Harmonizing Learning: An Emotional Odyssey to Classroom Mastery

emotional intelligence social emotional learning youth development Dec 06, 2023
emotional intelligence for youth development

As an educator, I often find wisdom in unexpected places. One Tuesday morning, as the clock struck 10:40, I stumbled upon a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. Little did I know, this cryptic message held the keys to unraveling the intricacies of emotional intelligence—a journey both personal and pedagogical. This quote was a prelude to understanding what it meant to be emotionally safe.

The note had me reflect on the compilation of words like defend, inferior, protect, and accepted, felt like a whisper from the universe, guiding me toward a deeper understanding of emotional safety. It beckoned me to embark on a journey of self-discovery and reflection, as I read the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."



Claiming Emotional Safety: A Personal Struggle

In the quiet corners of my mind, I began to confront my own struggles. Even as an adult, I grappled with the complexities of relationships, sensing an emotional insecurity that manifested in feelings of inferiority and a perceived lack of control. Each argument became a battlefield, a futile attempt to defend my character against the perceived threats to my emotional safety.

Amidst the chaos of emotions, I discovered a heartbreaking truth—I did not fully comprehend what it meant to feel safe. It was a revelation that demanded introspection and tough decisions. I had to distance myself from those who did not respect or honor me, erecting boundaries to reclaim my power.

These personal revelations resonated profoundly in my role as an educator. How could I teach emotional safety if I had not fully grasped it myself? The classroom, I realized, was not just a space for imparting academic knowledge; it was a crucible for emotional growth.

To create a safe learning environment, I understood that my journey must begin with self-awareness. It required an exploration of emotions beyond the surface reactions, an honest reckoning with my own vulnerabilities. The journey from self-pity to a desire for self-improvement became a pivotal chapter in my narrative of emotional intelligence.



Teaching Emotional Intelligence: A Classroom Mandate

The classroom, I realized, is not just a space for academic learning; it is a microcosm of the real world. As educators, we are not just transmitters of information; we are shapers of emotional landscapes. The core pillars of emotional intelligence—self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management—are not theoretical concepts; they are the very fabric of our interactions with students.

During lesson plans and grading, I began to see my role as a guide in a new light. If I wanted to teach emotional intelligence, I needed to embody it. Children learn more from what we do than what we say. The classroom became a canvas where my actions painted a portrait of emotional safety.

As I reflect on the profound impact of emotional intelligence in the classroom, my journey extends beyond its walls. Parallel to this personal exploration, I delved into the often-overlooked realm of after-school programs. These programs, I realized, were not just extensions of the school day; they were crucial allies in shaping the emotional intelligence of our youth.



In a narrative that intertwines personal growth with pedagogical imperatives, I found the essence of nurturing emotional intelligence. It is not just about academic success; it is about creating environments that prioritize emotional well-being. As educators, mentors, and advocates, let us embrace the ongoing journey of self-discovery and empowerment. In doing so, we gift our youth with the lifelong skill of emotional intelligence, a beacon guiding them through the complexities of life.

Emotional intelligence, often referred to as EQ, is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage one's own emotions while also being attuned to the emotions of others. It plays a significant role in youth development, affecting various aspects of their lives, from academic success to mental and emotional health. After-school programs have a unique opportunity to nurture emotional intelligence in children and youth, and here is how:

  1. Building Lasting Positive Relationships
    One of the foundational pillars of emotional intelligence is the ability to develop and maintain positive relationships. Youth practitioners must create a safe and trusting environment for children, where they feel comfortable expressing their emotions. Encouraging open communication and providing a supportive space is essential.
  2. Developing Child-Centric Activities
    After-school programs should focus on child development and offer activities that teach 21st-century skills such as creativity, communication, critical thinking, and collaboration. These activities not only enhance academic performance but also help children develop essential emotional intelligence skills.
  3. Professional Development
    To successfully implement quality after-school programs, youth practitioners must receive continuous professional development. Workshops, technical assistance, coaching, and monitoring structures are essential to help them hone their skills and stay updated with the latest developments in child psychology and education.
  4. Cultural Sensitivity
    Understanding the cultural backgrounds and needs of the children they work with is crucial for youth practitioners. Often, factors like family educational background and language barriers are overlooked when designing after-school programs. Adapting programs to cater to diverse populations ensures that children feel included and valued.
  5. Engaging Activities
    The quality of activities in an after-school program influences its outcomes. Programs should offer engaging, age-appropriate activities that encourage children to express themselves, interact with peers, and explore their emotional intelligence.
  6. Length of Participation
    The amount of time a child spends in an after-school program can impact their emotional development. Consistent attendance in these programs provides children with a stable and supportive environment, fostering emotional growth.
  7. Sustainable Infrastructure
    The sustainability of the program's infrastructure is crucial for ensuring its long-term success. Well-maintained facilities, access to resources, and clear organizational structures contribute to the program's ability to nurture emotional intelligence.

After-school programs play a vital role in nurturing emotional intelligence and supporting the overall development of children and youth. By focusing on building positive relationships, offering child-centric activities, investing in professional development, being culturally sensitive, providing engaging activities, ensuring consistent participation, and maintaining a sustainable infrastructure, after-school programs can make a lasting impact on the emotional well-being of the youth they serve.



Investment in the emotional intelligence of our youth is a commitment to their future success and happiness. By following these tips and practices, after-school programs and schools can become a cornerstone for developing well-rounded, emotionally intelligent individuals who are better equipped to navigate the challenges of life and excel in their academic endeavors.  To cultivate an environment in which children grasp the essence of emotional safety, it is imperative for us, as adults, to exemplify and embody emotional intelligence.


SONIA M. TOLEDO, PhD, founded Dignity of Children® in 2008 to develop children and youth holistically and reduce education inequality. She has a PhD in education and 25-plus years of experience building quality after-school programs. She focuses on emotional intelligence training, youth development, and organizational culture change. Dignity of Children® serves after-school programs nationally, providing exceptional child and youth development training programs.

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