Support Materials

5. Feelings Count - Emotions and Learning


Linda Darling-Hammond:
Everyday our students walk into class experiencing all kinds of emotions They could be thrilling, like finally getting that solo right in band class, or traumatic, stemming from an upset on the soccer field or, more serious, a divorce at home

How do we create an emotionally safe classroom environment? And how can we teach our students the skills they need to manage their emotions - to become emotionally intelligent?

Hello, I'm Linda Darling-Hammond, and that's our challenge for this episode of The Learning Classroom.

When it comes to learning, feelings do count. And the ways our students experience and manage their emotions throughout their day has a profound effect on their ability and motivation to learn

Emotions and learning intersect in two major ways. Emotions influence how people learn For example, a confident child who is secure in the classroom may be able to listen well, learn, and take risks. Meanwhile, an anxious or fearful child may be unable to pay attention and process that same information. When we create a safe environment for students, we allow them to grow, explore, take chances, and learn from their mistakes; all of these things are essential for learning.

Students also need to learn to manage their emotions in order to succeed in school and in life. We must teach them how to recognize, and articulate their feelings, set reasonable goals and persevere, empathize with others, and solve social conflicts in constructive ways.

This ability to recognize and manage one's emotions and relationships is known as emotional intelligence.

Daniel B. Goleman, Ph.D., Author, Emotional Intelligence: In order to help a child get into the state where they're ready to learn, a teacher has to realize that, the emotional reality in the classroom matters, and that the teacher is a mentor. That the teacher is in the key position to help children get for themselves the critical abilities of emotional intelligence First, being AWARE of what they're feeling. If you're not aware of what you're feeling you won't be able to handle that emotion. It's already controlling you. So awareness, and then MANAGING emotion. Finding ways, learning ways to calm yourself, to sooth emotions, to pause before you act. Also EMPATHY, realizing what other kids are feeling, that is the key of getting along, to creating a harmonious classroom. Then SOCIAL PROBLEM SOLVING, working out problems in relationships. And if you do then that child will be better able to learn the content, because their emotions will be more under control, not controlling them.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Once a child is in control of his emotions he is also better able to MOTIVATE himself to try again after a failure and persevere in spite of difficulties.

So how do we develop emotional intelligence in our students and provide classroom environments where students feel free to learn and grow?

First, as classroom teachers we can teach our students the specific skills they need to manage their fears and frustrations and create harmonious relationships with others. In addition, we can develop a nurturing learning environment that is free from fear and ridicule, where students are able to take chances. Emotions can then become a pathway to learning.

Fourth and fifth grade teacher Kristin Bijur begins each day by providing her students with a positive opportunity to express themselves and connect to one another Then throughout the day, she keeps her finger on the pulse of student feelings and interactions

Kristin employs a number of strategies to help her students recognize what they feel She takes time to help them find words to express their thoughts and to communicate with their peers in resolving conflicts.

Kristin Bijur: I go back and forth throughout the day between whole, whole class activities, group activities, and independent activities, to provide texture in the day.

So that they don't sit there all day long and listen or don't sit there all day long and just talk to the person next to them, so that there's texture to the interactions in the day.

(classroom scene)
Kristin: Let's do a very quick greeting going around.

Kristin Bijur: But given that, you know, given that there's this variety of configurations for interaction, various, um, friction happens throughout the day either between myself and a student during a whole class lesson, or between two students during a whole, during a small group activity or individuals during, during one of those kinds of activities So, there's… things come up all day long.

James P. Comer: You have to be aware that children are not born knowing how to manage themselves in the world, and not think of what they do that you find unacceptable as bad, or indications that they're not very smart   We have to understand that you, the adult, are there to help them learn all the things they need to learn, how to handle themselves, how to have a conversation, how to manage disagreement, all of the things that are required to be successful in school You should help them and not simply see their behavior as bad when they're not able to do things.

(classroom scene)
Kristin: Can somebody remember and tell me what happened yesterday? Can you tell me?
Student: Nope.
Kristin:  I think it might be most comfortable for you to tell me.
I screamed out the answer.
Kristin: And how did that affect your classmates?
They felt bad.
Kristin: They felt bad about that.
Student: And mad.
Kristin: And mad. You guys came away from your math period not feeling so good about each other Remember? So does anybody have any ideas about how we could start the day off today so that we don't get into a problem where we feel bad about ourselves at the end of the day, at the end of the math period? Did you say something? What ideas to you have, Devon?
Well, I think we should work together and not, try not to say the answer to people, or if they don't have it, you should help them instead of telling them.
Kristin: So, can you all come to an agreement that nobody is going to say the answer out until we've all finished the problem?
Student: Yes.
Kristin: How will you know that you all finished the problem? Molly? How would you know that everyone finished the problem?
You ask, like when you're done you say, "Ok, is everybody done?"
So does everybody agree with Molly's proposal that when you're done with a problem you're going to say to the other children, "Are you done?" And what if they say, "No"?  Ella, What's going to happen then?
You might help them.
Teacher:  I'm going to meet with you guys at the end of math today, and we're going to talk about how it went today, different from how it went yesterday, to see if we've made any improvement's about how it went today.

Kristin Bijur: In dealing with student to student conflict, the thing that I have to do before I can take any action with solving the conflict is listen to them 'cause they need, they need to know that I, I think that what they're feeling is important and valid and that they feel…I, I, I know that they probably are not gonna be able to learn if they're feeling like somebody's made fun of them or somebody has disrespected them in some way and they're, they're feel, they're hurting about that.

And then I, they also need to know that I'm gonna help take care of their, gonna help them with their problems I don't, I don't have total confidence yet that, or I don't total confidence that, that fourth and fifth graders are yet able to take care of, handle all of their conflicts by themselves So they need to know that, they need to have trust that I'm going to help them solve conflicts when they come to me with that kind of request So, and you know, sometimes I'll go through the full conflict resolution process I did that yesterday with two students 'cause it seemed like a complicated enough kind of conflict that I wanted to go through the whole process.

(classroom scene)
Kristin: Are we agreed on the ground rules? That we don't interrupt each other, we don't call out, we don't say unkind things? Are you ready to tell your story?
Girl: I know I took his paper and I know I'm sorry about that, but he didn't have to poke me when I was putting his paper back. And as soon as I put it back he poked me in the back with a lead tip pencil.
Ok. So, let me get this straight. You took his paper.
Girl: Yes.
Kristin: And he told you to give it back?
Girl: Yes.
d you were giving it back?
Girl: Yes.
Kristin: And as you were giving it back he poked you in the shoulder with a pencil.
Girl: Yes.
Kristin: Is there anything else you want to tell me about?
Girl: No.
Kristin: OK.
Boy: What happened was she took my paper and I tried to grab it from her but she kept moving it away from my hand and finally, like after several times, I was asking for my paper back, she was holding it over here near my desk. She wasn't putting it back, so that's when I poked her, because I knew I wouldn't get my paper back any other way.
Girl:  Because…
Kristin:  I'm sorry, honey Remember we're not interrupting OK Is there anything else you'd like to say? To add on to your story?
Kristin: Okay, so these are a little bit different. So he says you were kind of putting the paper near his hand and then pulling it away You had the paper over there and not putting it down.
I was about to grab it, and she'd pull it away.
Kristin: OK. Do you agree?
Girl: Yes.
Kristin: So we have the same story?
Girl: Yes. I apologize. I won't do it again.
And what do you need to know?
Girl: That he won't poke anybody in the back.
I won't poke you in the back.
Kristin: Thank you for doing this conflict resolution.

Kristin Bijur: I find that it's always easier in, in coaching a child to take responsibility for his or her actions to say, "What, do you feel like? What do you feel like went wrong in the situations?" I think that tends to be more effective in the child learning to take responsibility for him or herself.

(playground scene)
Kristin: I hear there's been a little bit of a problem with the girls for that spot over there, for where you used to play soccer. What have you done to take care of that problem?  What have you done to address that problem? I'd love to see some hands. Sean, what have you done?
Well, we moved over there to have the goal on that gray spot and move right over there. But then they sometimes come in and kick the ball way over there That's what they do. And then they go like, "Yay!"
So the first thing that I heard you guys say is that you kind of moved your whole field to let them play where they are right now. Right? That sounds like an act of true, ah virtue to me, that you guys did that.
They're just making it harder, though We're giving them something, but they're like…
They're not giving back?
Boy #2:
Yeah. We sometimes play side to side right here, but when we get all the way over there, some of those people just kick it back over here and then we don't know what to do then.
Gosh, you know, I have to say, even before we continue the rest of this conversation, I'm feeling so proud of this group of soccer players because it sounds like you're not getting upset with other people in inappropriate ways for getting in your space You're trying to make room for other people, and it sounds like you're trying to solve this problem in a way that would be peaceful and harmonious, is that true?  I'm really impressed about that.

Kristin Bijur: I remember when I was a new teacher I was really concerned about making sure that - I taught fifth grade - making sure that my fifth graders got the content that they were supposed to get in fifth grade. That I didn't focus very much time and attention on their emotions, and taking care of problems when they came up, and solving conflicts between kids That resulted in their not really trusting me, and them not always feeling safe to be able to learn and attend to the learning So I think something that's really important, even though it feels like it's not addressing the standards, or it's not what you're supposed to be teaching in a fifth grade classroom, I think in any classroom it's really important to be attending the emotions of the children and giving that time and weight by creating structures to, to address those

Daniel Goleman: A child who learns best is one who is paying attention, who is alert, who is feeling upbeat, optimistic But then think about the reality of everyday life in a school, for a young child Somebody pokes you with a pencil, or you're playing soccer and someone kicks your ball away, these things get you upset, these are the real life melodramas of a child's life They're very preoccupying So when a teacher in a classroom helps children learn how to calm down, how to create a harmonious environment, how to settle disputes that are preoccupying them, in other words, by getting them in a more positive emotional state, they are directly enhancing that child's ability to learn.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Teaching our students to be emotionally intelligent enhances their ability to focus, to process information and relate to others in positive ways - key life skills that will serve them well Fortunately, opportunities for teaching emotional intelligence occur every day in the classroom.

We've just seen an elementary teacher effectively model how to identify, express, and constructively communicate thoughts and feelings.

Kristin Bijur also helps her students become aware of how their actions make their classmates feel. She coaches them in the use of problem solving strategies, and then she motivates them to keep up the good work by offering plenty of praise for their efforts She is teaching them to deal with their emotions intelligently.

As students mature they generally become better able to solve their own problems, however they continue to require our support and guidance.

Eighth grade band teacher Nancy Flanagan knows more than most people about creating harmony, and we're not just talking about music. Nancy starts each year by getting to know her students deeply, thus creating a foundation for emotional and academic growth Let's see how she helps her students take risks, pursue new challenges, and practice the skills they need to succeed both as individuals and as a team.

(classroom scene)
Nancy Flanagan:  Imagination is more important than knowledge… yeah, don't let that get around Here we go!  And one, at the signs, signs to  please, one, and two, one, two ready and…

Nancy Flanagan: We begin creating the classroom environment In September. It's day one It takes a long time, and every year I forget how difficult it is Every year I come in ready to work, and I forget I have to stop, I have to lay back, and I have to know these kids individually and personally, and I have to figure out how they work together And I have to teach them how to work together before we can really start heavy-duty content and heavy-duty learning It's a challenge How do you do that? It starts with knowing your students deeply and authentically, knowing who they are

(classroom scene)
Nancy:  I want someone who can read with some emotions Right, where the trumpets come in Trumpets, how are you going to come in?  Like the Backstreet Boys?<Laughter>  I think not.
No, seriously, come in, what's the word?
Ah, on time?
<More laughter>

Nancy Flanagan: Letting your guard down, laughing with the kids when that starts to happen, the genuine interactions, you can feel it, it's an energy in the classroom, when the kids are laughing together, and they can work together.

(classroom scene)
Nancy: You know, I don't know a doggone thing about how to play a rainstick the correct way So I think we're just going to have to work this out We're just gonna do a little <gestures> Let's do it again Here we go…
There you go Ashley, you were born to play rain stick.

Nancy Flanagan: They're anxious about everything.  It's a particularly traumatic time of life They're anxious about their braces, and can they play with their braces, and they're anxious about deep and serious things, and every now and then they're actually anxious about the world at large.

They're very much self-centered creatures, but that's okay, that's where they need to be right now They need to be developing their own, their own coping skills.

The piece we were working on today, "The Enshowkan Farewell" was used by Ken Burns, in his series on the Civil War, as background music for a letter from Sullivan Ballou to his wife And what we want to do with this is have students read the letter from Sullivan Ballou, and fit that in the context of this lovely little Apalachian folk tune… this terrible, terrible story that really happened.

(classroom scene)
Nancy:  "Dear Sarah," he wrote to his wife "The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days, perhaps tomorrow Unless I shall not be able to write you again, I feel compelled to write a few lines that may fall upon your eyes…"

Nancy Flanagan: If you want kids to really think deeply about their emotions, and their action, I don't think there is any better vehicle than a story.

(classroom scene)
Nancy:  If we read this letter, if we decide that we want to stage this like this, we have a, what's the word, we have almost a responsibility to do this really, really well The music has to be so good that the emotions, we can bring out emotions in people You can do a really powerful thing by staging this So that's why I want it to be so good And why I've been so hard on you…

Nancy Flanagan: I love stories, and I have a great collection of stories The trick is not to make the point. You don't have to tell them what the moral of the story is

(classroom scene)
Girl:  How old was he?
You know, it doesn't say How old do you think he was?
He has to be a little bit older because he has a wife.
Eric?  That's the part that I didn't say. It says that Sullivan Ballou was killed a week later at the first battle of Bull Run So yeah, he did die.

Linda Darling-Hammond: A safe nurturing environment like this one helps students recognize and deal with their feelings, and also creates emotional support By establishing routines, Nancy Flanagan provides a comfortable space where children know what they can count on She also creates a place where children can grow in their competence.

Nancy Flanagan: There is something to be said for structure. There's even something to be said for rules. If we know the rules, if we have 60 kids and they have noise makers, and they're coming in, there are going to be some rules, there's going to be some structure, some systems that are in place that they can feel comfortable with They know what is going to happen.

(classroom scene)
  Can I lead warm ups today?
Um, yeah, you want to?  Yeah.
  Thank you.
  Um, do you know what to do?  Um, do you want to do some scales?
Um, either scales or "Bridgewater."
"Bridgewater", let's do "Bridgewater." On those pleasant thoughts Let's play… And… We're ready? Take her away, Mr. Matt.
  A five-scale warm-up.
You the boss.

Nancy Flanagan: Every day it's important. It goes back to knowing your kids It goes back to that personal information that you have about them, that personal feeling you have for them I think that empathy for within the classroom begins with empathy for the teacher to the student And maybe it's not something as obvious as modeling empathy, but it starts with concrete, real genuine feelings for kids.

(classroom scene)
You know what? You almost have that solo. Do you wanna, you want to take that CD home?
Student: OK, Sure!
Nancy: It's in the CD player or it might be on the CD player Want me to get that for you? Yeah, take it home. Kay, I think it will really help you to listen to it, so…

Nancy Flanagan: There are no short cuts to making kids feel comfortable, and it has to be real I don't think you can fake caring I think kids have great noses for fake teachers.

(classroom scene)
Nancy:  Hey Travis? Good job today! You're welcome.

Nancy Flanagan: They're looking for the real person Some kids, kids who come from safe and comfortable home environments, you're just one more in a string of nice teachers they've had With some kids you're potentially the enemy So you have to be patient, and you have to be real.

Linda Darling-Hammond: These teachers teach very different subjects to very different age groups, but they have both succeeded in creating an emotionally safe and respectful classroom environment And in the process, their students have developed a genuine attachment for their teacher This is important because it motivates children to work hard – quite often children learn as much for a teacher as they learn from a teacher.

Comer: What teachers should know is they themselves are instruments of learning It is not the child alone It is the child's emotional attachment to them that encourages the child to want to learn.

Goleman: One reason an emotionally safe environment is so crucial in a school is that learning is risky What you do as a teacher is push children to challenge themselves To try the next level of difficulty in multiplication, to do the next level of difficulty in reading. In other words, children are increasingly being asked to raise the bar on their own performance.

Comer: What is so very important, and we take for granted, that children come to school having already managed to handle all of the impulses that they have and to have the comfort and the confidence that they can sit and take in the information that we're trying to provide

Many children have not received that, and so the teacher has to help, has to help create an environment in which children can have psycho-emotional comfort to be able to engage in the social and intellectual activities that are going on in the classroom   And so it is more than anything else, it is an awareness of what children need to function in various areas intellectually and socially, and the kind of psycho-emotional conditions, and social conditions you need to make that possible.

Daniel Goleman: Emotional intelligence is crucial in education for a few reasons. One is that the emotional reality of a child determines whether or not he or she can learn A child who is emotionally preoccupied, emotionally upset, is not able to pay attention The other is that emotional intelligence, that is the ability to manage ourselves, handle our own lives, and to handle our relationships, is crucial for life These are essential life skills. 

Linda Darling-Hammond: The students we saw are becoming more aware of their emotions, more capable of managing them, and more able to motivate themselves to work through problems, rather than lashing out or giving up. As they learn to empathize with others, they are developing social competence, combining all of these skills to function effectively as part of a team and as a member of society.

When we acknowledge students' emotions, we lay a great foundation for their social, emotional, and academic growth.

This is The Learning Classroom, thanks for watching.

Return to the Support Materials for Session 5
Contributors to this Session

Linda Darling-Hammond
Charles E. Ducommon Professor of Education, Stanford University

Daniel Goleman
author, Emotional Intelligence

Dr. James P. Comer
Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry, Yale University

Kristin Bijur
fourth & fifth grade teacher, San Francisco Community School, California

Nancy Flanagan
eighth grade teacher, Highland Middle School at Ore Creek, Hartland, Michigan