The Importance of Emotional Literacy

Classrooms are emotional places. We experience emotions as teachers and students on a minute by minute basis. Teachers are making decisions, big and small, constantly. Children are experiencing frustration, excitement, and disappointment regularly.

Being able to identify those feelings expressively and/or receptively is hugely important in a child’s social development.

Welcome to the SPED Connection, a collection of tips and tricks from other special educators all over the world. Because we’re all in this together!

Today’s guest blog post comes from Allie Szczecinski; she is the voice behind Miss Behavior. She is a wife, mom, special educator, children’s book author, and social emotional learning coach.

Allie creates resources with a social emotional learning and behavior focus on Teachers Pay Teachers, and runs The Social Script Library, a monthly membership. With a master’s degree and over 12 years of professional experience, she is a go-to resource for educators everywhere!

Emotional literacy can sound like a pretty lofty, big term. Let’s demystify it!

Researchers Salavoy and Mayer coined the term in 1997. They say that emotional literacy is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions and the emotions of others.

If we’re being honest, this is hard for neurotypical ADULTS to do, no less our young students! However, the magnitude of the definition shouldn’t stop us from prioritizing this crucial skill. When we target the concept of our students becoming emotionally literate, we’re preparing them for LIFE.

Here are 3 reasons why targeting this skill is imperative to our classrooms and the futures of our students.

1.) Good communicators have emotional literacy skills.

When we see challenging behaviors like elopement, hitting, and screaming, it’s often because the student has not determined their own emotions and/or has not articulated those feelings to others who can support. 

While feeling our feelings is so important and honestly should be encouraged, those behaviors have the power to completely derail learning! When a child can say, “I am SO FRUSTRATED that I cannot get this answer!” or “I’m actually really sad because my dad left for a long business trip last night” – that gives us a key. We can help determine helpful and effective coping strategies for them, extend empathy, and offer supports that can walk them through those emotions. Some students aren’t always ready or able to identify their emotions.

2.) Emotionally literate people are empathetic.

When we can identify our own emotions, it makes it way easier to extend empathy to others. When a student identified their own frustration during recess yesterday, and their peer identifies that same frustration today, empathy can be more easily cultivated. Students can connect to characters in books and movies that experience similar emotions to ones they know they have felt before. Without emotional literacy, these experiences fall flat because children cannot connect to an emotion that they are unsure they have felt before.

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3.) Emotional literacy is a tangible life skill.

I think we can all agree that emotional literacy is a LIFE SKILL. We cannot be successful as we get older as children, teens, and adults unless we can embody emotional literacy.  Students need the skill of identifying their own emotions so they can access the help they need, can choose coping skills that will actually support them, and so they can empathize with others.

So, let’s get practical. How do we teach this?

We need to practice with our students identifying the emotions of themselves and others. Adding a daily emotions check-in at the top of your day, modeling the expression of your own emotions as teachers, practicing during whole and small groups with pictures of cartoons and real photos, and making predictions of how characters are feeling in stories are great places to start.

If you’re looking for a quick feelings chart to add to your calm corner, office, or for students to point at or circle their choice, you can grab this freebie to try out with your classroom.

How do you promote emotional literacy in your classroom? Tell us in the comments below!




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