Daniel Goleman is an expert in the area of Emotional Intelligence (EI). His book is ideal for educators trying to understand the emotional system of students as well as their own. Goleman uncovers the defining characteristics of EI, which separate it from general IQ. He lays out his Emotional Intelligence model comprised of four domains: Self Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management. Based on his own and other leading scientists’ research, Goleman identifies the correlating brain areas and emotional traits to each of these domains.
The first concept of self awareness necessitates an enriching mood in order to process information. To be acutely aware, the mental stage needs to be set. Positive moods indicate increased creativity, problem solving, mental flexibility and efficiency in decision making. One’s mood affects thoughts and decisions. This is especially true for students. Any classroom teacher has seen an upset child unable to work or focus. A disruptive emotional state impacts the processing of information and can be detrimental to learning. While being in a good mood is the general preferred state, negative moods elicit challenges and benefits. Goleman affirms that negatives moods tend to lessen the ability to focus and make sound decisions, stay on task, and create pessimistic bias. Yet with this sour mood comes a greater ability to pay attention to detail, be skeptical, and ask probing questions. Being aware of one’s internal state builds a stronger self awareness.
The next domain, self management, is intrinsically tied to self awareness. By first being aware of emotions and then managing them can lead to being focused and, thus, achievement of goals. Coupled, the two compose self-mastery. Concern arises when emotions are not controlled and self-management is not suitably developing. Goleman states two vital areas of the brain are involved: the amygdala which is the trigger point of emotion and arousal, and the prefrontal cortex which helps in reasoning, inhibition and decision making. An amygdala hijack can occur when a threat is detected and this region takes over the brain. The focus is on that threat and no reasoning or learning can take place. When the amygdala is in overdrive with multiple, concurrent threats, chronic stress ensues. This is termed allostatic load. Significant life changes can cause this, but even social interactions such as negative feedback, facial gestures, and criticism can yield these detrimental effects.
Fortunately, the prefrontal cortex can help regulate emotion by inhibiting the amygdala’s signals. This can be achieved by various techniques ranging from taking the dog for a walk to mindfulness sessions of meditation. Additionally, educators can reduce chronic stress by creating optimal levels of challenge for students, as opposed to stressful levels. The ideal level would move students beyond boredom, into a level of “good stress” where they are engaged and can perform at their best. These findings are reinforced with brain studies. When a person is bored, there is scattered brain activity. When engaged, the relevant brain areas of the task are activated. And when stressed, much of the activity is in irrelevant emotional centers of the brain indicating distractedness.
Goleman suggests three simple techniques to ensure optimal performance. Those in charge can create accommodations to adjust the work demands. This may include increasing work load to raise students into the healthy challenge zone, or reducing the workload and providing more support. Additionally, the scaffolding of developing skills and attention training are pivotal steps to meet the benchmarks required for that level. How to easily detect stressed students? Goleman recommends paying attention to students’ demeanors. If they seem “off”, cranky, bored, unusually inattentive, they may be experiencing anxiety and cannot concentrate.
The final areas of EI, social awareness and managing relationships, are influential in group dynamics and building rapport. As essential as these concepts are, much of these domains are founded on emotional, unspoken feedback between individuals that can exist without words or gestures. Emotions can be passed from person to person and, in a sense, are contagious. Individuals must take responsibility when interacting with others, and ideally, contribute to building a positive rapport in the workplace. Goleman states that three key elements are needed for rapport: full attention, non-verbal synchronization and positive flow. These ingredients bolster overall Emotional Intelligence by supporting increased social awareness and positive relationship building.
In The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights, Goleman provides the perfect balance of current research on brain circuitry with practical application to boost any educators’ prowess about the emotional state of others. He succeeds in proving that Emotional Intelligence is a function separate from IQ, which needs to become public knowledge and be imparted in social/emotional learning curriculums. Many more essential topics of emotion are discussed in this book: the age old question of left vs. right “brained” people, motivation, emotional interactions online, empathy, gender differences and more.
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