Education Opinion

Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators

By Elena Aguilar — March 29, 2014 4 min read
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I receive a lot of questions about how to address emotional intelligence (EQ) and build emotional resilience in coachees. For example, whenever I share this tool, Mind the Gap (or this article about how to use the tool) I’m asked, “How can I coach the emotional intelligence gaps that I’ve identified in my client?” In addition, questions around EQ surface constantly when working with teachers, administrators, and coaches--that’s because as human beings, we are emotional creatures and our emotions show up loudly and vividly; they sometimes get in the way of ability to take effective actions.

Coaches have to address emotions if we’re going to help a client make meaningful, sustainable changes in his or her behaviors, beliefs, and being. This doesn’t mean that we need to be therapists, but it does mean we need to know how to deal with them when clients are experiencing them--and we need to know how to understand and deal with our own emotions.

Most people nod in agreement at that statement--yes, emotions are real things and yes, we need some tools for dealing with them...but how do we do this?

What is Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Resilience?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of, manage and express one’s emotions, as well as the ability to perceive, understand, interpret and respond to the emotions of others.

Emotional resilience is how fast we rebound from adversity and how we handle stress, setbacks, change, and struggle. I’d say these skills are essential for anyone working anywhere in the education world these days.

Here’s a really important thing to know: Emotional intelligence and emotional resilience can be learned and strengthened. I’ve coached many clients who recognized their own EQ gaps and wanted to build their resiliency, and who did so. Many became transformational teachers and leaders.

Maybe it’s obvious to you why we’d want to spend time working on these areas that perhaps traditionally are not addressed in professional development for educators, but here are the top reasons why all educational organizations need to incorporate EQ training into their PD:

  1. People with higher EQ and resilience are more likely to be happier and more physically healthy--which means they don’t miss as many days of work, are easier to be around, are more creative and generative, and are more likely to take risks.
  2. People with higher EQ and resilience perform at higher levels.
  3. Low emotional resilience correlates to higher absenteeism and teacher and leader turn over.
  4. Amongst staffs where there is a preponderance of low emotional intelligence/low resilience, change efforts are less likely to be successful and sustainable.

That’s what the research says about emotional intelligence/resilience and work--but it also just makes sense.

In recent years, there’s been an increased attention on the Social Emotional Learning needs of children--but not around those same needs for adults. Yes, it would have been nice if we’d all learned this as children, but most of us didn’t. And so those of us working with other adults in schools have two choices: Ignore those needs or address them. I’m going to vote that we take as much responsibility for helping educators learn methods for managing stress as we do for helping them learn new assessment techniques--especially given how incredibly stressful teaching is.

How Do We Coach Emotional Intelligence/Resilience?

This answer is much longer. In fact, my answer is another one of the books I one day hope to write. For now, let me suggest a few things:

  1. We can’t coach others around EQ until we know ourselves emotionally and have learned strategies for boosting our own resilience. Transformational coaching starts with the coach attending to her own learning needs--and EQ is one of those learning needs. We can all learn and grow in this area.
  2. We need to learn the basics about emotions: What they are, how to recognize and identify them, and why people experience them. Yes, something like a Psych 101--at least the first two weeks of such a course.
  3. We need to learn how to feel comfortable with clients when they are experiencing emotions. This is part of our EQ, but it changes a little when we’re in a coaching relationship.
  4. And then we need strategies for what to do when a client is experiencing intense frustration or anger or grief, or when a client is feeling hopeless or unappreciated or afraid.
  5. And we need strategies for how to help a client boost his or her resilience. For example, a coach needs to know how to help a client shift a rut story (if you don’t know what a “rut story” is, I’m afraid you’ll have to look in my book...running out of space here).

I’m going to offer one tool and an invitation. The tool is this one: It’s called a “Feeling Wheel”.

It posits that humans (and some say animals, too) only experience six distinct emotions (the ones in the center). When we feel frustrated, for example, the core emotion is really anger. I’ve found a tool like this useful for helping clients gain vocabulary to describe their feelings and make some connections that they wouldn’t otherwise make. It helps start a conversation about emotions.

And here’s the invitation: Join me in Oakland, CA, July 24-25, for a two day institute on Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators (more info on my website). This is a new institute I’m putting on due to the constant requests for such a learning opportunity. I’m really looking forward to sharing a massive tool set for boosting our own EQ and resilience, and that of the clients and staff we work with.

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