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Emotional Intelligence Skill Set Development (EISSD): Key to Academic Achievement and Student Retention

By Dr. Beth Polito, Assistant Director, California Division, AVID Center

As a former AVID Elective teacher and AVID coordinator for a National Demonstration School in California’s Central Valley, I witnessed on a daily basis how our students’ emotions affected their learning. Even though we provided them with the tools to achieve academically, I quickly learned that we needed to address their social and emotional learning, with the same gusto. Thus began my personal journey into the concept of emotional intelligence.

Emotions have a purpose—a genuine purpose—and that purpose is to communicate information to others, as well as to ourselves.

In 1999, Harvard Professor of Cognition and Education Howard Gardner wrote, “The less a person understands his own feelings, the more he will fall prey to them. The less a person understands the feelings, the responses, and the behavior of others, the more likely he will interact inappropriately with them and therefore fail to secure his proper place in the world.”

The positive emotional development of students is a core value of student maturation and key to academic achievement and student retention in academia.

Since the psychosocial demands of a college environment challenge student success as much as, if not more so than, the cognitive demands, learning and applying emotional intelligence (EI) skills directly impacts the success of students during the critical transition period from high school to college and beyond. Research findings indicate that emotional intelligence skill sets are important and perhaps critical factors of student achievement, retention, and personal health. A substantive and growing “culture of evidence” illustrates the positive effect of emotional intelligence on academic achievement and retention.

Consider academia as an emotional pressure cooker where not only the students, but also professors and leaders, are plagued by academic and social challenges. The intensity at which an emotion is experienced and understood will have a direct and indirect impact on motivation, critical thinking, and self-management. Academic underachievers may exhibit a dimension of poor emotion management, which is correlated to making them less willing to persist when faced with fear of failing, disgust with oneself for failing, sadness or grief for losing, and hostility for not being accepted. A study of over 1,000 students by Michigan State University researchers found six reasons for student departure, three of which were centered on students’ psychological, emotional, and social experiences.

On the other hand, academic achievers experience the emotion of “happiness,” which is directly correlated to “achieving a goal,” resulting in an accrual of energy and producing a reinforcing signal for learning. The purpose of happiness is to “retain the gain” and “retain the desire.” Therefore, achieving a goal results in feeling happy, which informs us that we have done something good that we value. We are happy when our values are met, and happiness is an indicator to pay attention to in our life. These feelings inspire and motivate us to try again and repeat our success.

Scientifically defined, emotional intelligence is the capacity to reason with emotion in four areas and the capacity to deal effectively with one’s own and others’ emotions (Mayer & Salovey, 1997). Applying the EI ability model concepts to EISSD, a focused learning framework instructs how to: (a) accurately identify emotions through learning emotion vocabulary that aids in identifying the emotion feeling states, (b) use these feelings to assist with meaning-making in intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships, (c) understand the causes of emotions, and (d) manage oneself to stay open to the information provided by emotions in order to embrace change and nurture relationships with others. Thus, the ability to combine emotional intelligence with analytical intelligence leads to a collective understanding of the human experience. Promoting the integration of EISSD can address academic underachievement.

Students who develop emotional intelligence skill sets:

  1. Possess the ability to accurately perceive emotions and begin to understand the underlying emotional causes.
  2. Possess the ability to have more adaptive lifestyles, are more attuned to the signals of others and themselves, and better understand the causes of their emotions, as well as the emotions of others.

Developing emotional intelligence takes time and patience with oneself and others, a persistence to stay open to felt emotions, a desire to fully engage with what is being felt, a conscious effort to manage the emotions to facilitate meaning-making, and the courage to observe emotional vulnerabilities. Accepting emotions as a source of essential information and the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage them is vital for academic achievement and human survival. “Indeed, EI has already served to reorient the study of human emotions in a more positive, functional direction by motivating policy makers in education, business, management, and politics and to take emotional issues seriously” (Zeidner et al., 2004, p. 246).

I invite you to attend the Emotional Intelligence Skill Set Development (EISSD) session at the AVID National Conference to learn more about our eight basic emotions and how we, and our students, can develop and integrate EI skills into our everyday lives. If we accurately identify emotions, and have them help us attend to the right cues, if we understand their cause, and take the best actions, then we are going to be surviving and thriving.

For the past six years, Beth Polito, Psy.D. has presented nationally and internationally on Emotional Intelligence Skill Set Development (EISSD).

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Reader Comments (1)

Bravo! This article is one more example of how "Feelings" are at least as important as cognition in being "college ready" - Another great resource in understanding how to learn and teach emotional management is in Richard Davidson's new book: "The Emotional Life of Your Brain" - Bravo Dr. Beth!!

November 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBilly

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