EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE AT THE SECONDARY AND POST SECONDARY LEVEL
Dr. Dominick P. Ferello
National Louis University
Dr. Jeffrey Blume
There is more to going to college than academics. An exiting student must also possess high social emotional intelligence in order to attain success in their chosen field. This article discusses the advent of social emotional intelligence and strategies that may be used by institutions of higher learning to prepare these students for the challenges ahead.
Higher Learning, Emotional Intelligence, Social Emotional Intelligence, Educational Environment, Counseling
The term Emotional Intelligence was first coined by two psychologists during the 1990s. John Meyer and Peter Salovey introduced the academic community to this concept in an article they had written for a small academic journal. Meyer and Salovey (1990) defined emotional intelligence as a keen sense of social awareness that is coupled with the ability to understand and monitor one’s own emotions as well as the emotions of others. An individual who possesses a high emotional intelligence will then use the identified and observed emotions to react appropriately to the situation at hand. When utilized consistently, emotional intelligence can support better student decision making on social and academic issues.
Emotional Intelligence and Education
The importance of developing a student’s emotional intelligence has been embraced by educators globally. This is particularly true at the elementary school level. It has been the catalyst that triggered the creation of programs in character education, anti-bullying, violence prevention, peer mediation, drug prevention and was a critical component in the development of many school discipline plans. Emotional intelligence is seen as having a significant impact on overall academic achievement and childhood development. It is viewed by many educators as an integral element in educating the “whole child”.
Character education is a major component in most elementary schools. Studies indicate that the use of character education raises the emotional intelligence of the school student population, helps reduce conflicts between students and encourages a comfortable academic environment for the students (Kuncel, Ones, & Sackett, 2010). This is usually accomplished by the school staff developing a character education plan that revolves around specific behaviors and character words. Beginning with the building of these character education traits through the utilization of appropriate words, a program is implemented for the entire school community to utilize. The concepts are modeled by the educators and the students practice the traits.
In recent years bullying has become a prominent issue within the educational environment (Young-Jones, Fursa, Byrket, et al., 2015). While anti-bullying measures may be part of a character education program, in many instances, it is a standalone program. In the United States, October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. During this time, many districts empower their schools to engage in activities that will bring about awareness as to what bullying is, how to deal with bullying, and the importance of reporting bullying. At the elementary level, this may be done by the school counselor presenting a classroom lesson on bullying, outside organizations presenting programs regarding bullying, and daily reminders of bullying awareness. However, research indicates that anti-bullying programs are minimal at best at the secondary level (Cantone, Piras, Vellante, Preti, Daníelsdóttir, D’Aloja, & Bhugra, D, 2015). Students are expected to utilize strategies previously learned in elementary school to resolve any conflicts that may arise.
Schools and school districts have developed programs to address violence prevention. Through presentations by the school counselor and outside agencies, violence identification and prevention is offered to the student body. This is usually done through character education, classroom guidance presentations on anger management and small group counseling with students who have been identified as having issues with controlling their anger. Limited instructional time at the secondary level impedes the consistent delivery of violence prevention programs. As a result, in some cases schools refer families to outside agencies for more intensive interventions (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015).
Peer mediation is another program that impacts emotional intelligence. A peer mediator is a student who has been trained to help other students overcome conflicts and develop a win-win solution. Once mediators are trained, the general school population is made aware of how the process will work and how to sign up for mediation. This heightens the development of emotional intelligence not only for the mediators, but also the students as they must be able to listen, reflect, and understand how others are thinking and feeling. Although this program originated as an intervention for students at the secondary level, it is only offered on a sparatic basis at best due to time constraints (Malizia, Jameson, 2018).
Another area that impacts emotional intelligence is drug prevention. The use of illicit drugs can skew the perceptions of individuals who are partaking in such a dangerous recreational endeavor. Understanding what drugs are, how to avoid them and why they are bad for you unless given to you by an appropriate authority, is at the center of any prevention program. This too leads back to the character education word “respect”. Those who indulge in recreational drug use are not respecting their bodies and therefore failing to show self-respect (Fisher, Zapolski, Sheehan & Barnes-Najor, 2017). Drug prevention programs are frequently implemented at the elementary level through private agencies or the school counseling department. Formal instruction beyond this point is rare as a result of limited resources and time.
In today’s classrooms, group activities that foster cooperative learning and collaborative inquiry are a centerpiece to higher level thinking in the educational environment. Allowing students to interact with each other on projects encourages and heightens emotional intelligence. These types of positive learning experiences show great promise in raising the emotional intelligence of all students.
Programs that raise emotional intelligence generally begin in kindergarten and run through the last grade of elementary school. When the student enters middle school these programs are then delivered on an “as needed basis”. Students recommended by the staff as exhibiting a need for more instruction in one of these areas will receive services through small group counseling with the school counselor. Herein lies the problem. If programs that heighten emotional intelligence and improve overall academic achievement are not provided in a more comprehensive and consistent fashion through middle school and high school, the young adult will be ill prepared for the world they will encounter upon graduation. Whether going off to college or going into the workforce, the student must exhibit a high level of emotional intelligence and be academically proficient. This will ensure professional success and a happy and satisfying life.
Developing Emotional Intelligence in the Secondary and Post-Secondary Student
To encourage proper continuous growth in the area of emotional intelligence, opportunities need to be offered at all levels of education. The following activities would be appropriate for students in the secondary and post secondary educational environments. These strategies further promote self-awareness and the ability to be cognizant of the feelings of others.
Hoeffner (2018), offered the following in class strategies for teachers to create teachable moments in the development of emotional intelligence (EI):
A. From the first day of class make students aware of the power of EI and continually discuss specific EI skills in the context of assignment requirements and persistence struggles.
B. Utilize readings that do double duty as both models for writing and as instructive commentaries on EI development. For example, readings about the power of failure, the emotional reasons for procrastination, and the value of a growth mindset easily facilitate an EI focus.
C. Design collaborative projects that teach students how to work with others. One of the most important and often lacking skills employers want these days is the ability to work in a team effectively. Self-awareness and empathy skills can be intentionally taught and developed within the context of collaborative projects.
D. Students can be prompted to discuss their own EI insights, opportunities, and struggles, both in class and in journal writing.
At some higher educational institutions, students may self-identify as needing assistance with Social Emotional Intelligence (SEL). These students may work on the following strategies identified by Meyer and Salovey (1990) to bolster their SEL:
a. Utilizing good nonverbal communication: eye contact: facial expression: tone of voice and posture and gesture
b. Using humor and laughter
c. Seeing work as play (Douglas McGregor’s ‘Y’ theory)
d. Staying focused
e. Choosing / selecting the right words
f. Learning to forgive
g. Finding strategies to reduce high emotions (take a walk, do shopping, watch cartoons, gardening and any other activities besides formal working)
Students may also seek help through their school’s wellness center. One example is Dartmouth College. According to Dartmouth (2019), “We offer single and multi-session workshops for students interested in building EI skills. These discussion-based, experiential sessions are designed to offer opportunities to build capacities for self-awareness, emotion regulation, and communication across differences (para. 2).” The curriculum is based upon Yale’s RULER framework. “RULER, which stands for Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing, and Regulating emotions, is an evidence-based approach for cultivating and strengthening the skills of Emotional Intelligence (para. 2).” The RULER program has been widely used at the primary and secondary level (Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, 2019).
A suggested format for colleges and universities is to require entering students to take a Social Emotional Intelligence Assessment to determine if a need exists for the entering student. The institution may offer a course, small group sessions or individual sessions with staff to assist students in need. This allows the institution to address the needs of the student. Additionally, staff development may also be beneficial, so social emotional intelligence strategies are implemented system wide.
In conclusion, emotional intelligence has emerged as a vital force needed for an exiting student to be successful in their endeavors. An individual who lacks emotional intelligence will find it difficult to be successful. As part of the interviewing process, many employers have candidates come and work in small groups for a half day to identify those that have high social emotional intelligence. Therefore, it behooves institutes of higher learning to ensure their students possess the necessary tools to attain the student’s highest level of social emotional intelligence and therefore be successful.
As noted, author and science journalist Daniel Goleman remarked in 2011, “In a high-IQ job pool, soft skills like discipline, drive and empathy mark those who emerge as outstanding. “Employers are no longer only looking for high academic intelligence. The candidate must possess the soft skills as well.
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Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2015). School Violence: Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/youthviolence/schoolviolence/prevention.html
Dartmouth College (2018). Student Wellness Center: Emotional Intelligence. Retrieved from https://students.dartmouth.edu/wellness-center/wellness-mindfulness/programs/emotional-intelligence
Fisher, S., Zapolski, T., Sheehan, C., & Barnes-Najor, J. (2017). Pathway of protection: Ethnic identity, self-esteem, and substance use among multiracial youth. Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2017.03.003
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