Every time I’ve ever been cast in a play I’ve played a mother. In college that was my nickname on every dorm-room floor. When I was a high school teacher it was not infrequent for my students to accidentally call me mom. In my adult life I’ve probably spent more time listening to people share their feelings than I have watching TV. I’ve never been tested, but I suspect my EQ (emotional quotient) could run a few circles around my IQ.
So, it’s little wonder that one of the most meaningful things a student ever wrote to me reads: “through this class I have learned how to create, imagine, and dream. Thank you. It’s because of your encouragement I’ve become comfortable expressing myself.”
The standards I was supposed to teach her focused primarily on comprehension and analysis of various American literary genres, and she did an amazing job of learning everything she was taught. But that’s not what she remembered from my class.
Without knowing what I was doing, I was building my students’ emotional intelligence. And I was just doing what came naturally. I think one of the biggest errors people make as new teachers is assuming emotion has no place in the classroom. I loathe the old saying, “don’t smile until Christmas” because it forces teachers to suppress one of the true joys of teaching! If I didn’t smile at least once in class I knew the day was NOT going well.
How we feel, what we feel, and why we feel are core elements of what makes us human. Teaching about these elements of our humanity comes naturally if we’re in touch with these elements of ourselves. You don’t have to deviate from your general instruction. You just have to bring emotional intelligence into your instruction.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
End of Class Shout-Outs – At the end of the class period (especially one in which you’ve worked through a complex assignment or had a particularly intense discussion) invite students to give shout-outs to their peers. A shout-out is a piece of positive feedback like: “I’d like to give a shout-out to Rashawn for helping me understand this math problem.” Push your students to be as specific as possible. In this way they’re not only learning how to support each other but how to identify their own good qualities.
Pre and Post Test Reflections – Have students write a brief description of how they’re feeling prior to taking a test. After the test is completed, have the last item on the assessment be a question that asks how they’re feeling after finishing. Be sure to ask WHY they are feeling this way – that really helps students examine where their feelings come from.
Birthday Silhouettes – For younger students, trace their bodies on a piece of butcher paper or bulletin board paper on their birthday (for older students you can just use a decorated piece of poster board). Ask each student in the class to offer a positive statement about this student that you write on the paper. Make sure students’ comments are specific. The birthday girl or boy takes the paper home at the end of the class.
Life Boxes – Ask students to bring in shoeboxes that they’ve decorated at home along with 5 things they can put into these “life boxes” that are very important to them (but not things that could get stolen). One at a time, invite students to share the contents of their life boxes with the rest of the class and to explain the way they decorated the boxes. The rest of the class should be encouraged to ask questions and make comments about what is shared. The life boxes should stay in the classroom for a while so everyone can look at them, and when students are doing writing activities they can go to these boxes for inspiration!