 4” which are some of the ones I use, although, depending on your audience I am sure you can find many more options. Helping them identify emotions and being able to connect with them offers practice and a great exercise. When they can state their emotions, they become more sensible and at the same time can reflect on their emotional state contributing to developing personal effectiveness and power or control in stressful situations, making them more assertive in decision-making under pressure.
Second, we need to experience empathy which is not more than experiencing others emotions like ours. Using the same movie experience, I can employ varied questioning techniques to move beyond in the movie themes and even tap on the social outreach ground, and ask the students to connect to the characters and experience a rollercoaster of emotions where they can freely state how and why it affects them the way it does. In occasions, I want for my students to experience real-life changing experiences and decide to carry out visits to the local elder’s home. This activity becomes a real transformation experience that taps on their nerves. Becoming empathetically aware contributes to them being honest about the other person and offer proper feedback of their emotions, leading to being ethical and truthful about performance and helping them establish and maintain healthy social relationships. However, it also has a down-side when the receiver of the feedback is not channeling emotions in the same way. They also experience this is the circle of trust.
The third step is to manage our emotions. How can we manage these, when we are either too sensitive or too indifferent? Moreover, how can teachers bring these to the classroom? Well, at this stage, I facilitate tasks where students recognize when and how to express themselves and when and how not to do it since it will affect others. Sometimes, although we have something to say to someone, it may or may not be the right time, mood, tone or the place. Learning when to address different topics and manage situations with others is part of managing our emotions since our purpose is for the speaker to express a state of mind, yet expects the receiver to respond appropriately by either accepting or reflecting in specific actions. When not done properly the receiver enters in denial or reacts dropping our intentions or misinterpreting these from its original purpose. This stage, I usually work it out in a circle of trust or a “Freirian fishbowl” activity. What do my students gain from this? My students learn to communicate with one another, discern proper timing to express their emotions and share these with others in a non-judgmental way. As well, they develop techniques to become mediators and resolve conflicts.
The fourth step is to mend our emotional errors. It is simply to recognize our mistakes and ask for an apology. However, this is not easy since accepting that we make mistakes and that we commonly express ideas that impress the wrong reactions in others, leads us to mend our errors. Apologizing is not just to accept that we made a mistake; it means allowing reflection time and accepting that what we said caused a negative impression in others. When we apologize, we tend to justify our words, actions or emotions, yet we do not necessarily connect with the receiver’s emotions, and we mainly focus on ourselves as individuals. When my students reach this stage, the first thing they do is think about how they will express their ideas, anticipating to the other person’s reaction and reaching a conversational transaction that would avoid being defensive. I promote being open to others and learning to listen. The type of activity I use for this section is also the “Freirian fishbowl.” In it, I allow for my students to express, and comment on a controversial topic that will impact them and after promote a conversation with each other. I also encourage them to be ready to recognize and accept that they made a mistake, or express the intended message wrongly. What do my students develop from this stage? I develop in my students active listening skills, and accountability for their words and actions.
My cherry on top for life skill development is using Steiner’s fifth step: combining all previous stages and encouraging emotional interaction with others effectively. I do this as a final evaluation where students interact through controversial topics and situations in smaller groups. I create conditions for them to express opinions and express how they feel about the issue allowing for emotions to flourish in a safe and respectful environment. Within these smaller groups, as the conversation starts, each one takes on a role, allowing for leaders, promoters, and ambassadors to appear too. Once in the larger groups, students express how they felt, how they empathized with others, and if necessary mended emotional errors. Aside from emotional interaction, I also tap in problem-solving, role development and tolerance all geared towards reaching results.
To conclude, the one thing I am sure of is that emotional interaction requires constant practice. Although I work my course within a semester time frame, I know that the impact on my students marks them and prepares them for the endeavor of university life, society and why not, professional life blossoming all from an English class. My satisfaction as a teacher is that I achieved my purpose. I encouraged them to use English, the language they are currently learning, as a springboard to building character. Also, they become emotionally educated individuals, who are ready to establish relationships, obtain better grades and take risks in their classes and life. Personally, I gain the satisfaction of inducting my students in the path of emotional interaction and maturity for them to become better leaders.
Steiner, Claude. Emotional Literacy: Intelligence with a Heart. 2003.
Shank, Cindy. What the What? Strategies for Critical Reflection and … Ira.tulsacc.edu, 7 Jan. 2016. Accessed 20 July. 2017.
Miller, Richard L., and Joseph J. Benz. “Techniques for Encouraging Peer Collaboration: Online Threaded Discussion or Fishbowl Interaction.” Journal of Instructional Psychology, George Uhlig Publisher, 1 Mar. 2008, www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-178218792/techniques-for-encouraging-peer-collaboration-online. Accessed 20 Aug. 2017.