Emotional Intelligence and Leadership: You need both to support students

Grab a pen and notepad and jot down your ideas to this quick question:

On a scale of 1-5 (five you know it and can grow it, one you know very little), how Emotionally Intelligent are you?


In the past years of serving as a principal coach, I have come to see first hand the power Emotional Intelligence plays in achieving breakthrough results for students and schools. Unfortunately, this was not always my understanding. In fact, in my early years as a teacher leader and an administrator, I believed that the most important knowledge I could bring to support student learning was the “how to teach strategies.”  Like many of you, I had interacted with Max Landberg’s Skill Will Matrix (from The Tao of Coaching) which helps a coach determine if one should focus support on developing a specific skill or focus on will. AND while this is important, there is another type of knowledge that is foundational to make the MAGIC happen for students…Emotional Intelligence.

Elena Aguilar, Founder and President of BrightMorning and author of The Art of Coaching, regularly shares an updated Skill Will Matrix that illustrates how important Emotional Intelligence is.

from Mind the Gap, Elena Aguilar


The good news is: We are all Emotionally Intelligent! (high five to you!)

The tough news: Some people are more Emotionally Intelligent than others in certain areas

The better news: With some focused work, we can all develop a high level of Emotional Intelligence


What exactly is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?

Emotional Intelligence is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationshipsfrom Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves.

If we adopt this definition, Emotional Intelligence can be broken down into two main competencies:

  1. Inward (you)
  2. Outward (others)

Those two competencies are balanced with four key skills that must be used in various settings (personal 1:1, small group, large group, etc.):

  1. Identify
  2. Understand
  3. Interpret
  4. Adjust


Adapted from Emotional Intelligence 2.0


Why Do I need Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?

Around 2008, Dr. Bill Daggett helped inform the need to support learning beyond providing students with rigorous work. In fact, his statement, “Relevance makes rigor possible,” opened the door to the notion that relationships are critical for leaders to understand students, staff, and parents.

In fact, before we can start to build Emotional Intelligence in others, I would highly encourage you to personally do this work. Learn to recognize and understand your emotions. Build a toolkit of strategies and tools that help strengthen different areas of Emotional Intelligence.

At Ensemble Learning, we follow a similar approach in order to improve student outcome We know that building meaningful relationships with students and staff is critical and means learning who individuals are as people –  what motivates them, what inspires them, what triggers them, as well as what hurts them (to name a few). Learning who we are and who others are is just one component of trust. And when our students and staff feel trust, they will be more willing to take risks, have ownership, and go the extra mile. This journey is not a quick journey, but it is absolutely possible to achieve when we take time to develop a high level of Emotional Intelligence (EQ).


How do I make Emotional Intelligence a priority?

Before making Emotional Intelligence a priority for everyone, start this journey for yourself. Be aware that in the beginning, it may get a little messy, but it’s the right work to enhance our impact. Below are some quick steps to consider:

  1. Start with yourself: Building Emotional Intelligence means we have to start the journey with ourselves. A quick internet search will lead you to a number of free Emotional Intelligence inventories. You might also consider getting anonymous feedback from others about “how you show up.” Questions for this type of survey can also be found online.
  2. Study your results: Be humble and try to deeply understand your results. Remember, unlike Intelligence Quotient (IQ), Emotional Intelligence is something we are always working on because people change, settings change, and most importantly, we change over time.
  3. Make a plan: Pick an area you want to strengthen and identify some strategies or tools to implement.
  4. Monitor progress: Set some milestones to track your progress. It may also be helpful to do follow-up mini feedback surveys to learn how others experience your progress.
  5. BONUS: Find a mentor who is higher in areas you are focused on: In all honesty, everyone can use a coach. This should be someone you can share your situations, perspectives, thoughts, and feelings. Hearing feedback and advice from someone else is a great way to better understand who you are and how you show up.


Resource: I’m ready for my school to have a high level of Emotional Intelligence and build meaningful relationships

For those of you that are ready to take this across your school, there is a resource by the International Center for Leadership in Education (excerpt below) that can guide some steps for you to think through for implementation. Feel free to review and adapt it to your school context.

 Excerpt from the Leadership for Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships Resource Kit pg 6-8


Final thoughts: As a Principal Coach, I truly believe and understand that relationships matter in building a positive culture for students and staff to achieve. By taking time to understand and strengthen Emotional Intelligence, we as leaders will foster an environment that stands on trust and allows breakthrough learning to happen for all students.


JC Contreras is a principal coach for Ensemble Learning and a 2016 national EdWeek Leader To Learn From for principal supervision. If you would like to continue the conversation about Emotional Intelligence and Leadership, you can connect with him directly at jcontreras@ensemblelearning.org. If you are curious how Ensemble Learning can support your school or organization find success for all students contact Elise Darwish, Ensemble Learning CEO, at edarwish@ensemblelearning.org.


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