30 May 2012

Emotional intelligence – enhancing relationships in the classroom

By Dr Lily Wisker

The role of lecturers is continuing to grow in importance as higher education issues and challenges become increasingly complex and multifaceted. The effectiveness of higher education depends on the abilities of lecturers to respond to ongoing pressure and manage the curriculum as well as students efficiently. And, in order to be effective and efficient in their roles, these lecturers need various skills and knowledge.

One skill that has not been given considerable attention in classroom management literature is emotional intelligence (EI). From a theoretical perspective, EI refers to the cooperative combination of intelligence and emotions. Psychologists use an emotional quotient to illustrate emotional intelligence as an array of non-cognitive skills. They describe emotional intelligence as a set of emotional and social capabilities that influence one’s general ability to effectively face the demands of his/her environment.

A growing body of research claims that EI is a better predictor of success than the traditional measures of general intelligence (IQ). Perhaps there is merit in this claim as several studies have shown a positive association between emotional intelligence and managerial performance. The higher a leader sits in an organisation, the more important EI becomes, compared to IQ and technical skills.

A leader who possesses the ability to manage his/her emotions may be more likely to exercise self-control when problems arise, thereby earning the respect and trust of followers. Furthermore, the ability to understand the needs and expectations of followers may be an advantage in terms of inspiring and motivating them.

The concept of emotional intelligence is, in fact, not new. It was suggested thousands of years ago. The great military general and philosopher Sun Tzu (722 BC–481 BC), who authored The Art of War, once said:
Know the other and know yourself:
One hundred challenges without danger;
Know not the other and yet know yourself:
One triumph for one defeat;
Know not the other and know not yourself:
Every challenge is certain peril.”

Studies have identified some positive associations between emotional intelligence and work performance. Thus, it would be interesting to determine if lecturers in tertiary education have attempted to employ EI in classroom teaching and management.

Almost every day we hear and read about the challenge of managing students in tertiary education: students are unengaged, unmotivated and rude, and many have poor attendance. How do we deal with such students? Is the stress worth it? Perhaps the remedy to the issue is the use of EI in classroom teaching and management.

Researchers have found that misbehaviour and low academic achievement of students may be the result of their social and emotional difficulties, coupled with an inability to use socially skillful ways to gain lecturer support. The more socially skilled the lecturer, the more effective he or she is in helping to establish a framework in managing misbehaviour. This would eventually resolve any challenges caused by his or her students.

Employing EI in classroom teaching could be exercised in various dimensions. First and foremost, a lecturer needs to appraise and express his or her emotions relating to his or her ability to understand one’s deep emotions. Once lecturers do this, they could appraise and recognize the emotions of others which relates to their ability to perceive and understand the emotion of students. They could then regulate the emotion in themselves, thereby enabling a more rapid recovery from psychological distress.

Finally, the lecturer could use emotion to facilitate performance, which relates to the ability to make use of emotions by directing them towards constructive activities and personal performance. The primary objective in this circumstance is to achieve a safe, inclusive environment because only within a supportive social context can students develop interpersonal skills and eventually be more motivated in their learning process.

A lack of skill or sensitivity on the part of the lecturer and a tertiary environment which is unreceptive, or even hostile, will inhibit the willingness of students to become more motivated and engaged, which are essential for teaching and learning to take place. The process, which is as important as the outcome, requires the lecturer and students to respect the norms – that is, to listen attentively, express appreciation, avoid insult and deconstructive criticism, have the right to pass, and exercise mutual respect.

Lecturers are faced with more and more challenges in classroom management. It has never been harder. It is perhaps timely for lecturers to employ emotional intelligence in their teaching and managing the classroom.