Emotional Intelligence’ and ‘Emotional Literacy’: Buzz words that have become increasingly common in teaching journals and resource catalogues in the last couple of years. Here, Year 6 teacher and Learning Management Team member Andrew Bowman,reflects on the initial steps Bailey’s Court Primary School has taken to become a more ‘Emotionally Intelligent’ place to work and learn.

In the second year of my teacher training, I was given a piece of advice that has stayed with me ever since. The teacher I was working alongside during my teaching practise suggested that being a teacher was at times comparable to swimming in the ocean. Every so often a wave will come along that is a little larger than the others and threatens to change the direction you are swimming in. As a swimmer, you have a choice. You can either make the extra effort needed to ride the wave, accepting that your course will be altered as a result, or you can duck your head under the water, let the wave pass over the top, and return to your normal swimming after it has gone. This analogy could, I am sure, be applied to most occupations, but it does seem that at times the ‘Teaching Ocean’ is quite a choppy one to be swimming in.

Clearly, no one is able to stay under the surface indefinitely, however someone who rides every single wave that comes along will struggle to make significant progress in any one direction. The only way to decide whether to ride the wave or duck beneath the surface is to be able to accurately predict, or preferably be shown, whether the wave will wash you in the direction in which you would like to travel, either individually or as a school.

One such wave that has become increasingly prominent in recent years is that labelled “Emotional Intelligence“. Growing from a world-wide ripple initiated by Daniel Goleman’s 1996 book of the same name, the notion that ‘…it is not just IQ, but emotional intelligence that matters’ raises many questions, not least whether a school system that equates success with retention of knowledge is really equipping pupils with the skills required for sustained success and happiness in their adult lives. This is the direction that the Emotional Intelligence wave has taken our school in so far…

What is Emotional Intelligence?

The blurb on the back of Goleman’s book states: ‘Emotional Intelligence includes self-awareness and impulse control, persistence, zeal and motivation, empathy and social deftness’. There are words in this description that immediately stand out as being skills that have long been valued and nurtured by adults in schools. Finding stimulating and imaginative ways to motivate pupils is a constant challenge for teachers, as is encouraging pupils to maintain their motivation by persisting at a task. Any adult who has taken the assembly about taking more care of school equipment so that it is there for other children to use has raised the importance of empathy, and many of us have at some time been touched by the social deftness of a child crossing a busy playground to invite a lonely child to join their game. Equally, there are pupils whose impulse control is poor, and they become so quickly consumed with emotion – perhaps frustration, anger, or sadness – that it sets in motion a chain of behaviour that takes all lunchtime and part of the afternoon to unravel.

It could be argued then, that in terms of life within a school, Daniel Goleman has done little more than draw together sever-al related ideas, and package them under the title of ‘Emotional Intelligence’. How-ever, the value of this should not be under-estimated, as it provides children with a metaphorical box in which they can ‘store’ their self-confidence, their empathy skills, their self-control, self-esteem and their ability to read emotional behaviours in themselves and in others. It enables them to see their emotional intelligence as a single part of their make-up, albeit a multi-faceted one, gives them a sense of ownership over it, and provides a single platform upon which they can begin to take steps to control and develop their emotional intelligence, rather than allowing it to control and influence them.

Fight or Flight

Goleman talks of how the ‘fight or flight’ reflex, designed to ensure survival from predators, over-rides the part of our brain responsible for thinking and learning. However, he argues that for our pupils, such threat no longer comes from predators,but from the perceived threat of a test, or an upsetting, challenging or unfamiliar situation.If the ‘fight or flight ‘reflex is triggered in the classroom, it will clearly have an impact on the pupil’s learning.

Opening the Discussion

One method of introducing the concept to our current Year 6 pupils, was writing ‘Emotional Intelligence’ on the board, and then giving the children, in pairs, several minutes to first discuss the word ’emotional’, and then the word ‘intelligence’. For each word, they jotted significant ideas or phrases on their white-board. The pupils were then in a position to be able to create their own ideas about ’emotional intelligence’, applying their previous learning to this new context in order to establish new understanding.

The pupils shared and discussed their ideas, and we filled the board with phrases, single words, examples of emotional intelligence being demonstrated, links to other curriculum areas, and rough definitions. This provided an opportunity to expand upon the pupils’ thinking, introducing phrases such as ‘fight or flight’ to help clarify their ideas.

The pupils were given time to reflect on these discussions, and explain in their own words what ‘Emotional Intelligence’ meant to them. The following are examples of the pupils’ responses…


‘When it comes to emotional intelligence you need a heart, not your real heart but one that is made by your emotions. This means it is your decision if you want this ‘imaginary’ heart or not. If you have this heart you can use it to be kind and caring when someone’s not feeling 100%.

Also you use this heart yourself when you’re feeling down or even happy. For example if you’re really angry and you know the person you’re about to take it out on is upset, your special heart helps you make the decision not to. You will become an emotionally intelligent person if you use this heart. This heart is made up of all the things you use to be emotionally intelligent.’

How our brain can affect our emotional intelligence

‘I think your brain can really affect your emotional intelligence. We have something called fight or flight. Emotionally intelligent people can control this feeling more naturally. Your fight or flight reflex is if you’re challenged you fight or take flight.

You need your brain more if you’re an emotionally intelligent person to comfort the other person. If you keep things bottled up you become mad, but emotionally intelligent people are less likely to do that.’

‘What I have learnt about Emotional Intelligence?’

Emotional intelligence is a type of intelligence. If you are emotionally intelligent then you know how to show and when to show your emotions. I think there are two types of intelligence. They are brain intelligence and emotional intelligence.

One thing that struck me upon reading such responses to little more than an hour of thinking and discussion about Emotional Intelligence, was how rounded and coherent many of their ideas were. In many cases, this discussion had seemed to provide a forum in which the pupils could begin to verbalise ideas or theories that they had perhaps been carrying with them in some form for some time. By allowing time to discuss these ideas, perhaps we are simply confirming their significance, and reassuring our pupils that the sense that they are making of the world is valid.

As any adult coming into regular con-tact with children knows, they can be incredibly insightful and intuitive. I wonder how many times they discard ‘home-made’ ideas and theories about their world, interpreting the lack of opportunity to discuss their idea as a reflection of its insignificance. Perhaps by not allowing pupils such time to confirm and construct their own thinking, not only are we failing to tap into a rich vein of creative thought, but we are also denying pupils the opportunity to create an understanding of themselves, the world around them and, perhaps most significantly, their role within the world.

What does an Emotionally Intelligent person look like?

In order to develop the discussion further, and help pupils create a more visual, tangible meaning of Emotional Intelligence, a different question was put to the pupils: ‘What does an emotionally intelligent person look like?’The idea of this question was to encourage pupils to begin to consider how a person’s Emotional Intelligence might be reflected in their facial expressions and body language, as well as considering the behaviour such a person might demonstrate. Here are some of the pupils’ responses…

How our eyes can affect our emotional intelligence

I think our eyes help us most with our emotional intelligence because our eyes can express our understanding of what happened and to make them relaxed and comfortable. Your eyes can show sympathy and can show them you care about what they’re saying.

Arms and hands show emotions

When someone is sad you pat them on the back. You clench your fist when you’re angry.When someone is alone you could go up to them and take them and lead them by the hand and let them play with you.

How to be an emotionally intelligent person

If you want to be an emotionally intelligent person you need to do the things below and use…

  • Ears – to listen when someone is upset.
  • Arms/hands – to hug someone, put your arm around them or pat them.
  • Mouth – to say nice things to people or to kiss them.
  • Eyes – to look at people and to cry.
  • Don’t bottle up your emotions. Control your emotions when you need to.
  • Understand your emotions.
  • Emotionally intelligent people can see the warning signs.
  • When you’re angry your ears turn red, your brain might kind of stop, all of your muscles might clench, your cheeks might go red.

Practical Steps Forward

As well as raising awareness of the phrase ‘Emotional Intelligence’ with our older pupils, we also wanted to begin to provide children throughout the school with the vocabulary and the means to express their feelings, and to begin to appreciate the role emotions might play helping them to learn successfully. To do this, we employed three main classroom strategies that have been tried and tested in various forms in the past…

Worry Boxes

As the name suggests, a Worry Box is a box located somewhere in the classroom where pupils can share concerns they may have about any aspect of their life, either in school or out. It might be given a more ‘child-friendly’ feel through the use of a cuddly toy or mascot. The box is checked regularly, and then every effort is made to speak to the child about the concern raised. An alternative idea which works equally effectively is that of allowing pupils to request ‘Bubble Time’ with an adult by attaching their named peg to a cardboard bubble, or placing a ball with their name on it into a special bag.

In my experience, it is often the case that by the time you have an opportunity to speak to the pupil concerned, the problem is no longer significant. In many cases, simply writing the problem down allows the pupil to define exactly what, or who is upsetting them and enables them to take the first steps towards solving the problem for themselves. In many ways, a Worry Box acts as a catalyst for an emotion-ally intelligent response to a situation, which in turn increases the child’s confidence in their ability to act in such a way.

Smile Scale

Again, this can take many forms, and have a variety of suitable titles (‘Chuffed Chart’ being a particular favourite). At Bailey’s Court alone, there are almost as many different versions as there are classrooms, each teacher putting their own ‘spin’ on the idea. A Smile Scale is essentially a method for pupils to visually display to each other how they are feeling. There might be a variety of emotions to choose from, or a sliding scale between two opposite emotions, and each pupil has something that represents them – a named clothes peg or a ‘Velcro’ed picture for example – that they place on at an appropriate point.

It is important that responsibility is placed with the pupils both for ensuring that their ’emotion’ is updated as often as is appropriate, and also for supporting pupils who indicate they are feeling unhappy in some way. This can lead to stimulating discussions about whether or not there is a ‘one rule fits all’ approach to supporting someone who is feeling negative. Developing the skill of being able to differentiate between when a per-son needs an arm around them and when they need to be given a bit of space is an important step in developing Emotional Intelligence.

Word Walls

Many classrooms introduced emotional ‘Word Walls’. These have taken a variety of forms, but are essentially a collection of words that describe a range of emotions. Ultimately, the aim of these is to help pupils to develop a vocabulary that they can use to accurately describe their feelings, and distinguish between emotions. – both their own and those of others. Perhaps when a child is asked, ‘how do you think Craig felt when you wouldn’t let him join in with your game?’ the traditional answer of ‘sad’ might be replaced with ‘Hurt’ or ‘Frustrated’ – both much more specific labels, calling upon the pupil to consider in greater depth the effect of his or her actions. Once a child has demonstrated this degree of empathy after the event, he or she has the potential to be able to pre-empt the same emotional reaction before it occurs next time. Once the child is able not only to pre-empt the reaction, but also change their behaviour to avoid it, we can really begin to see Emotional Intelligence in action. TEX

Andrew Bowman began his teaching career at Bailey’s Court (Bradley Stoke, Bristol) in 1999. Since then he has taught Years 2, 5 and 6, and is a member of the school Learning Management Team.

This article first appeared in Teaching Expertise, July 2004.