Emotionally Intelligent Teaching

By | First Published: | Last Updated: 28 September, 2021

While emotional intelligence is a bit of a buzzword, there is no denying that people are emotionally driven creatures. Thanks to ongoing research, we know quite a lot about how our emotions work. Emotionally intelligent teaching involves using this insight in intelligent ways.

Here are 3 ways that you do this.

Emotionally Intelligent Teaching – Tip 1

Emotions Are Contagious

One of the most potent findings about emotional intelligence is the presence of mirror neurons1 in our brain. Mirror neurons activate in our brain when we interact with another person. They enable us to feel what the other person feels, which explains why the emotions of others are often contagious.

But why is this important?

Infect Your Students With Your Passion

Students are likely to catch the emotions you are feeling. Sadly, as Daniel Willingham reported, most students are ambivalent to school. However, they are far more likely to do well when they are interested in and passionate about what they are learning.

Therefore, it is not surprising that students are more likely to do well when their teachers are fervent about what they are teaching, about being a teacher and about helping their students learn

Teachers need to be engaged in the passion of teaching and learning.
John Hattie

You can help students do better at school simply by being passionate about the work you do. It is one key aspect of emotionally intelligent teaching.

Emotionally Intelligent Teaching – Tip 2

Another key finding in the emotional intelligence literature centres on the importance of empathy. In short, empathy involves recognising how other people feel and then experiencing their feelings yourself. This creates a sense of a shared connection, which in turn allows you to deal with the situation (whatever it may be) together. At a broader level, empathy involves seeing the situation through another person’s eyes.

A meta-analysis of available research showed that students do substantially better at school when you show them empathy and warmth. Take an interest in their lives, pay attention to how they are feeling and feel with them.

Emotionally Intelligent Teaching – Tip 3

This leads to my third tip, which is to remain calm and objective when dealing with students’ misbehaviour. All too often, we let anger and disappointment control how we respond to a student’s misbehaviour. In emotional intelligence terms, this is known as an emotional hijack.

However, the research reviewed by Robert Marzano reveals that the most effective behaviour management technique teachers can adopt is a particular mindset. This mindset has two core components:

  • A heightened sense of awareness about what is going on in your classroom
  • An ability to stay calm and objective

The essential point is that we want students to behave well so that they can learn. Losing your cool (especially over minor misbehaviour) disrupts both teaching and learning.

You can become a more emotionally intelligent teacher by staying calm and composed when dealing with misbehaviour.

Practising feeling empathy will help you to remain calm. It also helps to remember not to take things personally.

Emotionally Intelligent Teaching
In A Nutshell

So, in short, the 3 evidence-based tips for becoming a more emotionally intelligent teacher are to be:

  1. Passionate about your work as a teacher
  2. Warm and caring with your students
  3. Calm and collected when dealing with misbehaviour


1 Hatfield, E., Cacioppo, J. L., & Rapson, R. L. (1994). Emotional contagion. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press; di Pellegrino, G., Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L., Gallese, V., & Rizzolatti, G. (1992). Understanding Motor Events: A Neurophysiological Study. Experimental Brain Research, 91, 176-180.

2Hattie, J. A. C., & Clinton, J. (2008). Identifying accomplished teachers: A validation study. In L. Ingvarson & J. A. C. Hattie (Eds.), Assessing teachers for professional certification: The first decade of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (pp. 313–344). Oxford, UK: Elsevier; Smith, T. W., Baker, W. K., Hattie, J. A. C., & Bond, L. (2008). A validity study of the certification system of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. In L. Ingvarson & J. A. C. Hattie (Eds.), Assessing teachers for professional certification: The first decade of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (pp. 345–378). Oxford, UK: Elsevier.

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(MEd., MLead.)

Shaun Killian (me) is an experienced and passionate teacher, as well as a past school principal. After a heart transplant and having both my legs amputated, I am not yet capable of returning to work. Yet, my passion for helping students succeed has led me to use my time to research teaching and associated practices. I then share what I find in practical ways through this website. The greatest compliment I have ever received from a past student was I never left any student behind. That is mission of most teachers and I hope you find the information on this site useful.

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