The college’s announcement to end quarantine was exciting. Finally, we could all come back together in person and appreciate the community we once had. No more virtual hybrid sessions for a curriculum that was designed to be hands-on. No more make up days. No more back-and-forth evening texts to help students deescalate concerns.
Wow, what mistaken assumptions! Numerous problems arose as we came back together in person.
Some students became questioners, trying to monopolize instructor attention. They’d even get to the point of slamming their hands against the desk or standing up and waving their arms to try to get attention. Some students attempted to speak on behalf of the class; they’d generalize by starting a sentence with, “Everyone thinks . . . “ Often students expected immediate responses to after-hour emails; when they didn’t get a response in 20 minutes, they’d send a reply and include phrases such as, “Not sure why you aren’t answering me . .. .” If a student missed a class, they expected a live stream link and additional one-on-one make up time. The list of behaviors exhibited in the first two weeks of residential reintegration went on.
To me, it was strange to see such behaviors emanating from adult learners that had selectively been admitted to a healthcare degree program. The root of the problem needed a solution fast. I started by trying to understand students’ recent life experiences. I met with them individually to discover the answers. Patterns emerged—many of them had been in isolation for more than a year. They had become accustomed to doing what they wanted when they wanted. They controlled their personal ecosystem. The amount of light, amount of noise, nature and timing of communication, style of learning—everything was under the individual locus of control. They’d lost the ability to effectively process external mediated environmental stimuli. They quickly became overwhelmed which would lead to behaviors such as overcommunication, blame, withdrawnness, and procrastination. They were unaware of their own behaviors and how their behaviors could impact others.
These observations suggested that the cohorts’ emotional intelligence was still developing. As an instructor, I was going to need to adapt. I consulted with the college’s mental health counselor, shared my observations, and asked, “What advice do you have to help restore emotional intelligence in the classroom?” Her advice was to read Emotional Intelligence 2.0. I’d read the book a few years prior, but I took her advice by re-reading it while engaging in reflective learning; this helped me re-think strategies to integrate emotionally intelligent experiences into my classroom
Emotional Intelligence 2.0 focuses on four areas: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Reflecting on each area, here are the classroom management changes I utilized to facilitate positive peer-to-peer and peer-to-instructor relationships.
One of Bradberry and Graves strategies is to “visit your values.” The authors juxtapose the idea of juggling one’s energy between core values and never-ending interruptions. Bradberry and Graves suggest the reader create a list of core values and compare that to frequent actions. In reflecting on this activity, I discovered a few key roots in the classroom management problem. My core values included holistic wellness and making time to balance independent and interactive energy. Out of a good intention to help students, I had continued quarantine-oriented behaviors, such as responding to texts late in the evening, over-communicating, and continuing to allow virtual streaming when a student was absent for any reason. This led to playing communication whack-a-mole which detracted from the holistic wellness for both me and the students.
I fixed this problem by first establishing new explicit boundaries with the students. Such boundaries included discontinuation of live stream links to class, and expectations that I would respond to digital communications within 24 hours. While student communication behaviors did not change right away, I consistently upheld the new boundaries. As I continued to model the new communication rules, their expectations and behaviors followed. I was less frustrated with the continual communication expectations, and they were less overwhelmed.
As part of restoring subconscious self-management, Bradberry and Graves turn to sleep hygiene. This suggestion evoked a recent experience I’d had. I attended an athlete mental conditioning session on sleep deprivation. During that session, they showed attendees not only the compounding effects of subconscious delta wave interruptions during sleep, but also tactical operations to stop the cycle in real life. Strategies included setting a cell phone bedtime reminder, setting the cell phone to do not disturb between the set bedtime and wake-up alarm, and charging the cell phone in the face down position (to eliminate light-based visual alerts) outside of the bedroom in the evening.
While such small actions didn’t seem like they’d have an impact, my assumption was incorrect. Bradberry and Graves outline how sleep hygiene helps subconsciously restore patience, alertness, and flexibility, all of which were needed to support thoughtful and consistent responses instead of reactions to student behaviors. I now had the patience to remind students that they could write their questions down and ask it during our designated question time. If students disrupted class, I reminded them calmly that they could take a moment to leave, reflect on the ideal shared classroom behaviors, and then return when ready. Students quickly learned that outbursts were not acceptable in the classroom, as the frequency of such behaviors decreased.
Social awareness requires tuning into non-verbal cues external to one-self. Bradberry and Graves suggest “living in the moment,” by tuning into the present without distraction from the past or future. Teaching students to declutter their minds can be a life-long practice. As opposed to attempting to clear such distractions, I created a drill for students that required collaboration without allowing time for mental distractions. We called the drill “hot seats.” At the end of a lab session, students would line up in groups of four. The groups would race each other to see who could perform all the steps of a new skill properly to arrive at the correct outcome. The winning team would receive a point.
The students compared hot seats to the game, Tetris, noting that they had to think about the key elements without distraction to win. The drill also encouraged students to work with different group members, as instructors decided who was in each group each day, and group members had to rotate for each activity. Some students even expressed excitement as they discovered new study buddies that they enjoyed working with.
After class one day, a student said “Thank you, I really appreciate everything you do.” Clearly, I seemed surprised, as she followed up with, “Do other students ever say thank you?” I paused for a moment and responded, “In this class, you are the first one to say thank you. I appreciate your taking a moment to share gratitude with me.” Bradburry and Graves state, “Remember the little things that pack a punch,” as a key element of relationship management.
After this student interaction, I started saying thank you to students. I would thank a student for pushing in chairs. I would thank a student for volunteering. I would thank a student for taking time to help another student catch up. Within a week, students started saying thank you to each other and to me on occasion as well. Bradburry and Graves were right, the little things that pack a punch made a huge difference in peer-to-peer and peer-to-instructor daily interactions as we began transforming our classroom for more emotionally intelligent experiences.
While it may seem like transforming classroom behavior for elevated emotional intelligence could be an insurmountable task, the above journey delivered a more emotionally aware cohort full of more positive interactions within two weeks. The key was selecting small actions from each emotionally intelligent category and being consistent in carrying out each committed action without variation. While there was certainly flexibility to change based on how the actions were received, the selected strategies worked well in transforming the observed cohort toward a more emotionally intelligent baseline.
As you, the reader, reflect on this emotionally intelligent classroom transformation, consider how learning about your students’ experiences in the past few years might reveal opportunities for selective emotional-intelligence classroom management actions within your post-quarantine cohorts.
Dr. Meredith Butulis comes from a background in education, business, physical therapy, and wellness/fitness coaching. She is currently an associate professor in the physical therapist assistant program at the State College of Florida. Prior to joining the State College of Florida faculty, she had been in physical therapy clinical practice, various wellness and fitness coaching roles, and an exercise science instructor and program dean. Dr. Meredith’s passions are sharing educational opportunities, and continuing her own journey in life-long learning.
Bradberry, T, Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional Intelligence 2.0. TalentSmart: San Diego.
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