Emotional Intelligence: How it can Impact the Democratic Methods of Education (Full Version)

It was a crisp September morning, in Upstate New York (every day is crisp and cool when you live in New York, by the way). The year was 2015, and it was the first Monday of the month. I only remember this because I had just finished my once-a-year session at the gym known as Planet Fitness; or as I like to call it, Free Pizza and Some Fitness.” As I walked out of the gym, stomach full from the free pizza, arms still the same size but my fingers stronger from holding the cheese-heavy pizza slices, I got a call that set my life on a new path. I was hired to teach third grade at a local elementary school. I had waited a whole year for this job; so it only made sense to flail my arms around in the middle of the Planet Fitness parking lot. For a minute, my lanky body and skinny arms could have been mistaken for those of an inflatable tube man. In fact, I should have gotten paid for my minute, because my antics undoubtedly brought in some new customers.

Two weeks later, I sat in my new office chair with my spine leaning as far back as it could go; my arms folded like a bouncer—except without the muscle part—and a feeling that this day couldn’t go wrong….Well, it went wrong. Uncommonly wrong!

My future students walked into the classroom at a turtle’s pace. In reality, their faces showed no excitement at all. Only one expression was written on all of their faces: fear. Fear of their new teacher and classmates; fear of how they act and what they wear, and what their peers might say about both; fear of being away from home. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of emotions. Fear of getting bullied. Fear of being a bully. Fear of farting by mistake; or worse—fear of taking that fart to the second level by mistake. And of course, fear of the work itself. Fear…fear…fear.

But why? Why is there so much fear in a place that is supposed to enhance trust, courage, curiosity, love, and control of your sphincter muscles (sorry, I had to)….Well, there are numerous answers to this question, but I’d like to focus on one for this particular paper: emotional intelligence. It is my opinion that if we supplement emotional intelligence in our students, and teachers, then we will begin to see less fear in the classroom, and more acceptance in the hearts of each student. And if that occurs, we will see the impact emotional intelligence has on the democratic methods of education.

My Philosophy on Education

My philosophy on education is simple: the student comes first. No, I did not steal this slogan from my first job as a customer-service employee; it’s just how I feel about education. As I said, it’s a simple philosophy, yet it seems to be forgotten—far too often. At meetings, teachers will discuss ideas that hold no ties to the students (I’ve done it, as well). We must not forget why we became a teacher. I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure that the majority of us did not follow this profession for the high funds. We chose it for the vacation days—I mean the students! See? It’s easy to forget.

Since I believe students should come first in all decision making. I also believe we need to teach students to become the best they can be. Stop for a moment—put down that ice cream bowl—and think of a situation where students have just received their grades from an assignment. Maybe, you have yet to teach in a classroom. That’s alright, just think of your own experiences. What is the first thing children, of all ages, do when they receive a test? That’s right! They look to see what their buddies got; or they look to see what the class genius received. But what most of them are actually doing, is comparing themselves to their peers. The kid that received a 70%, wants to find someone—oh, just anyone—who received a lower grade. —I don’t want that for my students. I want them to look at their 70% and compare it to their 65% the previous week. Improvement!

My goal for my students, is to bring joy into their lives. They’re kids; so naturally, they enter school with joy. However, I see multiple students lose that joy as they move forward. Let’s face it, we are in charge of several students who have different likes and dislikes, fears and motivations, strengths and weaknesses; which makes teaching so challenging. It’s our job to understand and push our students to success. And I want my students to leave my classroom feeling like they can conquer the world. In a world that can be cruel—I want them to change it.

And in order to make change, we as teachers, and students, need to improve our emotional intelligence.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

It’s a beautiful day for recess: the sun is out, there’s a light breeze in the air, and the kickball field is just calling for attention. Some twenty students answer the field’s call. They rush toward the field—bellies still full from the lunch they scarfed down—in attempt to get there first (a big deal for elementary students). They all mob the field and take their places throughout. A third of the kids seem to have an understanding of the game; another third just happy to be apart of it, and the rest of the students just watch and cheer from the side.

The game begins. A kid named Matt (it’s always a kid named Matt) takes the plate. He’s a third-grader alright, but his body is ready for middle school and his face is growing a mustache that looks like it didn’t get enough nutrients. He gets into his kicking stance and prepares for the pitch. The kickball is pitched right down the middle. It’s pure poetry in motion. Matt pulls his hairy, thirty-year old leg back and swings it forward like a pendulum, and…BOOM! He blasts the ball into left field—and right into the hands of a peer. Out! they all call.

Now, here is the point where emotional intelligence (EI) comes into play. If Matt is able to brush it off, and head back to his team with the understanding that everything is going to be alright, then he is presenting a great example of a child with high EI. If, on the other hand, he decides to throw a tantrum because the pitch was too bouncy, and there should be a redo, then he is showing a poor example of emotional intelligence, and making himself look silly at the same time.

Emotional intelligence is simply the ability to recognize and control one’s emotions, and the emotions of others. It sounds so simple; yet, there are a number of students and adults who lack emotional intelligence. If, we can bring emotional intelligence to are students and teachers, it can have a tremendous impact on the democratic methods of education.

A Brief History

When you think of intelligence, what’s the first thing that jumps to your brain? For most of us, we think about, well—intelligence. We tend to think about an individual with a high IQ; we may think about our coworker, Becky, who always has the answer to problems. We may think of ourselves, and the many high scores we received in life. We may think of a lot of things before we think about emotional intelligence. In fact, many individuals may not know the term! I personally stumbled across it on my weekly visit to Barnes & Nobles. I picked up the practical guide, and have been curious ever since. The funny thing is—its been around for a very, long time. And there I was, thinking I had the brand new solution to education.

Although I was a little behind the trend, the impact it has on education, is still in its beginning stages. So, where did emotional intelligence come from? And how far will it go?

It all started, long ago, when a man named Plato said something. Yes, that’s all it was: a man said something a long time ago, and the thinkers of the time took off with it. A man who seems to be made out of stone said: “All learning has emotional base.” This makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. Again, envision that student who comes into class angry every day. How much learning are they going to do with emotions like that? Or, how about the student who comes to class each day with an eagerness to learn? That student will tend to retain more information than the student with constant anger. Even you (yes, you) may have had times where emotions have gotten the better of you. Emotions can lead us to learn; or take us away from learning.

As years went by, people from all different occupations began to think about the importance of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence picked up steam in the 50’s, when a man named Abraham Maslow, discussed the possibility that one could increase their emotional strengths. This was at a time when intelligence was the goal. A high intelligence was what people were striving for. And emotions where, well…who cares! No one really understood the impact emotions could have; but Maslow changed that type of thinking, and the world was beginning to see the value emotions could have on a person.

Peter Salovey and the great John Mayer (remember, it’s not the singer), took emotional intelligence a step further when they realized it does not stand separate from intelligence, but instead, correlates with intelligence. They believed, if one can control their emotions, then one can advance their intellect.

A few years later, a man named Daniel Goleman picked up where Solvay and Mayer left off, and wrote a bestseller on emotional intelligence. In his book, he discusses the many importances that emotional intelligence can have on education. He believes teachers with high emotional intelligence can motivate students to learn. And in a similar fashion, students who have a high-level of emotional intelligence, will make better decisions that affect their learning.

The work done by Goleman, and the many others before him, has carried over to today. You will see emotional intelligence as one of the main qualities employers look for in their workers.  It’s a movement that’s increasing all over the world, and the sooner we see it in schools, the more our students will achieve.

Relation to Democratic Education and its Innovators

The direction education seems to be going today, can be scary at times. There is a high emphasis on achieving high-scores and data. Many schools are driven by data. This is not a bad thing. But should it be the driving force in education? When data is in the driver’s seat, the fuel that keeps it going are grades. And when that’s the case, we tend to teach students to achieve high scores. You’ll see it in many schools you observe or teach at. You want to know if this is true or not, ask the students. They are prone to telling it how it is. Don’t want to ask them? Then just observe them in a classroom setting. The students know who is “smart” and who is “stupid.” And how do they know this? Test scores, and the way the teacher operates the classroom. This is not to say the teacher is to blame; this is to say that education, like many things, has flaws.

When you look at democratic education, you may still see data being used. After all, it is important to see growth, and data can assist with decision making; but it’s not the only goal. Democratic education, in my opinion, is the teacher and students coming together as equals: they share rights in the classroom, and they work together to enhance learning. With that definition, you will see how emotional intelligence fits like the last puzzle piece. Without emotional intelligence, you may not have a true, democratic school. Let’s take a look at a few ways emotional intelligence and democratic education relate.

An Ever-Changing World

Our world, as we all know, is changing—and fast. While I’m writing this sentence, someone has likely thought of another piece of new technology that will help our world move even faster. Change is everywhere: in our homes, in the cars we drive, in the technology we use, and so much more. So why do we not see this fast-pace change in schools? Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing changes being made in our schools, but are we moving fast enough?

In a democratic school, educators need to be on board with change. They need to embrace it and engage themselves with what’s going on around them. This is easier said than done. Change is scary. Believe it or not, a few days ago I was scared to try a new education app with my students. It seemed like a great way to engage students in critical thinking; but if I failed, I lost a day teaching my students how to get answers right (sounds silly, doesn’t it?). Not a good look for a data-driven school. Since change is scary, we sometimes see less of it where it’s needed most: our schools. However, in a democratic environment, change is welcomed—and even encouraged. But can that happen if teachers are fearful to change?

With emotional intelligence in place, you will have teachers more willing to make that scary leap, and try new things. A teacher who has high, emotional intelligence will be able to control those emotions of fear, look toward the purpose of the change, see its potential, and act on it. If you have a school full of teachers like that, then change will be accepted, not pushed away.

Diversity

Diversity is another important part of democratic education; and another way it relates to emotional intelligence. In a democratic classroom, you will see students collaborating as one. There is no one person that runs the show—not even the teacher. Students in this setting understand the benefits that diversity has on education, and there are plenty. Not only that, but they honor the diversity in the classroom. Something that, again, can be hard to accomplish.

Emotionally intelligent students and teacher, have the ability to understand others, and empathize with one another. Character traits that are needed if diversity is to be honored. To show you the difference, let’s take a look at two different classrooms: classroom A and B.

Classroom A is a wonderful class to be in. It’s filled with students who love to learn, and a teacher who enjoys her job. However, every time group work occurs, or a class discussion is to be had, the class falls apart. Students begin to yell, tears are flying around like a rainstorm, and the teacher proceeds to yell above them and end the discussion (no injuries occurred during this fake scenario).

Classroom B is just as wonderful as classroom A. The teacher is amazing with his students, and the students seem to learn from him, daily. Only in this classroom, group discussions are peaceful. There are no tears; there are no hurt feelings; and everyone has a chance to share her or his ideas.

The classroom that has more emotional intelligent students, is likely to be classroom B. Now, it’s important to mention before going further,  not every student and teacher will have high emotional intelligence. Just like not every student in a class will have high intelligence. However, if there are more students with emotional intelligence, your class will have a better chance of looking like Classroom B.

Reflection

You will also see a relation between reflection, in a democratic classroom, and emotional intelligence. Reflection is something that must be present in a democratic classroom. In my opinion, if there is no reflection, there can be no learning. Reflection allows you the time to think about the way something goes. In this case, it would be reflection on a lesson you’ve taught—but not just by you. The students also benefit from reflection in a democratic classroom.      

Teachers still seem to be viewed as the all-knowing leader. If they say it, then it must be the truth, and that’s it! It’s a don’t ask questions mentality. This type of thought will not lead to a classroom working together. Because reflection is so important to learning, and improving in a democratic classroom; we would want to have as much emotional intelligence possible.

If the students and teacher lack emotional intelligence, they will be less mindful of how a lesson went. If you’re the teacher, then you may mistakenly think a lesson went perfect; when in reality, the students didn’t learn a thing. If you’re a student, you will lack the self-awareness to understand what is being taught is, well…nonsense. In contrast, a class who has multiple students with emotional intelligence, will have the ability to reflect as a class. Not only that, but you will be able to reflect without the fear of hurting the feelings of your peers.

 

Peter Gray

Not only does emotional intelligence relate to democratic education; it also relates to the many authors who seem to take a democratic approach: Peter Gray, Paulo Freire, Ira Shor.

Peter Gray, in his book “Free to Learn,” discusses seven sins of forced education. And one of those sins, is judging students. I firmly believe that no teacher purposely puts shame on a student; but it does happen, whether by accident or on purpose. Long ago (still after Pluto), it wasn’t that rare for a teacher to use the ruler, as a scare tactic to get students to work. Although, I can’t prove this, many others say it was true. Moving forward, it was words that were used to “motivate” students. Teachers would embarrass the student in front of their peers. Yes, that’s what I’m thinking, too. Who was in charge of education? Today, we don’t see a lot of that, but we do have shame in testing. When you take a step back and look at the way we show data to our students, it seems sort of demeaning. We praise the students who score high, and we treat the rest like they’re not even present. Again, this is likely done unknowingly, but it does occur.

With emotional intelligence in place, we would have teachers who are mindful of the way they present data, and motivate students. Teachers would understand how using grades a certain way can benefit or demoralize a student. Students too, would benefit in this area. Students who have emotional intelligence will understand that the grade doesn’t define them; it is just a tool used to measure progress.

Paulo Freire

Freire shows the importance dialogue plays in a democratic classroom. If there is no dialogue in a classroom; then there will be little learning. Likewise, it needs to be positive dialogue that pushes the class in a positive direction. And finally, the dialogue needs to be shared amongst the classroom members. The teacher can’t dominate the discussion, and neither can one student lead discussions, all the time. Although, this may occur often in a classroom which lacks emotional intelligence.

Part of emotional intelligence is understanding one’s self. The other part, is understanding others and showing empathy towards one another. Students should be collaborating throughout the entire, school day. And in order to have that in place, students need to be good communicators. If they can communicate in a positive manner, they can begin to build relationships filled with emotional intelligence. It is emotional intelligence that gives students the ability to have a positive conversation with their peers. They will understand how to listen, and they will wait for the right moments to intervene. They will use words that don’tt hurt the feelings of others; and they will be able to understand—and respect—the values of others.

Similarly, teachers could benefit from emotional intelligence, as well. At times, we may teach our students how to act when dealing with others. We may show them that it’s not kind to talk negatively about others. Then, when all the kids are gone, it’s time to gossip about another teacher. See the problem? If teachers have emotional intelligence, they too, can begin creating positive dialogue.

Ira Shor

 

We also see emotional intelligence present in the book, “When Students Have Power” by Ira Shor. Emotional intelligence can be present throughout the book, as Shor attempts to rid the Siberian classroom. In the Siberian classroom, we see students from different backgrounds filing into the classroom. They sit apart; they are quiet; and they just want to move on and get their grades. This is something that many college students—and high-school students—can relate to. It’s a habit that has been in place for many years. And I believe, emotional intelligence can be one factor to end this type of classroom.

The biggest reason I believe this, is because emotional intelligence creates authenticity. An important trait that can help end the labels we are all given at one point or another. Labels never tell the whole truth, but they can create the way we act, even when it means being untrue to ourselves. Which could be one of the reasons we disperse to certain seats in a classroom. Oh, I’m a goofball who doesn’t care? Well, I better head to the back of the room. If emotional intelligence is in place, students will not let labels define them, and they may be more likely to open up within a classroom.

 

Effects Emotional Intelligence Has on Democratic Education

With the way our education system is moving, a democratic classrooms seems like a challenge to attain. However, if we can find time to teach our students the value of emotional intelligence; then maybe, just maybe, democratic education can be reached. Emotional intelligence has been proven to produce positive relationships; it can help you grow as an individual; it can help you manage stress, and so much more. But what about in the classroom? Can emotional intelligence help students and teachers develop the characteristics needed in a democratic classroom? The answer. Abso-lutely! Emotional intelligence can have a huge impact in the classroom. And if implemented in the correct way, it can help change education for the better.

EI Lowers Bullying

Bullying is all around us: the classroom, the lunchroom, the bus, at home, online, at work, at church—everywhere. Yet, there aren’t many strategies being enforced to deal with it.. Sure, we have DASA meetings, and we’re “trained” on how to help kids deal with a big-bad bully. But do we use those strategies? And it’s not just kids! Adults bully, too. Teachers bully other teachers, and our peers will either join forces with the bully, turn the other way, or sometimes, help the victim. We teach our students not to bully. We show them the effects bullying can have on someone’s life, but it seems to stop there.

Teachers are busy individuals; dealing with multiple students every hour. No matter the grade level, students will make you work for every penny. So, it’s understandable that teachers may shoo away a student complaining about being called names during lunch. The teacher may think it’s nothing serious, or think the situation will handle itself. Well…it does. And sometimes the way it handles itself is very serious. So what can emotional intelligence do to lessen bullying, and impact democratic education?

For one, emotional-intelligent students show less negative behaviors. The reason this is the case, is because emotional intelligence helps you manage your emotions. It allows you to have a better understanding of why negative emotions are occurring, and you are more equipped to handle the situation. To show this character trait in action, let’s take a look at a bullying situation. A victim, who gets picked on regularly, and does not have high emotional intelligence, will likely strike back at the bully, or more—they’ll attempt to one up them. In this situation, you have a lose-lose: the bully and victim are now going back and forth like a boxer, until one of them ends up losing. There can also be the scenario where the victim takes actions out on his family, or even himself. It’s a very serious issue.

Now, let’s take that same scenario, but the victim has high, emotional intelligence. That victim will be more suited to handle a situation like that in a way that causes less harm to himself, and to the bully. They will understand the situation at a higher-level, and carry out strategies that take care of the situation without the harm. Even more fascinating, is the fact that the victim may show empathy for the bully, and may even help the bully who could be struggling with their own issues.

The best case scenario, is if both students have high emotional intelligence. If that is true, then you will not have to worry, as much, about a bullying situation. Clinical research is currently being done to prove this matter. However, some studies have already shown that emotional intelligence can help limit bullying. In Basque Country, Spain, 794 adolescent students were tested to show just that. Researchers observed and collected data on these students as they went about their school day. The biggest collection of data was found through surveys. Surveys that showed whether or not the class, and individuals in the class, were aware and taught how to handle emotions. They found the classrooms that discussed emotions, and practiced dealing with emotions, formed positive relationships with students and teachers; which brought down negative behavior, as well as behavior such as bullying

The ability to form relationships, cut down on negative behavior, and act before you think, would have a large impact on democratic education. Since democratic views call for shared power; you would need students—and don’t forget teachers—to be able to form relationships, and exhibit positive behavior. Nothing will ever be perfect. Sadly, there will always be evil in this world. But with emotional intelligence, we can limit bully-like behavior.

Academics, Goals, and Groups

Our country seems to be obsessed with data and analytics; and schools are no different. We have pre-tests and post-tests, school exams and state exams, exam-exams and exams. They are constant. And students strive to do well on these test. They are taught they are important for futures success. And, who doesn’t want to feel successful. But all this testing can do damage to the emotional state-of-mind. That’s where emotional intelligence comes into play.

Emotional intelligence may not be what helps you with the actual knowledge needed to complete a test. However, it does help you retain information, maintain concentration, and in the long run, learn at an effective rate. Students, like us, deal with troubles every day. Some more than others. Some students come to school with negative emotions already in place. The things  students can go through are horrifying, and it’s easier for us to block it out and pretend every students doing well. But in fact, many students aren’t doing well, and there can be too many reasons to count: abuse, neglect, malnutrition, loss, divorce, sickness, there are just numerous issues that could be in a child’s life.  Do you think a child that deals with any of those things will achieve high grades? Or do well in any school environment? The answer is likely, no.

Working memory,  a term coined by cognitive scientists, allows students to retain information needed to complete a task. If emotions are too much for a student to handle, this working memory is lost, and their ability to perform well in school will be low. Emotional intelligence may not save a student from the years of dealing with negative situations—but it can help them see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to say. In other words, they have a better chance of understanding there are things out of their control; they will manage their life stresses better, and their working memory will be in tact.

Emotional intelligence can also help students set, and attain, goals for themselves. Yes, our students have goals upon goals; but how many of them truly understand the goals they set for themselves. And even more important, are the goals even important to them as an individual. Teachers can be persuasive, and whether they mean to or not, they can push goals on students with ease. From my experience with elementary students, goals can mean nothing more than a requirement for some students. The teacher wants us to have goals? Alright, let me think…to do better?—kind of a good goal, but not too specific.

When students have emotional intelligence, they are more likely to set goals that have purpose; goals they want to meet. The reason they can do this, is because they understand themselves at a higher level. They are aware of what they can do and what they need to improve on. And because that’s true, students are more likely to meet the goals they set.

Finally, emotional intelligence will impact group collaboration at a high level. And by now, you can probably guess why. Students who show emotional intelligence will be more mindful of how they speak. They will show empathy toward every group member. They will have those positive relationships. And they will manage their feelings; knowing the words being said are not directed at them, but towards the goal to be achieved. There will be no more sighs and sour faces when Billy has to work with Alex. They will accept everyone. And in a democratic classroom, that is important to have.

Can it be Taught?

The good news is, yes, it can be taught. The bad news is, it will take time to implement. Like most good things, emotional intelligence will take time: it needs to be accepted by the school; then, it needs to be implemented; which means more training, and more hours. All things teachers love! But it’s worth it! And it can start with you. Dr. David Watson, describes children needing to ‘catch’ emotional intelligence. It can’t be taught alone. It’s not a math or science, but a way to deal with emotions. So, the best way to teach it—show it. Emotional intelligence needs to be modeled daily. Teachers need to take time to discuss how to handle real-life situations, and better, show them how to deal with it. I believe you can share life struggles with students in an appropriate manner. Of course, you will not tell them everything. There has to be boundaries. However, there are many life happenings you can share with them. Show them how you deal with stress, and eventually students will pick up on it.

A simple way to do this, would be to bring another teacher into the classroom and model certain behaviors. If you do this, not only will you be building emotional intelligence with your students, but you’ll be building it in yourself, as well. So, it all starts with you, the teacher.

Emotional intelligence is on the rise. It is in every future job our students may hold. It will help them deal with the hardships of life; it will help them build relationships, and more. So why hold this from your students any longer? Start teaching them emotional intelligence at an early age, and watch, as your students grow to be wonderful people in society.

References

Apple, M. W., Beane, J. A. (2007). Democratic Schools: Lessons in Powerful Education. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann.

Aritzeta et al. (2015). Classroom Emotional Intelligence and its Relationship With School Performance. European Journal of Education and Psychology. Volume 9, Issue 1. Pages 1-8.

Bell Hooks. (2003). Teaching Community A Pedagogy of Hope. New York, NY. Routledge.

Freedman, Joshua. (2005, January 30). Dr. Daniel Goleman on the Origins of emotional intelligence. http://www.6seconds.org/2005/01/30/goleman-emotional-intelligence/

Freedman, Joshua. (2017, May 28). Emotional WHAT? Definitions and History of EQ. http://www.6seconds.org/2017/05/28/emotional-intelligence-definition-history/

Freire, Paulo (1972). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY. Herder and Herder

Gray, Peter. (2013). Free to Learn. New York, NY. Basic Books.

Shor, Ira. (1996). When Students Have Power. London. The University of Chicago Press.

Walton, David. (2012) Emotional Intelligence A Practical Guide. New York, NY: MJF Books.

 

A Critical Issue

Reading Comprehension: How do We Hook Our Students?

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I rolled out of bed one Monday morning, miserable and exhausted from activities the night before: reading, checking out my new basketball cards, and shooting my basketball in the air, with hopes I’d be the next Michael Jordan. The one activity I didn’t do too much of, was sleep. Exactly the opposite of what teacher’s hope their nine-year-old students do. But I was a rebel, and If I slept, my day was over; which is ironic, because I love sleep. Just on my own times.

I needed no alarm. My alarm was my mom singing lullabies until I couldn’t take it anymore. And if that didn’t work (it did 99.9% of the time), I had two younger brothers who would make sure I never overslept. Siblings, am I right?

I walked around my house like a champion boxer after a knockout—I even wore bright red boxers to complete the look. Now, if only I had some biceps. Ah, I’m sure those will come later in life. I began my methodical, morning routine: brush a couple teeth, wash my hair under the sink (no shampoo), put on my school uniform that made me look like a mini pastor, and scarf down a bowl of breakfast. I said goodbye to my mom, dad, and brothers. And I was on my way to conquer the second week of third-grade. My life was perfect….

Oh, my goodness! Oh, my goodness! I thought as I sludged home. The slower I walked, the more time I had before my life was ruined. How did I fail that test? They’re going to be so mad. And who gives a test on the second week of school? And on a Monday. So, stupid! But, it didn’t matter how much I thought about it, the test was done. I failed; and it will always be that way. So, I picked up my pace and found the courage to tell my parents.

Wouldn’t you know? They weren’t mad at all. But as weeks passed, and I failed another reading test, and another, and another (I could go on), my parents realized they would need to find some reading help. And so it was, that I, Reggie German, spent the next few years receiving help with my comprehension. Apparently, I was reading at a much higher level than my peers—but it wouldn’t stay with me. It was like I was trying to catch butterflies: I had the net, knew how to use it, but couldn’t catch the incredible insect.

That was one of two times I’ve ever thought of comprehension. The other—when I became a teacher.

In my first year of teaching, I played follow the leader: my colleagues did something; I copied. And when they claimed the students’ struggles with comprehension wasn’t my fault, I ran with it. They said every third-grade student struggles with comprehension. It’s natural.

In my second year, I grew curious. I implemented new strategies, and there still was no change in their reading comprehension scores. Oh, well. It’s natural for third-grade students to struggle with comprehension. However, as that year rolled on, and there was little change in the students reading scores, I knew there had to be more. Not only were the third graders struggling—every grade-level was struggling.

So, let’s take a look at some ideas that help may help students comprehend those daunting texts. Do you comprehend? I hope so.

Write to Read, Read to Write

I can’t say with great certainty that teachers know the relation of reading and writing. I didn’t, until recent years. Reading and writing are like milk and cookies, drama movies and tissues, bread and butter, dust and dustpan. You get it: they go hand-in-hand. Yet, there are times we may forget how close they are, in relation to one another. Think about it. Doesn’t it make sense? A child who reads often will tend to find writing a little less difficult. At the same time, I child who writes will begin to see how reading texts are set up. This leads me to believe, that we, as teachers, should teach reading and writing togetherFOOTNOTE: Footnote.

Every school has their schedule set up in a different way; but for the most part, reading and writing will fall under English Language Arts (ELA). Yet, there are many schools that separate the two. This isn’t wrong or right; and it may not matter they be taught during the same block. Although, it could be an issue if we lose sight of the connection. Therefore, I believe it is crucial that reading and writing are correlated as much as possible. Create your reading lesson with your writing lesson in mind, and vice-versa. Show students the connection they have, and you may help increase their reading comprehension.

Create Critical Thinkers

Not too long ago, students had books, and only books, to help them with reading comprehension. Today, we have several forms of literacy: media, visuals, games, and much more. So, why aren’t they being used? It seems that as years go by, more schools are implementing different forms of literacy. But textbooks still seem to be the “safe” way to teach reading. Nothing wrong with that—except it takes away the students main source of learning. Kids are hooked to technology! Just the other day, I saw a one-week-old baby, buying a new cradle on Amazon, It was amazing!

Seriously, ask a kid who their favorite author is. You know what they’ll say? Uh, Lebron James? Then, ask them who their favorite Youtube star is, and they’ll name them faster than ice cream melts on a humid day. Kids are around technology for most of the day. It only makes sense then, to use technology as a form of literacy to teach reading and writing.

Using different forms of media literacy can help the students relate to the material. It will help them see a connection between what they love to do, and the professional media they watch every day. In turn, they will begin to think deeper, ask more questions, be more engaged, and think at a critical level—and then, you may see a rise in comprehension abilitiesFOOTNOTE: Footnote.

Limit Interruptions

It’s a Tuesday morning. You’re rushing around your home getting ready for work when, you realize there’s a meeting that same morning; and in the meeting, you will be asked to summarize an important reading sent out by your boss. You stumble to your car, grab a morning coffee, and as you drive, you read the material. Phew, that was close. Aw, look how cute. you say as you pass a park full of cute, fluffy dogs. Ten minutes go by. You made it on time, but your flustered. It’s your turn to speak, and…fluffy dogs?

Interruptions can interfere with your comprehension just like they can interfere with a students comprehension. In recent studies, students have shown to comprehend at a higher level when there are no, or limited, distractions. But is the classroom always quiet? Think about your time in elementary school, middle school, high school, and beyond. Was it always quiet during test time? Maybe. But, then again, maybe not.

In a class with twenty-plus students, there will be distractions that teachers can’t prepare for: kids coming and going, a loud mower outside the window, the troublemaker in the back making fart noises with his armpit. Distractions happen. And they can impair a students ability to comprehend the text. So, try your best to limit distractions; put a soundproof box around the troublemaker; and watch as comprehension increasesFOOTNOTE: Footnote.

Word Recognition and Student Recognition

Quick, picture your struggling readers, or someone you know who struggles to read. In my observation, struggling readers come in all shapes or sizes; however, I am noticing a trend in my class each year: struggling readers seem to come from complicated backgrounds. This is just my observation. Unfortunately, I have no proof, other than that; but when I look at my struggling readers, I notice they tend to have little support at home. That’s for a different conversation, but I do feel it needs to be addressed. If we don’t know where are students come from. How can we teach them to read and write? Comprehension is a complex act with many factors needed to be in place. And one of those factors is being able to relate the story to your life. Well, that’s hard to do if you’re reading a story on nutritious meals, and you have a student who has never had a nutritious meal. We need to make sure we bring our students’ lives into the reading, in any way possible.

Finally, we need to take decoding skills and language comprehension skills into account. Again, if you picture a struggling reader, you are more likely to see a student who has trouble decoding words or understanding the language or both.FOOTNOTE: Footnote You can’t expect a student to comprehend a story when they can’t understand the words in the story. My solution, other than intervention—which does help in the long run—is to consider the testing done earlier grades. Are students ready for comprehension questions at the age of nine? Some will be. Yet, the majority of kids that age will need more practice with decoding and fluency. So, I believe comprehension should be introduced in third grade, but it shouldn’t be a focus until later grades.

Reading comprehension may always be a challenge for some individuals. There will be students who excel, and those who need more time. But if we connect writing and reading, use media literacy to fuel critical thinking, limit interruptions, understand our students, and teach word decoding before comprehension. Then I believe students will increase their reading comprehension skills and abilities.

Emotional Intelligence in the Classroom

The Notion

It was a crisp September morning, in Upstate New York (every day is crisp and cool when you live in New York, by the way). The year was 2015, and it was the first Monday of the month. I only remember this because I had just finished my once-a-year session at the gym known as Planet Fitness; or as I like to call it, Free Pizza and Some Fitness.” As I walked out of the gym, stomach full from the free pizza, arms still the same size but my fingers stronger from holding the cheese-heavy pizza slices, I got a call that set my life on a new path. I was hired to teach third grade at a local elementary school. I had waited a whole year for this job; so it only made sense to flail my arms around in the middle of the Planet Fitness parking lot. For a minute, my lanky body and skinny arms could have been mistaken for those of an inflatable tube man. In fact, I should have gotten paid for my minute, because my antics undoubtedly brought in some new customers.

Two weeks later, I sat in my new office chair with my spine leaning as far back as it could go; my arms folded like a bouncer—except without the muscle part—and a feeling that this day couldn’t go wrong….Well, it went wrong. Uncommonly wrong!

My future students walked into the classroom at a turtle’s pace. In reality, their faces showed no excitement at all. Only one expression was written on all of their faces: fear. Fear of their new teacher and classmates; fear of how they act and what they wear, and what their peers might say about both; fear of being away from home. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of emotions. Fear of getting bullied. Fear of being a bully. Fear of farting by mistake; or worse—fear of taking that fart to the second level by mistake. And of course, fear of the work itself. Fear…fear…fear.

But why? Why is there so much fear in a place that is supposed to enhance trust, courage, curiosity, love, and control of your sphincter muscles (sorry, I had to)….Well, there are numerous answers to this question, but I’d like to focus on one for this particular blog post: Emotional Intelligence. It is my opinion that if we supplement Emotional Intelligence in our students, then we will begin to see less fear in the classroom, and more acceptance in the hearts of each student.

What is it?

It’s a beautiful day for recess: the sun is out, there’s a light breeze in the air, and the kickball field is just calling for attention. Some twenty students answer the field’s call. They rush toward the field—bellies still full from the lunch they scarfed down—in attempt to get there first (a big deal for elementary students). They all mob the field and take their places throughout. A third of the kids seem to have an understanding of the game; another third just happy to be apart of it, and the rest of the students just watch and cheer from the side.

The game begins. A kid named Matt (it’s always a kid named Matt) takes the plate. He’s a third-grader alright, but his body is ready for middle school and his face is growing a mustache that looks like it didn’t get enough nutrients. He gets into his kicking stance and prepares for the pitch. The kickball is pitched right down the middle. It’s pure poetry in motion. Matt pulls his hairy, thirty-year old leg back and swings it forward like a pendulum, and…BOOM! He blasts the ball into left field—and right into the hands of a peer. Out! they all call.

Now, here is the point where Emotional Intelligence (EI) comes into play. If Matt is able to brush it off, and head back to his team with the understanding that everything is going to be alright, then he is presenting a great example of a child with high EI. If, on the other hand, he decides to throw a tantrum because the pitch was too bouncy, and there should be a redo, then he is showing a poor example of EI, and making himself look silly at the same time.

Emotional Intelligence is simply, the ability to recognize, and control, one’s emotions and the emotions of others. It sounds so simple; yet, there are a number of students and adults who lack EI. To keep this post simple, as you could look up multiple resources to inform you of Emotional Intelligence, we will just look at a few ways to bring EI to your students.

3 Ways to Implement EI in the Classroom

1. Encourage Their Emotions

Teachers. What are your actions toward a student who blasts out a mean or innapropriate phrase during a lesson? Yea, sure you do. Well, if you’re not going to be honest, I will. The first strategy that I used to use, was no strategy at all, it was to tell the student, in a stern voice, to stop and focus on the lesson. Great strategy, teach! Though this may not have been a bad thing to tell my students, it sure wasn’t helping anything—at all.

Those types of actions, and any action for that matter, are teachable moments. Talk to the student about the action he or she just showed (both bad or good). Ask why they felt the need to do what they did. Explain why the action wasn’t appropriate in that situation. And give them a few tips on how to act the next time they feel like throwing a pencil across the room and hitting their arch-nemesis Bob.

2. Give Students a Chance to Work in Groups

Group work is another way to enhance Emotional Intelligence in the classroom. And it’s probably something you’re using already. Elementary students working in a group are like seagulls fighting over the last fry on a beach. Even as adults, we struggle to work in groups. There are several minds, with different ideas and personalities, all trying to agree on one solution. It’s naturally a challenge. But allowing students to work in groups allows them to practice working with other personalities and ideas. The other part of this is to teach it.

You can’t expect students to jump into a group and work together. It takes time and practice, and they need a good role model—you—to show them the way. Depending on the age group you work with, modeling, with the use of prompts is always a good start. Show them how to respect everyone’s ideas. Show them how to work with different personality traits. Most important, show them how to approach a disagreement. Do these things, and your students are another step closer to Emotional Intelligence.

3. Promote Failure

This last one is a tough one for most teachers I’ve encountered: letting students fail. You might say, Oh, but what about the grades? Oh, and what about the student’s self-esteem? These are all valid questions to worry about. Don’t beat yourself up. For one, test scores and data seem to be the driving force in education (which I am opposed to, by the way). And two, no teacher that I know wants to see their student struggle. If you are reluctant to try this step, just start small.

Start when a student approaches you with a question that you are confident they can answer on their own. Explain, in a kind way, that you want them to give their best effort before seeking you out. Then, assure the student that it is alright to fail, and if they do fail, you will be there to guide them to success. It’s that simple; and you just led your student to another level of Emotional Intelligence.

Final Thoughts

There is much more to Emotional Intelligence than this measly blog post. But I hope it’s a start. EI is, and will be, a big part of your students lives. So make sure you’re promoting it, and seek out more ways to bring it to your students. A good place to start would be research in the Mindset field, as well as the Growth Mindset field: both will increase Emotional Intelligence if used properly.