Emotional intelligence needed for safer schools

15 March 1, 2023 - A recent international research by the University of Córdoba and the European BOOST project showed that when schools focus on securing a safer school climate, this also increases the emotional intelligence of students. Although the study did not specifically go into nondiscrimination, it is likely that antidiscrimination programs focusing on LGBTIQ+ should also focus on developing emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to manage emotions effectively. It is defined as a system of mental abilities to access, perceive, understand, regulate, and process emotions to promote problem-solving in areas related to an individual’s affect. It can be measured by asking students (1) if they have attention for emotions (I usually care a lot about what I’m feeling); (2) about the clarity of their feelings (I can always explain how I feel); and (3) if they are able to manage their emotions ( this is called mood repair) (When I am angry I try to change my mood). Emotional intelligence has a clear impact on the well-being of schoolchildren. A large number of studies has shown how emotional intelligence impacts on psychological and contextual variables, but less is known about how school contexts influence emotional development.

Safe school climate

School climate is defined as a “pattern of students’, parents’, and school personnel’s experience of school life that reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching, and learning practices, and organizational structures” (Cohen et al., 2009, p. 182). Cohen et al identified four dimensions of school climate: safety, relationships, teaching and learning, and institutional environment. The school climate can be measured by asking students for four factors: (1) Teacher-student relations (Teachers care about their students); (2) student-student relations (Students are friendly toward most other students); (3) liking of school (I like this school); and (4) fairness of school rules (Consequences of breaking school rules are fair). When students answer these questions consistently in a positive way, this gives a reliable view of a safe school climate. Strategies to foster a positive school climate can result in helping students learn to internalize the negative emotions they experience, analyze why they feel these negative emotions, and improve their social skills and emotional intelligence.

The study

The BOOST study looked at the level of emotional intelligence and school climate for schoolchildren in primary education in Spain, Poland and Norway. Girls showed higher levels of emotional repair compared to boys. Emotional repair and clarity of emotions were the most important factors of emotional intelligence.
Multivariate analysis showed higher levels of emotional intelligence in Spanish schoolchildren related to a corresponding higher level of school climate. The researchers suggest that creating a safer school climate can lead to the development of more emotional intelligence. However, earlier studies also showed a correlation in the other direction: students who are guided to develop higher levels of emotional intelligence contribute to a safer school climate.
Although this study was done among primary school children, it is likely that the same trends will be found in secondary schools and vocational schools.

Relevance for sexual and gender diversity

Educational programs which are designed to combat discrimination related to sexual and gender diversity are usually focused on giving information about LGBTIQ+ and on correcting prejudice. However, in practice the more effective way to combat intolerant towards sexual and gender diversity is to focus on emotions and how students can deal with the negative feelings they experience when confronted with somebody who is different than they are. For this reason, it would be important that updated programs should be developed to create more acceptance of LGBTIQ+ people by focusing more on emotional intelligence. Such programs could especially focus on how students can engage in mood repair. It is also important that the school has attention for the context of increasing emotional intelligence by providing an LGBTIQ+ inclusive safer school climate. In turn, such a systemic safer school climate will increase the emotional intelligence of students, including their ability to cope with negative feelings towards minorities.
In the European #UNIQUE-project, this approach is leading. This project is focused on vocational education and an online course has been developed for teachers of schools in Cyprus, Greece, Croatia and Poland. The project leaders have been trained in a more emotional approach of combating homophobia and transphobia and the online course is supporting this perspective.

Peter Dankmeijer

Source: Luque-González, R., Romera, E., Gómez-Ortiz, O., Wiza, A., Laudańska-Krzemińska, I., Antypas, K., & Muller, S. (2022). Emotional intelligence and school climate in primary school children in Spain, Norway, and Poland. Psychology, Society & Education, 14(3), 29-37.