Assessing Emotional Intelligence and SEL Leadership Abilities

Inquire into the emotional intelligence (EQ)/social and emotional learning (SEL) skills required by school leaders. Janet Patti, along with Steve Tobin and Robin Stern, offers insights in her books Smart School Leaders: Leading with Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence for School Leaders, which I have utilized with district leaders, principals, vice principals, and members of leadership teams.

The approach I have adapted from these books focuses on four competency domains and is most effective when used as a self-assessment, as indicated by the terminology used.

An Emotional Intelligence/SEL Improvement Plan

As research continues to demonstrate the significance of a leader’s EQ/SEL skill set, it is essential for each of us to enhance areas in which we may be lacking, even if we are not formally tasked with such development. Here are some guidelines for creating an EQ/SEL improvement plan.

To improve competencies you wish to enhance, the initial step involves careful self-monitoring and/or seeking feedback from colleagues.

For instance, if you feel that you struggle to provide constructive feedback to others, begin by maintaining a journal of instances where you either offered feedback or refrained from doing so. Pay attention to situations where you may have been overly critical without acknowledging positive aspects or providing guidance for improvement. Continuously track this area throughout a typical week in your school.

Identify patterns and develop a plan for improvement. Seek advice from individuals who excel at delivering constructive feedback and ask them for suggestions on how you can improve. Consider asking one or more of them to serve as your informal coach. Additionally, explore resources available from Edutopia, CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), or SEL4US (Social Emotional Learning Alliance for The United States). Your professional association may also offer valuable resources.

To help you get started, here are some valuable insights based on real-world practice, derived from Janet Patti’s contributions in the aforementioned books and Cary Cherniss and Cornelia Roche’s work in Leading with Feeling!.

Improving Self-Awareness

Keep a diary of instances where you encountered triggering situations—circumstances in which you felt frustrated, angry, or dejected. Document the individuals involved, your actions, and the time and place of each occurrence.

  • Identify the specific factors that triggered your reaction (e.g., something said or done by someone).
  • Reflect on the range of emotions you experienced and how they evolved throughout each situation.
  • Examine why you reacted in that particular manner at that specific moment.
  • Analyze your response and consider the direct and indirect consequences, both short-term and long-term.
  • Develop strategies to handle similar situations better in the future, even if it means initially responding in a less reactive manner.

Promoting Self-Management

Breathing exercises are highly effective for long-term self-calming, particularly when anticipating or recognizing a challenging situation (such as a triggering situation) before becoming emotionally overwhelmed. Concurrently practicing calming self-talk proves beneficial.

Begin by practicing deep breathing—inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth—taking three to five deep breaths. As you engage in these exercises, repeat a mantra that reinforces a calm mindset (e.g., “I will remain calm and not let that person or event affect me…”). Maintain an even breathing pattern. Some individuals find it helpful to incorporate belly breathing, in which a hand is placed on the abdomen to perceive the movement during inhalation and exhalation.

Becoming More Socially Aware

Attending to small details can have a significant impact on the mood and atmosphere within a team or organization:

  • Create opportunities for individuals to share “good news.” For example, commence meetings with a moment for sharing, encouraging those who cannot speak at the moment to provide written updates to be included in the meeting minutes.
  • Be generous with praise and make it specific. Recognize individuals for their contributions, even if they simply fulfill their basic job responsibilities. Instead of saying “Good job with that report,” express appreciation for specific aspects of the report’s organization and illustrations.
  • Cultivate a positive outlook. At the end of each week, compile a list of positive events, no matter how small they may seem (e.g., enjoying a great cup of coffee, having a pleasant interaction with a student, receiving gratitude from a parent, obtaining approval for a budget request). Reflect on the emotions, sensations, and thoughts associated with each event. Apply these insights to the upcoming week, such as intentionally seeking more frequent positive interactions with students, staff, or parents.

Creating Better Relationships and Problem-Solving

Consider two or three individuals who have inspired you. Reflect on what made them inspirational, the principles they upheld, their problem-solving and conflict resolution approaches, their communication styles, and their storytelling abilities. Extract lessons from these experiences and apply them to your current relationships and problem-solving endeavors. Prompt yourself with the question: “What would X, Y, or Z say/do/think in the situation I am currently facing or about to face?”

The social and emotional competencies of a school’s leadership directly impact the functioning of the entire institution. Striving to lead more effectively is likely to promote the development of EQ/SEL, character, and a positive climate for your staff, students, and the entire school community.

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