Friday, October 22, 2004

Session 5 reading: comments

The term emotional intelligence was first used in 1990 as "the ability to manage feelings and relationships" (p. 91, 2nd parag from bottom). It's made up of what Howard Gardner refers as 'intrapersonal' and 'interpersonal' intelligences. Daniel Goleman (with a book titled Emotional Intelligence) says that it involves 5 skills: self-awareness (being aware of our emotions), managing (those) emotions, self-motivation, empathy and relating well with others (p. 91, bottom).

That emotions have an impact on/affect learning (p. 90, top) is not new to me. I remember two teachers who made a very strong and lasting impression on me due to their competence, way of teaching and the emotion they put in their teaching:

  • a Portuguese Literature teacher (Irene Ferreira de Almeida, my friend) in the 11th grade teacher whose eyes filled with tears and voice faltered as she spoke of several passages in the Portuguese epic poem, Os Lusiadas, by Luis de Camoes. She always seemed to be living those scenes intensely in class. This work, which was usually very boring for most students, was fascinating to me due to that "very special" teacher and all the feelings and emotions that she expressed at all times. I was all ears and eyes in the many classes about it;
  • an American Math teacher (Marcia Perlmutter, another very dear friend!), also "very special", who would generally start classes telling us a joke or a funny story in order to get us in the mood for 'working'. And she did! :-)

That emotions can be managed and controlled (p. 90, middle) seems quite obvious as we go thorugh life and observe people and behavior. However, it's not an easy process. I can speak for myself. On very few occasions in the past it was very difficult to control myself in class, when students were extremely rude or arrogant. It's a direct blow on my nervous system and I do need to breathe very, very deeply before (re)acting!

That our emotional state influences our thinking (p. 90, middle) is a given. I guess that's why we say that we "speak with the heart" (in our hand)! Better yet, when such a situation arises and we don't see things clearly, we are advised to think rationally and coldly.

Yes, emotions do influence learning! In good and bad ways, positively and negatively.

Personally, I have found that at intensely emotional times (a serious illness in the family, for example), work is a great therapy. Having our mind 100% concentrated in class works wonders. But the same situation doesn't generally have the same reaction on the part students, who can easily be distracted away from class. Therefore, the need to pull them back to 'planet classroom' (an expression I often use) whether through a timely a reminder, or a caring word or gesture.

Anxiety about test results and school grades (often the result of a very demanding parent – Susana J.), negative emotional responses (crumbling a test in my face, because he didn't get what he expected, or "I'm not going to do what you're telling me!" in a very challenging tone – Pedro G.), low self-esteem, lack of trust in themselves, need to be worked on constantly in a caring way (p. 91, top). The Pedro I'm talking about (in 5th grade last year) wrote me fabulous apologetic letters on two occasions after having reacted very negatively with me. (BTW, he seems like a natural-born writer! I hope I'm not wrong.)

While reading this chapter I was very happy to see that several things I do in class from pure intuition and deep inner feeling, above all, because I respect and love my students, are considered "good practice":

  • having students voice their feelings, anxieties, learning difficulties, etc - self-awareness (p. 92) - and discussing with others better ways and strategies to cope;
  • talking about/discussing an unpleasant attitude or happening - managing emotions (p. 92) - whether with the class or just with the students involved (at the expense of a lesson, if necessary). I've learned that we not only relieve tensions, but also gain a lot in terms of empathy from just caring, especially at the right moment. It's truly a teachable/learnable moment!
  • being firm and demanding, but helpful at all times, ends up motivating students and arouses the self-motivation (p. 93) needed to generate trust and boost self-esteem. I'm always enthusiastically supportive of low achievers and ask them to demand more of themselves, because they can be better if they want and make the extra effort. I always demand more of each and every student and have high expectations of them and the class. I believe I have gotten to many just by showing enthusiasm/emotion in how I say things and believing in what I'm saying;
  • showing that I care about them when they come up to me after class, listening when I sense a real need or urge to talk, tell me something, respect their ideas and opinions, in short, connecting to them, thus, establishing a two-way connection: that's empathy! (p. 93)
  • modeling good behavior and exemplifying bad behavior or manners, being fair, admitting I'm wrong, hearing both sides of a problem, creating a safe classroom environment where everyone can voice his ideas and opinions openly without fear of being ridiculed, is all part of relating well with others (p. 93).

I will end with my main and very personal idea before and after reading this chapter: as happens with most things in life, first impressions are crucial! They are decisive in grabbing or hooking a class. . . or letting it go! Either there's empathy or not! If there is, it'll be the first step towards a safe and caring environment which, in turn, will generate motivation for learning. If we are able to achieve that, all other problems, whether cognitive or behavioral, will be easier to overcome. This doesn't mean we will have all the students in our hand, but we will certainly have a lot of allies who will help us face any potential enemy!

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