Mind your PEQs…

Oct 23, 2010

Category: Words    Tags: , , ,

Is that your reaction when you read the title of the book being reviewed here?

Before you click the back button and move on, read this next paragraph. It just may be that emotional intelligence is more important to your classroom than you realise…

The Bronx, New York. Arguably the most intimidating place to have to teach. Your students go home to poverty, street crime, broken homes, alcohol and drug abuse every night. When the school intruder alarms go off (which can happen several times a day), armed guards search the corridors. Gun battles are just another part of your students lives. It’s an intimidating and hostile place to teach and learn. Now, you’re the Principal. Motivating your students is not going to be an easy job… How on earth do you cut through the blocks that are in the way of their learning?

Introduce a programme all about dealing with emotions? Or is that a little too touchy-feely for the Bronx?

In Michael Brearley’s introduction to Emotional Intelligence in the Classroom, he describes a programme designed to confront the emotions that “at different times we all bring to school and that block our learning and inhibit achievement”. This programme was implemented successfully in the hotbed of University Heights High School in the Bronx, New York of which the previous paragraph talks.

If it can change lives in the Bronx, it deserves your attention. This is not wishy washy stuff and Michael Brearley’s decision to use this example right at the start of his book speaks volumes. Emotional intelligence is powerful — get it right and you can tap into something that can change your students’ attitudes towards learning. Aimed at the 11–18 age-group (but, if you’re willing to take the concept and differentiate the activities, applicable at KS2 also), this resource provides creative learning strategies for making your classroom an emotionally intelligent one.

Emotional intelligence is “the ability to control and use our emotions to enhance our success in all aspects of our lives.” That Science lesson you just taught? Every one of your students brought something into the room (apart from half a pencil and the remains of their lunch on their shirt, that is). They brought in their feelings (which, Brearley explains are different from emotions), their thoughts, whether they view themselves as success stories or abject failures, whether they have an in-built desire to learn or they would rather be anywhere else, whether they have a supportive home life or have the weight of the world on their shoulders. As Brearley states,

…what we feel determines not only what we think, but how we think.

’Emotional Intelligence in the Classroom’ by Michael Brearley


Your students’ emotions can be the biggest blocks (or, to use a cliché, ‘baggage’) in the way of successful learning. Developing emotional intelligence is crucial in removing these barriers and empowering pupils to succeed. Brearley explains a pupil’s emotions may be :

    - a deep-seated response to emotional memory;
    - a consequence of events at home;
    - the challenges of adolescence;

or the more mundane though no less influential…

    - impact of the daily environment and those feelings we have we have on rainy days when students come into our classroom having devided to find as many puddles as they can, basking in the adolescent bravado of being soaked to the skin.

…Our task, at this time, is to teach the curriculum, just as is it on a hot Friday afternoon when motivation is at an all-time low or when the children have just fought their way down a packed corridor from a slightly anarchistic time with the supply teacher.

’Emotional Intelligence in the Classroom’ by Michael Brearley


Brearley writes in an anecdotal style and Emotional Intelligence in the Classroom contains examples from successful school programmes, his own work and family. This is a necessary touch as, unless you’ve been introduced to the concept before, emotional intelligence and emotional quotient (EQ — the measure of emotional intelligence) can be tricky to pin down. It’s easy to see how this subject could be seen as a jargon-filled meaningless fad, but before you go all ‘old-school’ on us, consider this quote from Aristotle :

Anyone can become angry — that is easy. But to be angry with the right person to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — this is not easy.

Aristotle as quoted in ‘Emotional Intelligence in the Classroom’ by Michael Brearley


There you go — emotional intelligence from an Ancient Greek. And you can’t get any more old school than Aristotle.

It’s interesting to flick through ‘Emotional Intelligence in the Classroom’ and see the language that Brearley comes out with time and time again… “Empower.” “Potent force.” “Powerful.” “Dynamic.” Emotional intelligence is dynamite in the right hands and this book will you develop it. He pulls together the threads of ideas such as learning styles, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and Neuro-Linguistic Programming, demonstrating the commonality between them. But, for all the theory discussed, Emotional Intelligence in the Classroom is primarily a practical classroom resource, containing structured activities for you to use.

If we were being picky, it would be the use of the word ‘photocopiable resource’ on the front cover. Although it is photocopiable in the sense that any book can be reproduced if you stick it in the machine, the various activities don’t seem to be laid out with photocopying in mind. You may need to do a little editing if you want worksheets to use.

Whether you’ve been given the responsibility of putting into practice a programme for developing emotional intelligence in your school or you’re someone who cares about breaking through some of the barriers your pupils come to school with, Michael Brearley’s book is an excellent place to start. ‘Emotional Intelligence in the Classroom’ takes a subject that may sound wishy washy to the unintiated and proceeds to establish its importance via solid classroom activities and very readable explanations.

Why are we better at some subjects than others? I wasn’t born with the belief that I am better at history than I am at maths and that someone has been trying to teach me the chemistry syllabus backwards. I learned it. Not by myself but with the help of others whom I let persuade me of these things. The potential we have in school to create learning is enormous. The power we exercise to stop learning is frightening.

’Emotional Intelligence in the Classroom’ by Michael Brearley


The power of E.I. is a curious thing;
Make a one man weep, make another man sing.

…er, Sparky (with thanks to Huey Lewis)



The Little Book of Big Stuff About The Brain by Andrew Curran
The Big Book of Independent Thinking edited by Ian Gilbert
The Magic of Metaphor by Nick Owen


Spread the word: Share

So, what do you think?

Sparky books on Amazon:

Featured resources:

Latest posts:

More sparky ideas »

Recommended reads:

More inspiring reads »