Social Intelligence for Teachers: Looking for Some Help

I’ve been hearing about schools that are beginning to offer teachers courses in social intelligence. This makes good sense. Social neuroscience makes clear that the emotional tone of a classroom can be set to a large extent by the teacher. This means that teachers are able to help students get and stay in better brain states for learning (see chapter 19 of Social Intelligence for details).

The neural wiring between our thinking and emotional centers, neuroscience tells us, means our feelings can either enhance or inhibit the brain’s ability to learn. And now the new field of social neuroscience has shown that while two people interact, their emotional centers impact each other, for better or for worse.

Taken together, these results have direct implications for creating educational approaches and social climates in schools that can boost students’ ability to learn. The best results come when students, teachers, and school leaders each take steps to become more emotionally self-aware and socially intelligent, as I argued in my article “The Socially Intelligent Leader,” in the September 2006, issue of Educational Leadership.

This could be best accomplished by creating training programs in social/emotional learning (or SEL) for teachers and school staff, like those now being offered for children (see for more info).

But I don’t know who is offering such programs, or where. If anyone knows of courses or programs for teachers in SEL, please let me know.

16 thoughts on “Social Intelligence for Teachers: Looking for Some Help

  1. Even if teachers go through all this training and actually absorb and implement what they learned, the social environment in public schools would only be influenced minimal. The bureaucratic and political burden on the teachers to teach a specific way, not too creative I’d say, and the counterproductive reactions of parents would diminish the effort. When I hear that a teacher who tried to give a child a hug, for empathy reasons, gets arrested, what do you think will happen, when all teachers show various signs of this behavior?
    In all fairness, it is most likely not this way in all school systems. I wish that everyone who has influence, even remotely, on our children, would have to do such a training. the world would be a better place!

  2. I find this topic “teachers emotional intelligence” very interesting and I think that teachers high/low EQ will make a all diference in our classrooms. I trying to make some research on this topic. Do you know, any studies or any person that had developed some research in it?

  3. I have been trying to gather data on teachers’ emotional intelligence and doing workshops for teachers on this issue in the Caribbean for years. It has always been one of my main positions that we cannot teach SEL to children and in schools until teachers themselves are “emotionally healthy”. Teachers cannot teach what they themselves never learned. Teaching SEL takes more than a curriculum and a willing teacher.
    I would love to hear what you have been doing Nueza Pedro, and share ideas and work.

  4. I am presently finishing my MA Thesis on ‘The Impact of Teacher’s Behaviours, Personality Characteristics and Skills on a Students’ Motivation to Learn’

    Here is my Abstract(unpublished):
    The Impact of Teacher’s Behaviours, Personality Characteristics and Skills on a Students’ Motivation to Learn
    Marla Spergel
    M.A Thesis
    Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa

    A teacher makes a difference. A good teacher sparks a child’s desire to learn; a great teacher affects that spark to kindle a fire that burns forever. A teacher can affect a student’s well being to either scar or empower a child to be motivated to learn. Teachers must possess the vital skills, personality characteristics and behaviours that students perceive to impact their motivation to learn, since it is a teacher’s job to connect with each student to foster the passion and excitement to learn (Littkey et al., 2004). My perspective as a qualitative researcher has been heavily influenced by the marketing world where my focus has been on the consumer and truly understanding all aspects of whom they are in order to be able to effectively appeal to their psyche. I question why education does not try to focus on the same? Knowing a student means knowing what motivates them and knowing what strategies to use. A key component of this discourse is the effect the teacher has on the students’ motivation to learn.
    The purpose of this study was to identify, from a students perspective, teacher behaviours, personality characteristics and skills that actually impact a student’s motivation to learn. We need to delve deeper into the students’ perceptions, and then correlate that with what is defined as positive teaching behaviours, not the reverse. Deci and Ryan (1985) have identified that students entering their first year of elementary school are usually intrinsically motivated to learn. They are resilient and continually attempt to master new skills regardless of stumbling. The level of intrinsic motivation of students tends, however, to decrease as the years of school pass. Over time, intrinsic motivation to learn decreases and, at times, ceases to exist (Harter, 1981; Lepper & Hodell, 1989; Rigby et al., 1992; Skinner & Belmont, 1993; Stipek, Feiler, et al., 1998).
    As a result of the extensive literature review it became apparent to me that there was an urgency to ensure that students are optimally motivated by specific teachers behaviours, personalities and skills that they, the students, identify, recognize and act upon. There is limited literature focusing on the students voice and my research attempted to fill this gap.
    The theoretical framework that guided this study, conceptualized the dynamic and complex interconnectedness of how a teacher’s emotional skills, behaviours’ and personality characteristics impacted the motivation and thus the ability for a student to be a successful, desiring learner. This research was guided by Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory of motivation and constructs related to learning and motivation from Carl Rogers’ Humanistic views of Personality and from Brain Based Learning perspectives with a major focus on the area of Emotional Intelligence.
    Participants were selected through the on-line method of snowball recruiting, a non-probabilistic sampling method. The researcher contacted, via Facebook, two qualified informants who were requested to network with other graduate alumni from two local Ottawa high schools, for the purpose of participating in this research. Alumni, a combination of males and females between the ages 18-23, were asked if they would like to participate in the research project. Twenty- one-graduated students were conveniently selected to attend three separate focus groups. Utilizing a focus group setting enabled the researcher to better grasp the participants’ true feelings and emotions. This format facilitated those, whose voices are often not heard, to create a social milieu of ‘dialogical democracy’, which Giddens (1994) defines as “the recognition of the authenticity of the other whose views and ideas one is prepared to listen to and debate”. (P.106)
    The following were the research questions that guided this study:
    1. What behaviours, personality characteristics and skills of teachers, do students perceive to motivate them to learn?
    2. What positive emotions do students feel when they experience their teachers positive behaviours, personality characteristics and skills with respect to their motivation to learn?
    3. How do these positive experiences with teachers affect students’ lives today?
    The majority of participants were in full agreement that a teacher is the major influencer in their motivation to learn. It became clear that, as researchers, we cannot only focus on one variable with respect to a teachers’ impact on students wanting to learn, as the participants clearly voiced the necessity for a combination of positive behaviours, personality characteristics as well as skills such as the ability to listen and create an atmosphere conducive to learning that interests the students; effective teaching methods; resiliency/perseveres; passionate; caring-wants /believes students can do well; respectful; intuitive; able to connect with students; non-judgmental; real-down to earth/genuine- makes mistakes and doesn’t come off as being perfect; takes the time to get to know you; compromises, gives you a chance; is easy going; level-headed; optimistic/ positive/smiling; exudes a great sense of humor; promotes active and collaborative learning; is very engaging, adaptable; flexible; understands that every student is different and you have to be able to treat them all fairly.
    Some emotions and effects that were expressed as a result of teacher’s positive behaviours, personalities’ and skills were as follows:
    – Smiling and feeling better when you were in the classroom;
    – Enjoyment and wanted to hang around;
    – Wanted to do better;
    – Feel great that they believed in me and I was smart enough to do it;
    – Pleased that he actually thought of me;
    – Instead of looking at something and thinking I am completely incapable of doing it I’ll look at the task and work through it.
    I hope that my research can be used in the future to impact teacher selection and teacher education curriculum with respect to those behaviours, personality characteristics and skills identified by the students in my research, to impact positively, student motivation.

    Date: August 6, 2008

  5. I would like to contact Marla regarding her research. I’m currently a faculty member in the College of Education at Niagara University and I am doing research related to Emotional Intelligence. I would welcome the opportunity to speak with Marla regarding her research and summary comment – “I hope that my research can be used in the future to impact teacher selection and teacher education curriculum with respect to those behaviours, personality characteristics and skills identified by the students in my research, to impact positively, student motivation.”
    Thank you.
    Dr. Wm. Macdonald

  6. Hi Marla,can you please help me with the full materials OF your research work on emotional intelligence.I’m a student of the University of jos,Nigeria.
    MY TOPIC: the effect of emotional intelligence on class room teacher.

  7. Hello.
    So many time have passed, but I here I am sharing what I have done.
    For the last year, I have been co-adviser of a Master Degree Thesis developed in Portugal (by Susana Nicolau)where the relation between students’ Perceived Emotional Intelligence and their teachers’ perceived emotional intelligence were analyse.
    This was only a exploratory research with 40 primary teachers and their repective 160 students (4 student form each teacher).
    For our surprise no statistically significant correlation was found in the results.

    Best regards,
    Neuza Pedro

  8. I am nearing completion on an MA in HRM & HRD. I am looking at the status of SEL in St.Lucian Schools as well as other youth training instritutions. I would also like to know where SEL training for teachers is available, since I would like to be trained in that area.

  9. I am waiting to defend my thesis , but feel that the information from my research was worth sharing:

    Update on my research
    6.3.1 Conclusion
    Consistent throughout this research were participants’ expressions of appreciation for actions by their teachers as a result of their positive, behaviours, personality characteristics and emotional skills. The impact was not, in my opinion, life-changing, but a moment in time within their particular course; where a teacher affected the students desire to learn in a positive way. I had read stories of past students who experienced life-changing encounters as a result of their
    teacher motivating them to want to learn, but I did not encounter this in my small sample of 21 participants.

    Unfortunately, the emotion that seemed to have the most long-term affect was described by the student in focus group three, as the negative impact from a teacher.

    All participants were in full agreement that a teacher was the major influence in their motivation to learn. It became clear to me that, as researchers, we cannot only focus on one variable with respect to a teacher’s impact on students wanting to learn; it is truly a combination of behaviours, personality characteristics, as well as emotional skills. There was research that seemed to focus on specifics, but I found, from my own research, that was not sufficient to address this phenomenon.

    We cannot illuminate the crucial fact an individual’s perception/ epistemology impacts how they view the world and education is an important part of that world. As stated in my theoretical framework, students’ perceptions as well as their individual personal qualities do
    affect how a teacher is perceived and their ability to connect effectively with their students. Perhaps some teachers are more qualified to teach older students, or more gifted academically,
    while others are more skillful and able to teach younger students. I am not certain that teacher candidates or educational institutions reflect on this important finding. Teaching and learning are emotional experiences. The theories discussed in this paper referred to interpersonal relationships in the learning process and it became obvious to me that this relationship between the teacher and his/her students was key in enabling a positive learning experience to occur. I believe that my research reinforced this need for an emotional connection between the teacher and student. Without it, the student remains simply an entity without emotions and feelings according to the teacher. Once the teacher understands who their students
    are and exudes the positive skills of an emotionally intelligent teacher, than the student will be able to be motivated to learn.
    Presently, although it appears to be changing, the students’ affective needs do not appear to be a primary component in the planning of many teacher education programs. I believe that in order for affective learning to occur, both the teacher and the student need to grow and develop and, it is the emotional intelligence skills of the teacher that will enable learning to be a positive experience. Teachers should feel more accountable for students’ motivation and care more about
    student’s emotions. An overview of this study strongly indicated that students were able to identify the characteristics of a good teacher who is able to motivate students to learn. In fact, the students’
    answers to the questions I asked in this study, matched most of what the empirical research and learning theories predicted. They were able to recognize that such a teacher must be knowledgeable in the subject matter in order to gain credibility with his/her students. But,
    knowledge is not enough- a teacher must create an environment which is inviting, one which is safe and friendly. Overtime, a caring and dedicated teacher may have the good fortune to gain his/her students’ trust and respect- both of which have been noted as being so important for learning to occur. With this environment in place, a teacher can, with his/her passion for not only his/her subject matter, but also his students, motivate them to learn. But to learn what? As the participants recognized to learn about themselves, to learn the skills that are necessary to learn about anything, to push themselves to be the best that they can be- today and in the future. The
    participants in these focus groups were unanimous in their ability to recognize these personality characteristics, behaviours and skills. After all, 21 students easily selected their top picks- these teachers who impacted them in a positive way.

    Future Research
    1. Further research should be pursued regarding the issue of the negative impact
    teachers have on students’ motivation to learn, focusing specifically on student
    anxiety and learned helplessness.
    2. Expand the research to include a larger sample to be able to gain better insight
    into long-term benefits of experiencing positive teachers.
    3. These teacher behaviours, personality characteristics and emotional skills need to
    Short Title 69
    be analyzed to see if correlations can be made with student drop-outs or
    disinterest in learning.
    4. An area of improvement for future research would be to interview via focus
    groups, teachers whose students identified them as those who motivated them to
    learn and to compare the personality characteristics, behaviours and emotional
    skills that they perceived to motivate their students to want to learn with the
    perceptions of their students
    This research should expand to Higher Education. It became apparent that via
    these focus groups, many students experienced teachers who were strong
    academics, but had extremely low capabilities to connect with their students.
    6.4.2 Educational improvement.
    5. It became apparent to me from this research, that there was a strong need for
    developing, courses that would enhance or introduce emotional intelligence
    skills into the B.Ed Curriculum. As well, with respect to assessing new B.Ed
    applicants, I would recommend using an incremental EI assessment tool to
    measure whether the future applicant, does, in fact, exhibit strong emotional
    intelligence skills. The present Ontario Ministry of Education certainly
    highlights the importance of students’ gaining these skills in school through the
    Character Education Initiative:
    Ontario’s Character Development Initiative emphasizes the importance of
    equitable and inclusive schools in which all students are welcomed and
    respected, feel a sense of belonging, and are inspired to achieve to the best of
    their ability. Our focus on reaching every student requires high expectations
    for all students in learning, academic achievement and citizenship and
    character development
    (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2008)

  10. I am currently working on my doctoral thesis studying correlation of soft skills in special education teachers with their job performance.
    Maria, I shall be contacting you definitely.
    I have been working for 18 years in an Institute that offers long term and short term programs for training teachers in special education(In India, we have separate courses for special ducators nd separate ones for regular school teachers). During my work I realised that all teacher education curricula are focussed on how to work with the student and their parents – nothing enabling the teacher to work with herself! Even continuing education programs contain the same knowledge and skills.
    I am therefore working on this topic as a start and wish to develop a tool for assessing special educators in SE skills, conduct needbased inservice training and finally, with enough data on hand, try to incorporate SE skills in the preservice teacher education curriculum.

    I am also, as a part of my study, developing a list of competencies to assess performance in special education teachers.

    Any information on studies, researches,sites related to this aea are welcome.

    Thank you


  11. Hi Marla
    I’m nearly finishing my thesis related to teachers’ emotional intelligent, and I really intersted to your research, I believe I can use your research as my referencies,I wish I could get full materials of your research.Thank you
    Pipien Ifrilleny

  12. My MA thesis is about the effectiveness of the primary SEAL curriculum on a small intervention
    group in raising their attainment in the national curriculum. I have found that the success of the small group is dependent on the EI of the adults who deliver the SEAL curriculum. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has researched into this area ‘the effective EI teacher/adult’ in the classroom.
    Sonja Banks

  13. Hello!
    I am facilitating seminars for educators in emotional intelligence and would like to know if you are still having a dialog on this subject.
    Thank you

  14. So, did anyone ever develop emotional intelligence training for teachers? I am in the midst of writing a grant proposing to provide such training as one part of a move to effective, smaller learning communities in a large comprehensive US high school. However, I have been unable to find any providers of this kind of professional development. If anyone is aware of EI PD, please email me at


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