Academic journal article International Journal of Emotional Education

Warming the Emotional Climate of the Classroom: Can Teachers' Social-Emotional Skills Change?

Academic journal article International Journal of Emotional Education

Warming the Emotional Climate of the Classroom: Can Teachers' Social-Emotional Skills Change?

Article excerpt

Introduction

The ability to be aware of, understand, facilitate, and manage emotions in oneself and others involves a sophisticated set of measurable skills known as emotional intelligence (EQ, Bar-On, 1997; Mayer, Caruso, & Salovey, 1999). Emotional competence is thought to include these EQ skills as well as the social abilities related to emotional expression, empathy, relationships, and self-efficacy (Saarni, 1999). Social-emotional skills such as these are thought to be linked to successful social functioning, problem solving, and the prevention of psychological difficulties in adults and children (Bradley, 2000; Cha & Nock, 2009; Menzie, 2005; Vorbach, 2002). Given these positive qualities, practices that help to develop social-emotional skills in school-aged children would seem highly desirable. Although some assume emotional intelligence is a fixed trait and therefore unlikely to be teachable (e.g., Rietti, 2008), the consensus appears to be that it can be formally taught by teachers and parents to children (e.g., Domitrovich, Cortes, & Greenberg, 2007; Elksnin & Elksnin, 2003). In fact, we prefer to use the term social-emotional skills for this reason, in that while it includes the described areas of abilities associated with emotional intelligence and emotional competence, the underlying assumption is that these occur in a social context, are malleable and able to be learnt. Many carefully developed Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) school-based programs have burgeoned based on this premise. In their 2012 review, The Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) identified and reviewed 19 elementary SEL programs, and these types of programs have reportedly led to improvements in pupils' emotional knowledge, behavioral problems, distress, classroom atmosphere, and cognitive development (Domitrovich et al., 2007; Maurer, Brackett, & Plain, 2004; Solomon, Watson, Delucchi, Schaps, & Battistich, 1988).

Recent awareness of the influence of teachers' social-emotional skills on students' has been encouraging (e.g., Brackett &Caruso, 2006). Jennings and Greenberg (2009) hypothesized teachers' social-emotional skills and wellbeing impacted on students' emotional outcomes (see also Jennings, Snowberg, Coccia, & Greenberg, 2011; Roeser, Skinner, Beers, and Jennings, 2012). Rivers et al (2013) included training for teachers on how to support delivery of their literacy based SEL program for students. Observational and teacher-report (but not student) data from this study suggested their joint approach benefited the classroom emotional climate. Although exciting, SEL programs such as these still focus on teachers explicitly and formally teaching emotional competencies to children. However, in the absence of emotionally relevant contexts, there is the risk that social-emotional skills taught may fail to generalize to natural settings and interactions (Tice, Bratslavsky, & Baumeister, 2001). Children's social-emotional skills can and do develop within natural interpersonal relationships, such as the emotional modeling by caregivers (Campos, Campos, & Barrett, 1989; Casey & Fuller, 1994; Shipman & Zeman, 2001). Skills learnt in a relevant emotional setting can generalize to other similar emotional contexts (Parrott & Spackman, 2000). Social-emotional skills are also acquired when teachers and parents use everyday emotion-evoking situations as teachable moments and as opportunities to develop relationships, identify and validate feelings, and seek regulation strategies (Gottman, Katz, & Hooven, 1997). Thus, training on emotions within a relevant natural context would serve as a useful adjunct or even a substitute to formal programs when developing social-emotional skills. One considerable challenge to the success of an environment-based intervention, however, is the heavy reliance on the ability of classroom teachers to demonstrate emotional competencies in their everyday interactions with pupils. …

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