You've seen him or her in action—the teacher who doesn't implode when the mischievous kid tries to derail the lesson, who rallies their colleagues when things seem hopeless, who can effectively deal with a difficult administrator, who easily diffuses and wins over the irate parent. This superhero teacher's superpower? A high level of emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence, says Psychology Today, is our ability to identify and manage our emotions and the emotions of others. It comprises three parts: emotional awareness; the ability to apply emotions to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and the ability to manage emotions, whether regulating our own or cheering up or calming down others.
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Emotional intelligence is a critical component of teacher success, and summer break is the perfect time for teachers to hone it while we recharge and prepare for the emotional work of the next school year. Here are seven strategies to do just that.
Pause and Reflect
In today's fast-paced world, it's too easy to fly off the handle. Being mindful of your own emotions can alleviate problems and help you rein in anger, mistrust, and resentment so you can avoid a disaster. Stop to think before you reply to that nasty parent email. Take a moment before you snap back at that rude colleague. When you pause and reflect, you're less likely to make an already difficult situation even worse.
Choose Your Words Carefully
We've all had confrontations with administrators, parents, or students that have made us furious. Those with strong emotional intelligence, however, "tend to use more specific words that can help communicate deficiencies, and then they immediately work to address them," says Forbes. If you've had a bad meeting with your principal, for example, figure out what made it so terrible—then address that problem. Don't just dwell on it; think about what you can do to fix it.
Get a Second Opinion
Whenever I'm freaking out about something, I'll go see my teaching colleague Mark and ask him if I'm being unreasonable or oversensitive. Mark will tell me the truth. In several instances, he's cautioned me that I was being oversensitive and that I needed to let it go. In others, he's urged me to follow-up and given me advice for handling the situation. A friend like Mark can help you keep your emotional awareness up.
After I'd had an argument with my friends when I was a kid, my mother would often urge me to put myself in the other person's shoes. Practicing empathy by seeing things from different viewpoints can be a powerful approach. Instead of just being angry at a student who's misbehaving, sit down with them and talk about why they're acting out. Building a good relationship can stamp out future problems.
Practicing empathy is important, but it's also hard. Inc. notes that overcoming the perspective gap—the inability to actually put ourselves in someone else's shoes—is much more difficult than we think. Imagine how difficult it might be to put yourself in the shoes of a student whose father is in prison or a colleague who's navigating a difficult divorce. Asking why a student is acting up or why a colleague seems short-tempered can help you see that a difficult person is maybe a person who needs some help.
Know Your Triggers
Recognizing what sends you into an emotional tailspin can help bolster your emotional intelligence. Figuring out your triggers will go a long way toward helping you cope with them.
For me, it's the teachers' lounge. While it's important to have collegial relationships, I've always found teachers' lounges to be hotbeds of gossip. Every single time I go to the teachers' lounge, I feel like I've heard something I didn't want to hear or said something that I shouldn't have said.
Summer vacation is the perfect time to reflect on your triggers and avoid the places or people that set you off. Take time this summer to appreciate having some distance from those things and to develop a plan for understanding and avoiding your triggers once the school year starts back up.
Have Crucial Conversations
Being emotionally intelligent doesn't mean that you don't confront problems. What it means is that you know how to have the crucial conversations that enable you to defuse conflict and take action. Crucial conversations help you listen, gauge other peoples' responses, and recognize when others are getting angry or shutting down. Once you make things safe again, you're able to consult, vote, and come to a consensus—and everyone is much happier.
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Improving your emotional intelligence will improve your success in communicating and building a team with administrators, colleagues, parents, and students. To become more emotionally intelligent, work on figuring out your weak spots, learning to see situations from others' perspectives, dealing with challenging situations, and being empathetic. What's more, these are all critical components of being an amazing and effective teacher.