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Do we need emotional intelligence tests for teachers?

With the newly announced federal government reforms to teacher training announced this week, emotional intelligence is now firmly on the agenda for trainee teachers. Under the proposed rules, prospective…

New tests could be in store for trainee teachers to demonstrate their emotional intelligence. Emotions image from www.shutterstock.com

With the newly announced federal government reforms to teacher training announced this week, emotional intelligence is now firmly on the agenda for trainee teachers.

Under the proposed rules, prospective teachers will need to undergo emotional aptitude tests before they begin their training.

The idea has intuitive appeal and testing emotional intelligence remains a “hot topic” in psychology circles. But it is also a slippery construct and can be difficult to test.

This doesn’t mean the idea doesn’t have merit, but let governments and education faculties be warned, testing emotional intelligence will not be easy.

What is emotional intelligence?

There are a number of different definitions of emotional intelligence in the psychological literature, but in general, it is defined as an ability to identify, regulate, and manage emotions in the self and in others.

Research indicates that higher levels of emotional intelligence are associated with a range of positive outcomes, such as better workplace performance and physical and mental health.

Good teachers need a strong emotional intelligence. Understanding what makes a particular student “tick” emotionally can be important in helping with individual learning.

Further, by being mindful of students’ emotions and helping students to regulate their emotions, teachers can ease interpersonal conflicts and contribute to the students’ emotional and social development.

Importantly, emotionally intelligent teachers also have the ability to perceive and regulate their own emotions, which might help to increase workplace engagement and reduce burnout.

Taking the test

But emotional intelligence can be tricky to assess.

Psychologists generally use one of two approaches. The first approach is to ask people about how they use emotion, and how good they are at using it. Yet if we look at the literature on more traditional forms of intelligence, this “self-report” approach to measurement is problematic; self-report and actual intelligence are not highly correlated.

However, the self-report method is still useful, as it results in a measure of “trait” emotional intelligence, reflecting how an individual might feel and be willing to act in a typical situation, as well as their emotional self-efficacy.

The second approach is to ask people a series of questions about emotion to which there is a defined correct answer. These are considered to be “performance” approaches, where emotional performance is gauged against an external criterion.

While not without its limitations (the defined correct answer is established by a panel of experts….make of that what you will), this approach results in a measure of “ability” emotional intelligence, and is considered to be more objective than self-report measures.

Impossible to measure?

Emotional intelligence is a construct still in relatively early days of empirical evaluation. It is not surprising that at this stage, psychologists are still in the process of refining its measurement.

However, just because something is difficult to measure, does not mean that it is not important. Ongoing work is needed to improve our understanding of exactly what comprises emotional intelligence and how to measure it.

The desire to help trainee teachers develop their interpersonal skills is laudable. But as the government continues talks with universities about how to implement these kinds of tests, extreme care needs to be taken and the difficulties of measuring emotional intelligence properly understood.

What is “correct” in an emotional intelligence test is not as clear-cut as it is in a numeracy and literacy test for example. In addition, intelligence is usually considered to be a relatively stable construct – you can’t teach someone to have more mental horsepower (though we do gain crystallised intelligence through experience).

From this perspective, attempting to train teachers (or anyone) to be have “more” emotional intelligence might be problematic. Instead, helping future teachers to develop a series of emotional competencies such as resilience, optimism, and effective adaption to change during their training might be more productive.

Join the conversation

45 Comments sorted by

  1. Jack Arnold

    Director

    The overarching problem in education is that since The Wages Accord was foisted upon teachers successive governments have reduced salaries in real terms so that capable students who may have chosen teaching as a career, sensibly take their skills to other better paying careers. Pay peanuts get monkeys.

    Oh dear, this year's "in phrase" for the educationalists to toss around for 12 months before replacing it with yet another fresh "reform". The underlying problem in primary education is the lack…

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Hi Jack

      too true

      next teachers will have to sit thru a reading of tarot cards to establish if they are suitable.

      do we ask doctors, lawyers, politicians, bus drivers or real estate agents to take an EQ test?

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    2. Sean Manning

      Physicist

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Doctors are tested for emotional intellegence in a manner of speaking. The UMAT test has a component that deals with what is essentially bed side manner.

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    3. Sean Manning

      Physicist

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      I agree that it is not perfect. I also don't think that our imported doctors have had similar testing.

      But it did prevent my empathy-less relative from entering medicine. So we can all be thankful for that!

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    4. Robert Tony Brklje
      Robert Tony Brklje is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Consider that both psychopaths and narcissists score high on emotional intelligence tests, as the ability to read other peoples emotions in order to more readily manipulate and abuse them is important to both for their own benefit and not that of the victims.
      Now who the hell put this idea forward in the first place.
      A high degree of empathy is more important for a teacher and an empathy score has nothing to do with an emotional intelligence score.
      Being able to read and manipulate the emotions…

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    5. James Jenkin

      EFL Teacher Trainer

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Maybe a test isn't the most valid way to assess 'emotional intelligence' on the job. It's probably teaching rounds when someone's suitability becomes obvious.

      Could the selection process involve some teaching of real students?

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    6. John Harland

      bicycle technician

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      The problem of psychopaths in teaching is an existing problem, which is why a certain proportion of those 95% of teachers last less than 5 years in the job. Bullied out.

      Getting psychopaths out is arguably more urgent than recruiting more-emotional teachers.

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    7. john mills
      john mills is a Friend of The Conversation.

      artist

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Good point John, how about this, we send in the psychiatrists to test them all first, that way we can get rid of the psychopaths, and then we send in the psychologists to work out whose OK with the rest, and then build right, from there, jobs done ;).

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    8. Tim Benham

      Student of Statistics

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Why? is there evidence that psychopaths are bad teachers?

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  2. Murray Webster

    Forestry-Ecology Consultant/Contractor

    Well from one without teacher training... Though emotional intelligence assessment probably could be part of the mix, I am wary that schools will end up without any of the nerdy science or maths teachers who I found quite inspirational at school. Perhaps if said nerds are identified as having low EI, AND it is a problem, they can receive additional training to help them be better teachers?

    Another point: having high emotional intelligence is one thing, how you use it is another.

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    1. Sue Smith

      Lecturer in Child and Adolescent Development, School of Education at Charles Darwin University

      In reply to Murray Webster

      Every work place needs emotional intelligence to function effectively, but tests are not the answer, particularly in education. I agree Rachel that resilience, optimism and capacity to manage change stand to be more productive and these can and should be taught as part of teacher education.

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    2. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Murray Webster

      hi sue

      in a perfect world we all need iq & eq to function effectively.

      if you happen to find a place where that happens, let us know where to send the resume.

      if the meantime, the rest of us will muddle along.

      the extension of this could be that very few people will get jobs....we all carry emotional baggage of one sort or another....we sort of inherit it or absorb it ever so effectively.

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    3. Sue Smith

      Lecturer in Child and Adolescent Development, School of Education at Charles Darwin University

      In reply to Murray Webster

      Sure, but the point is that when EQ is broken down into component parts, then resilience strategies, empathy, optimism etc can actually be taught, learned and developed. Ideally teacher education courses will incorporate these. They are already embedded in the Australian curriculum.

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    4. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Murray Webster

      agree..........but wouldn't it be better to teach this to kids, before they get fucked up by the things that life is so wonderfully prone to throw up at us.

      i mean it great to know the capital of mongolia, but if you have emotional probs from this or that, your life is going to be uphill - some rising above it, many not at all.

      but then again we need to teach the teachers before we teach the kids.

      oh dear life is so complicated.

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    5. Jack Arnold

      Director

      In reply to Murray Webster

      Hi Sue ... you obviously have not worked in the NSW system where every year there is a new "research thrust" full of jargon so that desk jockeys can impress each other that they alone are on the cutting edge of education. Next year there will be another "new" thrust ... without completing or evaluating the 3 to 5 year programme put in place the previous year.

      EQ in its many components does not solve recruiting problems. Recruiting problems are resolved by higher wages and good working conditions to retain trained staff; a much cheaper and better value course of action than continuous recruiting to replace losses that is accompanied by reduced corporate efficiency.

      Then the real problem at the chalk board is that many present teachers themselves do NOT have NOR VALUE the requisite reading and tables skills that they are required to impart to their school kids.

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  3. Yolanda Newman

    Learning support coordinator

    I was a mature age student teacher and had done well in my degree. I think I probably could have 'passed' an emotional intelligence test just because I knew how to pass tests. During my prac teaching I received comments such as 'natural teacher' 'great leadership potential' and similar. I was hopeless with high school aged children and had no capacity for discipline or organisation or any knowledge of boundaries. I moved as soon as I could into teaching adults and it still took me years and years…

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  4. Sean Manning

    Physicist

    The whole scheme is a joke anyway. Each year they are going to select the top 30%. As far as I can tell from the reports I've seen there is no absolute standard that must be achieved. The line shifts with the average standard of each years graduates.

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    1. Jack Arnold

      Director

      In reply to Sean Manning

      That's correct Sean ... the beauty of a standard curve analysis is that most of the people using it have little knowledge of how to interpret it.

      The top 30% of a candidate population is meaningless when about 5% of recruited teachers stay in education classrooms as teachers more than five years.

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  5. Peter Gerard

    Retired medical practitioner

    Apart from any genetic contribution [ we aren't 'blank slates' at birth] I think our acquired responses to various social situations are determined in the first decade of life and how we develop in this respect is in the hands of our parents and other close family members. We may 'paper over the cracks' in later life but most of the time we revert to form when challenged.
    Teaching is a very personally challenging profession and self confidence, optimism of spirit, and a tendency to extroversion must be very helpful.

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  6. Chris H

    Psychologist

    I use a whole bunch of psychometric assessments as a registered psychologist - mainly to inform recruitment and selection processes. I never use emotional intelligence tests for recruitment and selection. Rachel is right in that EQ has been seriously researched for maybe 20 years (the popular book that put it on everyones radar was mid 90s), and the tests that she refers to have followed. The limitations Rachel described are the main reason I would not use an EQ test for recruitment - that and they…

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Chris H

      hi chris

      i can see where iq tests can be a valuable tool in HR assessments. I think it would be a sad day when they become the raison d'etre in determining a successful candidate (and i know that is not your implication).

      in my experience from both sides (applicant/employer) of the hr equation, i have found that selection individuals or panels often base their selection on a "gut" feeling or intuition. even when presented with a great iq test, they may ignore it and choose a less qualified person.

      also many job vacancies are just a necessary prelude to appointing a person already decided upon, which is dependent on any relevant testing.

      at to some extent as your bread and butter are these tests, you are going to talk up their value to any hr exercise (i say that with respect).

      iq is to me a subjective and often not relevant quantity.

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    2. Kim Darcy

      Analyst

      In reply to Chris H

      Stephen, I've always used psychometric testing in employment decisions, but mostly for diagnostic reasons, rather than evaluative. If the candidate is not so articulate in the interview, is it because they are nervous, or simply not that bright? If they score 130 on an IQ test, rather than say, 90, that inarticulate interview will be interpreted differently.

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    3. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Chris H

      Hi Kim

      what's your reaction when presented with a bright, confident and relatively articulate person who scores 85 on an iq test?

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    4. Kim Darcy

      Analyst

      In reply to Chris H

      Though I'm pretty sure I stood next to one in the sandwich shop yesterday trying to order to a chicken schnitzel, lettuce, and may sandwich. It wasn't a pretty sight.

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  7. Riddley Walker

    .

    I have known very empathetic teachers, and teachers whose manner is cold and aloof. Very different personal styles, but still all very good and effective teachers. Good teachers utilise their personalities to teach effectively and it does not matter what kind of person they are, so long as they are looking for the best educational outcome.

    Ultimately it is no a teachers job to provide emotional support for students. Teachers are neither therapists nor parents. A teacher's job is to educate. That is all.

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  8. Richard Helmer

    REsearch Engineer

    hello, in my occassional talks to students of various ages they seem to know a fair bit about emotional intelligence [i only learnt about it in the last 10years]

    i think it would be intersting to see what happened if you rapport matched students with teachers irrespective of year level as opposed to what happens now... just a thought

    changing the way we do things is a 'revolution'

    cheers,

    R

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  9. Greynomad Travelling

    logged in via Facebook

    Lets not beat around the bush..... the problems are always being pushed down the line as if its someone elses problems. Currently it is the fault of single mothers and now teachers. The real reason this country staggers along is because of incompetent politicans... There would not be one intelligen voter in Australia who could not name a bloody idiot politician. We only have to look at the money outlayed for their utterly crazy unjustifiable decisions to support my statement. It does not matter…

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  10. Chris Gillham

    Journalist

    The only tests Australian teachers need are literacy tests.

    English teachers in particular should all be put through rigorous examination to ensure they have 100% knowledge of spelling, grammar and punctuation. If they fail the test, they should do some more study and try again.

    Only then will we have a teaching profession that is fluent with its subject knowledge.

    Literacy standards have been atrocious for two to three decades and the result is what's caused the current crackdown, even…

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  11. Kate Neely

    Research Student

    Part of growing is learning to deal with different people who have different styles of doing things, and working out how to respond appropriately. Students shouldn't be protected from developing these skills by an army of teachers whose EQ is so highly developed that students never have to take responsibility for building and maintaining relationships.

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Kate Neely

      hi kate

      one of the problems of the world is that there are too many people who dont cope with people who are different from, and have ideas different from them.

      you're right students shouldnt be protected from developing relationship etc skills, but to develop them they will need expert guidance - from teachers.

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    2. Kim Darcy

      Analyst

      In reply to Kate Neely

      I was very fortunate to be offered a graduate trainee job with one of those nasty global corporations straight after uni. They put us through a 3 month long formal training program in 2 different countries. We were subject to a barrage of aptitude/personality/IQ/EQ/basic skills tests. One of the most long-lasting parts of that training was being put into team situations where the other members were chosen because they had very different personalities/EQ than I had. Learning how to work with that conflict and difference is a very valuable skill.

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  12. Peter Hindrup

    consultant

    So pleased I don't have to cope with modern education! Fortyeight to 50 kids, in a class, top of A, best of approximately 200 kids, bottom of D, last of 200.

    This testing, the only one, or series, that I ever did was in the army. (CMT) They never did decide whether I was very bright or an idiot. -- They take themselves soo seriously, they are almost no fun to send up!

    Over the years, employing people. Didn't put much faith in references, either. Samples of your work? How they spoke, presented. What they took notice of while coming in.

    I vividly remember an 18 year old whose first question was about the pension scheme. Next!

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  13. Bill Skinner

    Research Professor at University of South Australia

    While looking through various education papers and reports, I came across this one commissioned by the Australian Council of Science Deans in 2005.

    http://www.acds.edu.au/docs/teachsci.pdf

    After reading just the summary of key findings, my "emotional intelligence" was insufficient to cope, even though I've seen our system (both secondary and tertiary) degrade in this manner over my 30+ years in the sector.

    I poured myself a stiff drink and mourned the lost generations.

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  14. john mills
    john mills is a Friend of The Conversation.

    artist

    I wonder what happens to the ones that fail the test, a tag a pill and the scrap heap I suppose, or lessons to care more, or properly according to the experts ?, I thought all that starts and happens from the home you grow up in, empathy, compassion, consideration, manners, respect for others, the poor and the oppressed, and any other caring words you want to throw in, and because of that its not something you or i can simply expect, its either been taught or it hasn't, or something you've miraculously…

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    1. Kim Darcy

      Analyst

      In reply to john mills

      john, unemployment is pretty low, so I's say the test failers are getting on just fine.

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    2. Kim Darcy

      Analyst

      In reply to john mills

      Oh, john, just a friendly tip. Paragraphs are your friends. ;)

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    3. john mills
      john mills is a Friend of The Conversation.

      artist

      In reply to john mills

      Thanks Kim, I liked your first statement too, and Your not wrong about the paragraphs either, sorry about that, I dont know how to change how by brain thinks, so i write as i think, where the dots, capitals, and apostrophes go, in amongst that, is another story, and from another time when i could think in paragraphs, and a bit of order. Some english refreshing/ relearning( cant think of the word-s) is probably in order, or should be, anyway in spite of that, i hope you got the drift,:), John

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    4. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to john mills

      In a way yes. In another it could be seen as about finding the 'right people' for the job. But I agree in that, as soon as you think that humans will treat other humans strictly objective you're in murky waters. We all react to first impressions and we all have our personal prejudices.
      What differs is that some you can reason with about such, others you can't.

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  15. Yoron Hamber

    Thinking

    Maybe the question is what makes people want to become teachers.
    Why not ask them that instead?

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    1. Kim Darcy

      Analyst

      In reply to Yoron Hamber

      The other elephant in the room that nobody seems to have the guts to call out is that the Australian public school system is toxically misandrist.

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    2. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Yoron Hamber

      "how so kim?"

      And references, empirical data, PROOF would be good when you respond to that one ...

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