What would happen at your school if you had leaders with high emotional intelligence?

The increased focus on improving student achievement has created the expectation that principals excel in many roles: instructional leaders, community builders, program designers, and advocates for all children. Unfortunately, agreement does not exist as to the most effective approaches to developing transformational school administrators. What skills do principals need in order to be effective leaders?

The development of leaders’ Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is widely accepted as essential to effective performance in the corporate arena, but to educators, the concept of EQ within school leadership is still new. In fact, the development of social, emotional and cognitive skills has been called the “missing link” in school leaders’ preparation (Patti, Senge, Madrazo, & Stern, 2015).

Six Seconds researchers Lorea Martinez, SEL Consultant, Susan Stillman, Director of Education, Paul Stillman, Director of Organizational Vitality, and Tom Procicchiani, Research and Design Engineer, sought to address this gap in the literature by studying how principals engage EQ to support their leadership practices and exploring the factors that enable or hinder principals’ use of their EQ skills.

Research to Support Principals’ Leadership Effectiveness

On May 1st, 2017, Dr. Lorea Martinez presented this research at the 2017 Annual Conference of the American Education Research Association (AERA) in San Antonio, Texas, during the roundtable “School Leaders Ready to Lead: Developing the Social and Emotional Skills of School Administrators.” Fellow researchers Dr. Kate Zinsser from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Pennsylvania State University doctoral student Julia Mahfouz also participated in the roundtable.

Six Seconds researchers studied a group of principals in an urban school district in California during one school year. During the study, the researchers administered and debriefed participants on two Six Seconds measurement tools, the SEI and the Leadership Vital Signs, and conducted 4 interventions and 4 focus groups to explore the use of EQ by these principals and identify the factors at the school level that enabled or hindered their use of EQ skills.

Key Findings in Principals’ Use of EQ

The research revealed themes pertinent to those supporting leadership effectiveness in educational settings:

1. What role do emotions play in principals’ understanding of their leadership skills?

At the beginning of the study, 75% of principals were focused on rational data, while 25% were focused on emotional information. Through the interventions and focus groups, principals started harnessing emotions as a strategic resource. Principals also began to recognize the power of emotions to solve problems and create opportunities. They started a process of opening up, by listening and connecting, accepting vulnerability and empowering others around them.

“It’s helping me with knowing my own emotions, which makes me more effective in working with other people at the site – parents, teachers and children.”

2. How do principals use emotional intelligence to support their leadership at school?

Principals in this study had practical drive, with problem solving and commitment being their top talents. These school leaders found EQ helpful in envisioning their schools. They were able to connect with their own purpose through self-reflection and communicate a vision with shared language. Through this study, principals started using EQ data to gain concrete tools. They expressed being able to use empathy to get others on board and identified an increased sense of confidence in shared ownership with their staff.

“[EQ means] allowing myself not always to be the answer.”

3. What factors at the school level enable or hinder the use of emotional intelligence by principals?

Engaging Intrinsic Motivation and Pursuing a Noble Goal (two key competencies in the Six Seconds EQ model) were these school leaders’ top self-identified skills, while Enhancing Emotional Literacy and Increasing Empathy were the lowest. Principals expressed being challenged by the practical demands of the job and the experience of powerful emotions. They identified EQ as essential to enable coping and achieving wellbeing, and placed a high value on relationships to enact meaning for themselves and others.

“Leveraging strengths in motivation and optimism to increase empathy and improve consequential thinking.”

In summary, this study illustrates how EQ skill acquisition is an important component in the development of effective school leaders. EQ should be embedded in pre-service and professional development for school leaders. In addition, increased opportunities at the district level should be provided so principals can focus on EQ and leadership development.

Next Step

If you are a leader in an educational organization ready to improve your leadership, join Dr. Lorea Martinez for the Six Seconds Accredited Continuing Education (ACE) courseLeading Schools with Heart and Mind.”

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Lorea Martinez

Lorea Martinez

SEL Consultant at Six Seconds
Lorea Martinez, Ph.D., supports evidence-based implementation of social emotional learning to create schools where children, youth and adults feel safe, included and connected with the world around them.
Lorea Martinez

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