Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence” refers to our ability to control those aspects of our lives which are associated with emotions.  The concept is associated particularly with the name of an American psychologist, Daniel Goleman, who has popularized the work of Joseph LeDoux on the brain and the primacy of emotions. His work has been influential in the world of business, where increased personal effectiveness is very important.  It has also been influential in educational circles, where it is seen as offering ways of improving pupils’ achievement and of providing them with skills for their personal and working lives. Goleman suggests that emotional lessons can be built into the fabric of school life (through the manner of teachers’ engagement with pupils). Emotional Intelligence is often referred to as “EQ”, contrasting with “IQ”.   “Emotional Literacy” is used by many to refer to Emotional Intelligence skills.  Emotional intelligence is given very high priority in Highland’s Learning and Teaching Policy.   Emotional intelligence (which is both intra- and inter-personal) should be acknowledged, nurtured and developed.   We should encourage the ability to read and be sensitive to other people’s feelings and encourage the development of three emotional competences: emotional awareness; accurate self assessment; self esteem.

Points arising from Research

  • Research has suggested that no more than 25% of an individual’s success in his/her career is attributable to IQ.  EQ may be a better indication of success in life than IQ.
  • Improving pupils’ emotional intelligence has been seen to improve academic achievement.
  • The concept of Emotional Intelligence may be seen as an elaboration of Howard Gardner’s inter- and intra-personal intelligences (see Toolkit section on Multiple Intelligences).
  • It has resonance with Feuerstein,s IE Programme which was designed to overcome deficiencies in pupil’s cognitive functioning including impulsive, acting out behaviour.
  • It also has resonance with M Lipman’s desire to see more emphasis (being placed by teachers) on caring thinking.Strategies to promote Emotional Intelligence should involve the family and the wider community

Why the focus on Emotional Intelligence?

  • Brain science has shown how emotions have primacy in responding to sensory data and thus strong emotional reactions can overwhelm rational responses to situations and can “hijack” a rational, calm response.  If we can control our initial impulsive response to a situation we may be able to deal more effectively with it.
  • There is widespread concern about many young people’s lack of Emotional Intelligence and a feeling that schools can do more to improve this
  • Physiological factors directly influence adolescent Emotional Intelligence
  • Changes in the ways in which families function can mean that schools may need to take on a role in building Emotional Literacy
  • Teaching Emotional Literacy may improve pupils’ future  parenting skills
  • Emotionally healthy children are happier, more cooperative and learn more effectively

The 5 “domains” of EI (Goleman follows Salovey and Mayer here)


  • Understanding our emotional responses is the most important factor in EI
  • This gives us the potential to manage our emotional state

Emotional control

  • We can use strategies to control our emotional state
  • This can be done in a reactive way in stressful situations
  • It can also be part of a pro-active management of our lives


  • When we have a goal, the control of emotions will assist greatly in achieving it (eg in the sense of “deferred gratification” and control of impulses)
  • This can lead to a state of “flow” in which intense, productive, creative focus  on tasks is possible 


  • The ability to recognise signs in others of how they are feeling is important if we are to establish good relationships with them
  • This can lead to more productive work with colleagues
  • It can also help us to deal with conflict situations

Handling relationships

  • Good understanding of emotions can help us to manage the emotions of others
  • It is possible to teach skills of understanding and managing others’ emotional states

Key elements of schemes designed to develop Emotional Intelligence

(Goleman refers to the following American examples:  the Self Science curriculum; the Child Development Project; Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS).   In Highland the Lessons For Living programme is being used – see references below.)

They will develop the following:

  • Emotional skills:  identifying and labelling feelings; expressing feelings; assessing the intensity of feelings; managing feelings; delaying gratification; controlling impulses; reducing stress; knowing the difference between feelings and actions
  • Cognitive skills:  conducting an inner dialogue to deal with situations; understanding signs of emotional states; using problem-solving and decision-making strategies; understanding the perspectives of others; understanding norms of  behaviour; adopting a positive attitude to life; developing realistic self-awareness
  • Behavioural skills:  non-verbal; verbal

They will cater for the emotional needs of children related to their age and situation

Some practicalities:

  • The articulation of feelings within the classroom by teacher and/or pupils can improve the emotional atmosphere.  This can also help defuse conflict situations.
  • When the teacher understands the pupils’ feelings, and vice versa, good relationships are easier (NB: up to 90% of communication is said to be non-verbal)
  • Teachers can talk about their own feelings to help open up this sort of communication
  • The positive and negative aspects of emotions can be discussed
  • It helps if the teacher gets to know and understand each individual pupil 
  • Teaching listening skills is important
  • We can consider how other organisations and activities can contribute to the teaching of EI, such as Scout groups, sports clubs, PTAs etc.
  • Pupils can be asked their feelings about a subject/topic – eg by creating 3 lists: positive thoughts, negative thoughts and interesting ideas
  • Pupils can share with the class an enthusiasm for an aspect of a subject/topic
  • Role-playing, drama activities etc offer opportunities for expressing emotions
  • Pupils can put notes of how they are feeling into a post-box for the teacher
  • Pupils can compile charts of how they are feeling over a period of time
  • Aspects of EI should be taught separately, but can also be incorporated into the day-to-day curriculum
  • Other aspects of learning and teaching can contribute to an environment in which pupils feel happy, secure and able to control their emotions
  • Each school’s learning and teaching policy should take full account of EI and the teaching  of Emotional Literacy

Reflection and Discussion

To what extent does the Emotional Intelligence agenda seem to fit with your own perceptions? Work on Emotional Intelligence is primarily associated with America. 

Do you think that it is too “touchy-feely” for British schools and teachers or are there elements which we can exploit?

Some Activities Relating To the Issue of Emotional Intelligence

Key element Objective Action

Some examples and suggestions

Why the focus on Emotional Intelligence? Understanding how brain science has shown how strong emotional reactions can overwhelm rational responses to situations Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence gives a very readable account of the research dealing with this.  Try reading Part One of it.  You could read on and learn about the marshmallow experiment.  Does this alter your thoughts about how we should present information to pupils or how a discipline system should operate?
The 5 “domains” of EI  Understanding the power of empathy Goleman examines ways in which empathising with others can make our jobs easier.  This can affect how we work with colleagues and how we relate to pupils.  We can help pupils to understand the power of empathy and to relate to each other more effectively.  Look at Goleman’s specific comments on how empathy works.
Schemes designed to develop Emotional Intelligence  In Highland the Lessons For Living programme is being used This programme uses the following rationale:  conditioning, caring>challenge, confidence, commitment, control>coping>calmness, competence, creativity.   Talk to a Pupil Support teacher about strategies being used here.
Some practicalities

When the teacher understands the pupils’ feelings, good relationships are easier

To what extent do you really know your pupils' feelings about things: for your subject/topic, for their home situation, for their lives?  Do they know what you feel about things?Is it worth casually making time to talk about such things?  Consider how you could integrate such issues into curricular work.

Selected References

Further Reading

Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ by Daniel Goleman (1996)

Bloomsbury – ISBN: 074752 8306

Working With Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (1998)

Bloomsbury – ISBN: 0747543844

Fostering Emotional Intelligence by Gwen Doty

Corwin Press – ISBN 07619 77481

Lessons For Living by Frank Waters

University of Strathclyde – ISBN 189822031X

Lipman, M. (2003) Thinking in Education, Cambridge University Press  ISBN 0-521-01225-2

Mayer, J. And Salovey, P. (1990) ‘Emotional Intelligence’, Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9, 185-211.