How emotional intelligence improves cross-cultural classroom communication

“Emotional Intelligence covers five major areas and serves as a gateway to educational and career success”

Educators need keen emotional intelligence (EI) to manage the ups and downs of classroom life. Their ability to control and respond positively to their feelings enables them to act as role models for their students. This principle remains true even when cultural constructs throw up communication roadblocks.

International educators face barriers of both verbal and non-verbal language with their students. Exercising EI lets them check their immediate responses to external stimuli. It allows them to step back and consider the learner’s perspective and prevents them from making snap judgments.

This awareness gives them the requisite mental pause to reflect on the cultural influences on behaviour.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

EI refers to the ability to manage your feelings and respond appropriately to events. EI covers five major areas and serves as a gateway to educational and career success.

  • Self-awareness: This principle entails the ability to label your emotions correctly. It involves recognising when factors like stress cloud your judgment.
  • Emotional control: Educators with savvy EI avoid berating students. While they may feel frustrated by misbehaviour, they respond calmly and reasonably to outbursts.
  • Self-motivation: This quality refers to the ability to keep going in spite of obstacles. It entails working independently without supervision.
  • Empathy: Educators with adept EI skills can put themselves in their students’ shoes. They can understand why a hungry child may act out, or conversely, become sullen.
  • Relationship skills: This ability enables teachers to move across cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds and relate to a wide range of people. Educators evaluate their beliefs and how they impact classroom communication.

What Is Cultural Intelligence?

Cultural intelligence (CI) hinges on the knowledge that individuals of varied backgrounds will react to similar situations in vastly different ways. It goes beyond an in-depth understanding of one specific culture and extends the benefit of the doubt to anyone of another background or belief system.

CI doesn’t jump to conclusions — it realises a person from a foreign country will make the occasional faux pas and doesn’t take offence. It enables more in-depth communication by providing educators with great insight into how others perceive them.

How Do Emotional and Cultural Intelligence Intertwine?

EI and CI walk hand in hand to meet up with patience and empathy. When a teacher in an international classroom encounters unexpected behaviour, they check their ideas of what’s appropriate and not and examine the cultural context. An educator accustomed to pupils looking at them when they lecture could interpret Japanese students’ reticence to make eye contact frustrating.

However, if they pause and do research, they’ll realise it’s a sign of disrespect in that nation for youth to make direct eye contact with adult superiors.

Strategies for Developing Emotional and Cultural Intelligence

Developing both EI and CI begins with teachers understanding how their emotions affect their behaviour and cultivating self-awareness. Schools should encourage professional development activities that focus on building introspection. They can suggest or even mandate all educators to keep a journal. Many instructors require the same of their students — they can model this behaviour.

Districts can also implement cross-cultural learning activities. Many teachers play catch-up by learning about one specific culture if they get an exchange student or accept an overseas post. In-service activities can focus on broader principles, like the eight basic emotions all human beings share, regardless of background. An instructor who reacts with fear can learn to interpret this emotion as a sign something needs to change, not a cue to apply knee-jerk discipline. Maybe they need to explain a concept differently, or perhaps they’d benefit from a colleague’s advice. Teachers can use this principle in many classroom situations.

To encourage EI and CI in the classroom, teachers can implement some of the following strategies:

  • Institute morning meetings: These create a climate of trust and set the tone for learning.
  • Emphasise personal responsibility: Students take ownership of maintaining their classroom environment by cleaning whiteboards, etc.
  • Encourage creativity: Educators can have students create emotion collages, etc., to find innovative ways to manage feelings.

EI and CI Encourage Learning

EI and CI create a positive classroom environment. When students feel safe and supported, they engage in their learning and achieve success.

About the Author: With an interest in unconventional education and emerging methodologies, Alyssa Abel writes about the best strategies for students and teachers. Follow her on her education blog, Syllabusy.