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Tim Elmore

On Leading the Next Generation

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New Study: Students Who Can Manage Emotions Do Better Academically and In Life

It was a tense moment in the classroom, as two students saw each other’s grades after a mid-term exam. Lamar and Jason had both studied hard, so it was crushing for Lamar to see that he’d gotten 78 percent on his test, and Jason had scored 93 percent.

Jason tried to lighten up the tension a bit, by saying, “Well, at least you got your Air Jordans!” This did not help in the moment.

Lamar immediately fumed at Jason to “Go to h*ll. You best f*@# off before I help you!”

Jason felt horrible. Lamar was a friend. He wasn’t sure what just happened. Before he could stop himself, the two started yelling at each other until a faculty member calmed them down. Lamar was experiencing some common emotions at that moment:

  1. He began emotionally flooding, unsure of how to process what he felt.
  2. He instantly fell into a comparison trap and felt like a loser.
  3. He sensed his emotions rising and expressed them with no filters.

What started as an anemic, even senseless interaction became an emotional volcano. It meant nothing—yet can be explained by two realities: one student failed to read the emotional sensitivity of the moment in a classmate, and the other was unable to manage his emotional flooding. Neither of the two students knew how to describe what they felt.

The Advantage of Managing Emotions

While this outburst seems completely detached from academic achievement, it’s actually tied to it very closely according to a new study.  The fact is, emotional intelligence is an important part of academic success—from kindergarten to college. To be specific, students who understand and can manage their emotions earn higher grades and do better on standardized tests.

The findings help bolster a growing consensus among researchers that skills such as emotional intelligence are not just important for future workplace success but also students’ academic success right now. The results are also likely to help schools make the case that investing in teaching social-emotional skills will bring a payoff in improved student achievement.

The study was published in the journal by the American Psychological Association.

As a scientific topic, emotional intelligence is a relatively new construct, especially when compared to intelligence or personality. The first academic article on it appeared in 1990, and the subject only became mainstream in 1995 when author Daniel Goleman published his book: Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

Truth be told I believe we should pay as much attention to EQ as we do IQ.

What Can We Do to Help Students to Succeed?

While I admire teachers, who are brilliant at enabling their students to engage in course curriculum, I believe their job would be simplified if schools could embed conversations and discoveries about emotional intelligence into their classrooms:

  1. Improving your self-awareness.
  2. Improving your self-management.
  3. Improving your social awareness.
  4. Improving your relationship management.

While none of these seems very scholarly, they affect scholarship directly. Students are not walking brains; they are whole people, with emotions, insecurities, fears, and needs that can’t be divorced from their ability to listen and retain information in a classroom. Unplanned conflict will occur, like the one above with Lamar and Jason, and suddenly two smart people can be reduced to emotional reactors, showing very little logic. So, I suggest the following:

For Individual Students:

  • Talk about this subject and the need to manage emotions.
  • Teach them to count to 10 before reacting to anything emotional.
  • Help them see that emotional subjects should be discussed in person, not on a screen.

For Classrooms, Teams, and Schools:

  • Help students learn from videos and case studies on this topic.
  • Host regular discussions on issues like critical thinking, empathy, and listening.
  • Check out our four-year course: Habitudes for Social and Emotional Learning.

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New Study: Students Who Can Manage Emotions Do Better Academically and In Life