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Why emotional intelligence is critical for the teachers when ‘back to school?

By G. Balasubramanian

“Back to School”! – The day is not far off. Many schools appear to be engaged in updating their systems both in terms of infrastructure and its processes, so that they can start receiving the learners with confidence and comfort. They are also trying to put in place the standard operating procedures as per the direction of their governing agencies. However, the most critical aspect of a school’s preparation would be to ensure that their teachers are intellectually, emotionally and psychologically ready to receive, manage, facilitate and empower their students. As the students are coming to school after a long time having faced a series of unexpected and unprecedented challenges, their emotional status would not be the same as they had, while the schools decided to comply with the directions for lockdown.

The covid climate kept some of them alone and aloof, and they suffered from the fear of loneliness (Monophobia). A few others had to operate from limited space and a number of their engagements on line with the compulsions of time leading to chronophobia (the fear of time and space). Another cross- section of them suffered from the fear of falling sick (Emetophobia), and of course a few others suffered from the fear of public places (Agoraphobia). Thus, one could see the disturbing environment caused by the Covid has impacted their life styles, their thought dynamics and their sense of security in the social cohort.

Teachers in schools and school administrators, therefore, have to respond meaningfully and effectively to help them, to facilitate them, to restore them to their previous levels of emotional comfort, which is not going to be an easy job. Teachers need to exercise a lot of emotional intelligence to deal with the learners, their parents and their peers to create a conducive atmosphere to liberate the stakeholders from their sense of insecurity so that they are back to their earlier levels of comfort, even though questions are being raised about such possibilities sooner.

Some important concerns schools and the teachers would face are:

1. Change Management

Defining a new normal, it is said that ‘nothing has changed, but everything is new’. True to this statement, the learners would find the infrastructure, both physical and academic, the same in their external vision, but a number of things that would scaffold these infrastructures carry with them new riders for movement, operation, conceptualization, performance and engagement. There is bound to be a cultural change in the inter-personal dynamics because of the covid hangover for at least a year or more. The way they learn, the way they showcase their performance, the way they are assessed will certainly change, though to a liberal side, yet projecting a mythical novelty to the learner keeping them on tenterhooks. Hence teachers need to enhance their personal interactions to act as counsellors and mentors wherever they need with deep understanding of the latent problems.

2. Sense of insecurity

However happy the learners would feel to breathe the fresh air after a yearlong isolation, the entry into the school will bring alongside a sense of insecurity in their minds. The insecurity would be born out of the fear of falling sick, the fear of touch, the fear of relating to people and also the fear of the missing links in their learning. Even learners who were quite confident of their own selves and their learning dynamics, might find questions haunting their minds about the sustainability of their previous levels of learning and performances. They might, in a few cases find difficulty in re-establishing their past identities to restore their confidence and trust both to the individual teachers and the school apart from their own selves. Teachers would have to provide the much-needed emotional support through motivation, opportunities, encouragement, rewards and celebration. Helping them to unravel their true competencies and identities would be a challenging task.

3. Dealing with SOPs

The schools would be compelled to put in place a set of standard operating procedures in all aspects of school operations including assemblies, transport, events, celebrations and classroom behaviour and their physical activities. To understand and adhere to these SOPs would certainly take some time; further to make them as a habit. At least a year would be required for re-engineering their mental framework. Health safety procedures, transport movement procedures, procedures relating to co-scholastic engagements, collaborative works including field visits would call for newer innovative methods of thinking and operation. Teachers might have to work intensively with the students with a sense of compassion, kindness and handholding. Shedding their seniority or ego, teachers might have to work with learners facilitating informality and demonstrating equity.

4. Missing Learning Links

Though there is evidence to support some meaningful learning happened online during pandemic, revisiting classrooms for personalized or team learning would be certainly associated with some feeling of inadequacy, stress about the unknown. The issues with regard to social interaction with others, the reduced possibilities of peer learning, the inability to cope with the missing modules of knowledge and skills, the absence of experimental and experiential learning, and several other related issues would put the learners on a back seat. Reservations on the above and the consequent self-denial and self-pity might lead to a bit of emotional instability both in their learning process as well as in their achievement syndrome. The quality of learning might be a matter of debate and concern. Teachers need to play the role of facilitators, counsellors and guides to sort out the challenges emerging from of the above. Every single case has to be handled uniquely with the kind of sensitivity it needs.

5. Rewiring the brain

According to brain studies, it is said that the brain has a unique capacity of making patterns and often falling a victim to such patterns. Rewiring of the thought architectures and consequent behavioural patterns requires time, space, patience and mentoring. As the learners have been completely out of touch with their earlier patterns of learning and intellectual climate, it may be a bit difficult to the learners to relate to the new normal. A number of things in schools both at the operational level and the academic delivery level might be different. Issues relating to online learning, blended learning, flipped learning, modified patterns of assessment and increased self-dependence for learning and similar issues would require re-wiring of their existing cognitive and emotional pathways. Teachers have a significant role in facilitating and empowering them. In doing so, the teachers need to exhibit empathy, compassion, consideration, co-operation and connectivity with the learners both at the individual level and the cohort level.

Apart from all the above, the newer models of inter-personal relationships consequent to covid impact, both at the physical as well as emotional level, has to be handled with adequate care and attention. The emotional profiles of the learners need to be watched carefully, and communication and connectivity have to be established accordingly. Many learners who have suffered family losses or gone through trying financial challenges would have suppressed their feelings and might be wanting to vent them. Intolerance, truancy, aggression and other negative emotions might surface for teachers to deal with. Teachers need to understand the emotional inadequacies of such learners and need to reach out to restore normalcy in the emotional edifice. Similarly, many parents would be reaching out schools with inexplicable emotional challenges and might seek to show low self-esteem before the teachers and educational institutions. All the above issues would require teachers to exhibit a high degree of emotional intelligence in handling both their professional duties and their relationships with the stakeholders. It is time to reflect!