Educational Leaders’ Emotional Intelligence - Steve Barkley

Educational Leaders’ Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is being smart about your feelings in the service of your goals. Using your thinking to inform your feelings, using your feelings to inform your thinking, and all the while keeping in mind where you’re going with it. So, emotions are information, and they are data we collect just by listening to what’s going on inside of us and outside of us.  When you can make sense of that and when you intentionally want to make sense of that, when you can name your emotions so that you can ultimately tame them or work with them, then you’re in control as opposed to your emotions being in control of you. “

That definition of emotional intelligence was offered by Robin Stern, the co-founder and senior advisor for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and co-author of Emotional Intelligence for School Leaders with Janet Patti, Professor Emeritus at Hunter College School of Education on a Harvard EDCAST titled, Why Emotional Intelligence Matters for Educators.

Janet Patti added, “I think what’s important for us to remember is that all day long, educational leaders are making decisions. They are dealing with emotions every second.  If they’re not aware of their own emotions and they’re not working on their own emotions, how are they going to be able to deal with the emotions of others, and how are they going to make the decisions that are really more appropriate; the kind of decisions that come from a deep place of self-awareness and being present and attuned to the people around them?”

Educational environments are inherently social, requiring leaders to engage with various individuals daily. Leaders with high EI can empathize with others, understand their perspectives, and effectively communicate with empathy and sensitivity. This ability to connect with others fosters trust and respect, which are essential for creating a supportive and collaborative school culture. Emotional intelligence enables school leaders to effectively manage conflicts and resolve disputes that may arise within the school community.

By remaining composed and empathetic during tense situations, leaders can de-escalate conflicts and find mutually beneficial solutions. This skill is particularly important in educational settings, where conflicts among students, parents, or staff members can significantly disrupt the learning environment if not addressed promptly and effectively. Leaders with high EI can consider the emotions and perspectives of various stakeholders when making important decisions, leading to outcomes that are not only rational but also sensitive to the needs and concerns of the community. This approach helps build consensus and buy-in for decisions, ultimately contributing to the successful implementation of initiatives and policies.


A Study

John B. Craig found a positive relationship between the competencies related to emotional intelligence demonstrated by the principal and teacher job satisfaction. “Thus, it is incumbent upon principals to cultivate the kind of relationships with their teachers that will be meaningful and that can be sustained even when there are disagreements and/or other moments of angst between the teacher(s) and principal.”


I had an opportunity to record a podcast conversation with Dr. Lorea Martínez, a Columbia University Teachers College faculty member who facilitates a course in Emotional Intelligence for aspiring principals. Her thinking caused me to reflect on my coaching role with coaches and leaders. What is my role in providing a space for those leaders to explore their emotions and how do they want to use that understanding in their conscious interactions with teachers?

Dr Martinez: “Honoring emotions is the foundation of emotional intelligence. It means that you are able to name, to interpret, and to communicate your feelings. In the field of social emotional learning, we try to not categorize emotions as positive or negative, but to look at emotions as data, as information that our body produces in order to send us signals. Emotions are trying to tell us, there’s something here that you need to pay attention to. Honoring your emotions really is to come to those feelings that you experience on a daily basis with an open mind, with a little bit of curiosity. Using our emotions as data in order to guide how we are going to approach an issue, how we are going to make decisions. I feel like for us adults, this is a skill that is very important, and it’s very difficult because there is a lot of unlearning that we must do. Unless you went to a school where SEL was taught explicitly, this is something that we have been learning just by trial and error.”

Sylvia Baffour provides a goal for seeking and providing coaching in Emotional Intelligence: “To minimize the gap between way I intend to be experienced and the way people actually experience me.”

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