The Counselor in the Classroom…With every Story Comes a Person

May 24th, 2018 | Category: Columns, The Counselor In the Classroom
By Israel Espinosa

Every late afternoon, before I begin my class I attempt to think about how my feelings may affect my teaching. If I feel frustrated or overwhelmed when I arrive to the class I make sure that I give myself three minutes to acknowledge these feelings. Yes, colleagues and friends, it is true…even professors in the field of counseling and psychology have their days. Thus, I take a deep breath and make a plan for managing these emotions so that I can fully engage with my students. I make sure to ask myself the intention behind my questions and activities as we move through the material, a skill learned in my clinical training when working with clients during therapy and just as valuable. I make sure to greet my students as they walk through the class room door and make sure to ask everyone how they are doing and feeling before beginning class. I do my best to acknowledge and empathize with everyone’s feelings and stories that they share, and when applicable I will give a general explanation of my own feelings, “Yup, today is bit of a rough day, but I’ll get through it” or “Lot’s going on today, but it’s time to make future leaders.” While this serves as a method to acknowledge my feelings, I want to model for my students emotional regulation and self-reflection. Both of these are critical in the development of future counselors, but also what our faculty have prided themselves on when working with these future leaders in the field. In essence, we are helping to develop social and emotional skills in adults.

Now, while we are lucky enough to have a vast amount of students that have a solid foundation of emotional intelligence, the development of these skills can prove to be a complex process. For starters, let’s understand what Emotional Intelligence (EI) is. According to Goleman (1995), who was among one of the first to popularize the term EI as he claimed it, “can be as powerful, and at times more powerful, than I.Q.” While there are a number of various definitions of EI within psychological literature, the gist of the concept is the ability for an individual to identify, regulate, and manage emotions in the self and in others (Goleman 1995; Salovey & Mayer 1990; Sutton & Wheatly, 2003). Therefore, increased ability of this type of intelligence allows individuals to not only have positive interactions with others, but, to some degree, also have the capacity to better predict others’ thoughts and feelings, and to engage in appropriate levels of empathy. Research also indicates that there are strong correlations with career and academic success (Garner, 2010). Other research indicates that higher levels of emotional intelligence are associated with other positive outcomes, such as physical and mental health (Goleman, 1995; Malecki & Elliot, 2002). How is this possible you ask? Simple, because it is likely that emotionally intelligent individuals earn the trust of their superiors, make colleagues feel valued, and have the potential to attract admirers wherever they may go in their careers and life (Singh, 2003). Yet, it is not so simple when one considers that many of us were not taught these skills as children. Not to mention, that many have not understood the possibility or in some disciplines, the need to cultivate them. Hence, my earlier point in regard to helping students develop these skills. Therefore, outside of having an opportunity to have socially and emotionally competent parents, guardians or teachers in your communities as you forged ahead in your life, our specific training in all things social-emotional are at best…zilch.

So let’s imagine the possibility of learning these skills at a young age. What would be the value in developing EI? The literature on EI first points to Howard Gardener (1983) who views intelligence broadly. His landmark book on the Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences found a growing group of researchers expanding on his ideas such as Salovey and Mayer who introduced the concept of emotional intelligence in the early 1990’s (Salovey & Mayer, 1990; Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2004; Mayer, 2001). According to Goleman (1995) EI can be separated into five domains:  a) Knowing one’s emotions: self-awareness recognizing a feeling as it happens; b) Managing emotions: handling feelings appropriately; c) Motivating oneself: emotional self-control delaying gratification and stifling impulsiveness; d) Recognizing emotions in others: empathy—the fundamental “people skill;” and e) Handling relationships: the skill of managing emotions in others.

Essentially, the combination of these abilities will assist in fostering self-esteem, leadership and social emotional development (Goleman, 1995; Richburg & Fletcher, 2002). Learning and mastering these abilities is a goal that we, as educators, strive to teach our students.  While the verdict is still out on the best approach to an emotional intelligence curriculum (Sutton & Wheatly, 2003), it is apparent that teachers still lack training to promote emotional competence in children and their own emotional management (Denham, Basset, & Zinsser, 2012). Despite this issue, the research indicates that development of these skills is imperative not only for professional and personal well-being of students and educators, but also how it enhances student learning (Hyson, 2002; Sutton & Wheatly, 2003).

We know that with every child or student comes a story and understanding what makes our students “tick” emotionally can be important in helping with individual learning as well. To be effective as educators, we need not only to achieve rapport, we need to be empathic, to be in control of our emotions in order to model leadership. Let’s go make future leaders. LEJ


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