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3 ways to improve emotional intelligence for effective classroom management.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to perceive, use, understand and manage emotions. People with high emotional intelligence can recognise their own emotions and those of others, use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, discern between different feelings, label them appropriately, and adjust emotions to adapt to environments (Colman, 2008).

Why is Emotional Intelligence important?

Students that misbehave and disrupt lessons can really push our buttons. If students enter into power battles with a teacher, this can trigger negative emotions, and this pinch can be felt physically. These negative emotions can have an extremely negative impact on our health.  Being aware of our emotions and the ability to control them will reduce this stress. 

Decades of research on teacher burnout have documented that students’ misbehaviour is not only a concerning factor for teacher burnout but is also a common cause of why teachers leave the profession. Student misbehaviour has a particularly negative impact on pre-service and beginning teachers (Ingersoll, 2001), (Sullivan, Johnson, Owens, & Conway, 2014). 

1. Improve your knowledge of emotional intelligence.

I always believed I had great emotional intelligence. I could read other’s emotions really well; I joked with my close friends that I had a heightened emotional intelligence because I went to a tough school, and it was a survival tool I needed to develop.  If the bully comes into the classroom in a bad mood, you kept well-clear. 

But it was not until I read around the subject that I realise that my emotional intelligence wasn’t that good after all.  Yes, reading other’s emotions is half of it, but the other half is having control over your own emotions.   This was an obvious area I needed to work on.

My recommendations for further development include reading  Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradburry.  This book also has an online quiz to gauge your base level of emotional intelligence. 

2. Be aware of your leaky face.

What is a leaky face?

A leaky face is when your emotions are shown in facial expressions and body language.  These micro-expressions enable others to read your emotions like a book.  In some cases, this may be what you want. But this is not always the case.

My leaky face was first brought to my attention many years ago.  I was in a meeting, and the team was told we had to do an additional administrational task that, in my opinion, was a useless task that would increase our workload leaving us less time to plan great lessons.  I mentioned my dissatisfaction, and we moved on to the next agenda.  After the meeting, someone approached me and said, “Oh my your face when they said that we would have to do that job”.  This was when I new I had to fix my leaky face.

How to improve a leaky face.

The opposite of a leaky face is a poker face.  During times of high emotion bring your attention to your face. Try to relax the face and show no emotion.  Maybe look at your reflection to see how you look.  An internal negative dialogue might cause frowning unconsciously, so try to keep it positive.

Try looking at yourself in the window or when washing your hands. Look into your reflection and smile.  You can’t frown when your smiling.  Remind yourself of something you are grateful for or just a funny moment you remember. 

3. Never take student misbehaviour personal

When I was in high school, students took great entertainment in causing our geography teacher to lose his temper.  I remember clearly how he would get red and sweaty then scream and shout. Students would laugh at his loss of control.  

Yes, you may be thinking, but we are only human, and we all have our limits.  You may be thinking, but shouting is a tool used for behaviour management and has been used for years.  Remember, there is a difference between shouting to give an emergency instruction to stop a fight in the yard and shouting in rage and anger at a student who has triggered anger in you.  

There is a difference between shouting in reaction to misbehaviour and using a credible teacher voice to show students you are not happy with their behaviour.

What is a credible teacher voice?

Having a credible voice is projecting your voice calmly, clearly and concisely across the classroom with some assertion. Breathing into your diaphragm when talking ensures this creates a clear sound.

The disappointed ‘teacher voice’ informs the students you are not happy with their behaviour, ‘I DO NOT THINK SO JIMMY’ is all part of your performance.  This is not you ‘losing it’.  The trick to not ‘losing it’ is to not take things personally. 

Using your ‘teacher voice’ is so powerful and is a great strategy for your toolbox, but again, words matter.  Never shout in anger and never use phrases such as ‘I don’t care’ in any context.  ‘I don’t care’ that you were only asking your friend for a pen’, all students hear is that you don’t care about them or their needs.  Instead, you could say, ‘I understand you’re only asking for a pen, but I have asked for silence, thank you’.  

Read here for more info on improving your credible voice. 

Learn more about keeping your cool when responding to extreme behaviour here


Colman A (2008). A Dictionary of Psychology (3 ed.). Oxford University Press.

Ingersoll, R. M. (2001). Teacher Turnover and Teacher Shortages: An Organizational Analysis. American Educational Research Journal, 38(3), 499-534. doi:10.3102/00028312038003499

Sullivan, A. M., Johnson, B., Owens, L., & Conway, R. (2014). Punish Them or Engage Them? Teachers’ Views of Unproductive Student Behaviours in the Classroom. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(6). doi:10.14221/ajte.2014v39n6.6

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