If someone, twenty years ago, someone had said Criostoir, “As a language teacher, what socio-emotional skills are you using in class?” I would have had to pause, think and say, “well, I’m not sure. I teach grammar, vocabulary, and subconsciously, I try to avoid pronunciation,” but today is different; after more than twenty years of teaching around the world and to many different types of learners, things are different.
Today, if one types “socio-emotional skills,” into a search engine, there is a plethora of websites to choose from related to this very important suite of skills. Usually, the landing page of these sites will tell you that socio-emotional skills are a portfolio of competencies to better facilitate the emotional management and engagement of a person; in short, being able to get along with people and be nice.
As adults and trainers, we are confronted by numerous socio-emotional challenges, both personally and professionally, in the classroom.
We, as teachers, are affected by stress which can have a knock-on effect in terms of our emotional wellbeing. The churn rate for teacher is high, so understanding the importance of socio-emotional aspect of teaching allows us to mitigate some of the demanding issues we may encounter in the classroom.
On a personal level, our emotions are challenged every day by actions and attitudes that may seem foreign. Europe is changing rapidly; it is a dynamic environment bringing attitudes that may seem anachronistic, alien, inappropriate or offensive. On a professional level, instructing adult learners who hold views that challenge our world view isn’t straightforward; most instructors, male and female, have encountered adult learners who hold unique views about everything, or who wish to exert dominance in the learning environment using their age, gender, socio-political or socio-economic status as a tool to do this.
In fact, most language teachers employ quite sophisticated socio-emotional skills in our everyday professional lives to manage our classroom and learners. We may not recognise them as such, or call them “socio-emotional skills,” but we use them nonetheless. It has been argued that most people who become practising teachers possess these skills as an inherent part of their personalities.
But what are socio-emotional skills and are they the same as emotional intelligence? Arguably, socio-emotional skills intersect with Emotional Intelligence (EI) on a number of levels. Put simply, whilst socio-emotional skills facilitate one’s ability to work with others, EI allows one to recognise and understand your emotions and other people’s.
According to the OECD, socio-emotional skills, “refer to the abilities to regulate one’s thoughts, emotions and behaviour. […] they mainly concern how people manage their emotions, perceive themselves and engage with others, […] they are dependent on situational factors and responsive to change and development through formal and informal learning experiences. Importantly, social and emotional skills influence a wide range of personal and societal outcomes throughout one’s life.”
Among these skills are self-awareness, personal management, social awareness and rapport building, good communication skills (verbal, written and physical), and prudent and thoughtful decision making.
All of these assets combined included the ability to relate to others, to empathise, to manages one’s own emotions and to manage one’s self in the learning environment. It also includes the ability to recognize emotions in our learners and regulate our emotions in different situations without losing control. It is knowing how to react, adjust and adapt our behaviours as teachers appropriately. The ability to communicate, express ourselves, know how to listen to our learners and other teachers, and know how to solve problems are also very important. Good decision-making in a learning context is another important skill in this category as is setting realistically achievable goals for ourselves and our learners; it is, essentially, cultivating healthy, fruitful, and happy relationships with our learners, and helping them to be productive learners in and out of the classroom.
Possessing the ability to recognise our own emotions with regard to these is challenging. Instructors like learners come to the learning environment carrying all sorts of ‘emotional baggage,’ or prior experience.
Social-emotional skills are sets of behaviours that we learn quite early in our development. They help us form and maintain relationship with our community and the people in it. They are feelings, emotions, and ways of acting. The lack of social and emotional skills is arguably reflected in poor performance in the workplace and interpersonal relationships
Most successful teachers developed the socio-emotional competencies needed to work in the classroom over time; some already possessed these skills before deciding to enter the teaching profession; they often employ these skills subconsciously in their teaching, building the rapport and empathy that are essential in a classroom as well as professionalism.
Practices such as, work partner conversations, continuing professional development (CPD) sessions, teacher team-building events, personal days for teaching staff, peer interventions are among a number of practices that can help. As teachers, we need to establish a secure emotional balance that reinforces our personal competences and improves our ability to transfer knowledge and concepts to our learners and creating a happy classroom in the process.