I remember one day in the spring of 2005 in Chicago: flowers in bloom, St. Patrick’s Day behind us, and the Bulls were on a nine-game winning streak. The Second City was alive with new beginnings.
I opened my work email to find a directive that we add an all-day training on emotional intelligence to our calendars for the end of the week. Considering that the short notice did not seem respectful of our busy schedules, I accepted with some reservations. I loved my coworkers, enjoying a university workplace environment likened to a home away from home. I failed to see with what an outside professional could add to a harmonious place, and I had yet to hear of any complaints. With graduation looming, I thought my day would be better spent serving students. Looking back, my denial, however well intended, was evidence that this training would change my perspective for the better.
According to Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ, emotional intelligence (EI or EQ, depending on the text) is a ubiquitous phrase, used to discuss, highlight, or promote thoughts and behaviors related to our emotions. In the decades since EI appeared in a 1990 scholarly journal, many have seen its benefits and reaped its rewards in a variety of organizations. Learning standards in many states now include social and emotional learning (SEL) in their expectations for K-12 learners and several major corporations use EI in their hiring and culture practices. Thus, one day in April I found myself seated in a room with my coworkers, attention turned to someone who promised to strengthen our professional and personal relationships given we open ourselves to some self-reflection.
Our facilitator led us through exercises that both helped us share our emotional needs and create the space for our coworkers to do the same. We reflected on our biases, outlines our ideas about EI and professionalism, all while building a set of EI tools to use going forward – all in the name of better supporting our customers, the students. I realized my initial denial of our need for EI training failed to fully consider the perspectives of others. Post-training feedback shared that while many of my colleagues shared my rosy office outlook, some noted the training also enabled them to address concerns glossed over in the name of keeping the peace. Further, I identified means to check in regarding feelings in a way that honored individuals and our organizations’ goals. As they say, smooth sailing never makes for a skilled sailor.
Fast forward to this summer’s book club in which we read and discuss The Art of Coaching Teams by Elena Aguilar. In this text, Aguilar highlights emotions as greatly influential in schools among staff and students. She notes that effective school leadership must include strong emotional intelligence, particularly given the emotional demands of education, in order to best guide staff members in their work. In completing her suggested reflections, I took a long hard look on the feelings I experience as an educator, how I share those feelings, and how I support those of others. Simply asking about how empathy is asked for and given within a team, let alone a classroom is a game changer. While I am currently in a wonderful PLC, this wasn’t always the case. Work in EI could have helped my prior colleagues and myself become team players, and in turn, benefited our students.
How might I use my resulting growth in EI this fall? We are adding a new PLC member and I want this new person to feel welcomed and supported. Having moved schools last year, I can fully empathize with the transition and all the emotions it might imply. This will influence my extension of a proverbial hand with offers of resources, camaraderie, and connections. Also, I know my PLC is somewhat trepidatious; we have our own hopes and fears about this person’s contributions and our group success. The time seems right to include some reflections, check-ins, and other protocols in our meetings to promote EI as we navigate the coming year.
Over a decade after my first work with EI, with temperate autumn in the Pacific Northwest and my seats at an upcoming Timbers match on the horizon, I think about the coming school year and resuming meetings with my teams and smile.
For more thoughts on EI and to share your own reflections, join me and the Corelaborate teacher leaders on Twitter using #wateachlead as I host a chat on the roll of EI in the new school year on September 11th at 7pm PST.