Intelligence and Emotions in the Classroom



There seems to be a common perception among some educators that maintaining a high level of intelligence while minimising the engagement of emotions in the classroom is the recommended prescription for an effective class. The rationale behind this is that when students engage with the lessons intellectually, the possibility of conflict can be minimised. While this may be true, there are several crucial things that will be compromised.

Firstly, the expression of intellectual abilities is usually done individually rather than through a group effort. As a result, the students within a team may not bond well. In fact, conflicts might increase due to the fact that some team mates may see the expression of intellectual prowess by another as a threat. What begins as esprit de corps within a team may end up being an unhealthy competition between team mates, each striving to beat the rest. As a result, team productivity falls. 

Secondly, the abovementioned approach of prioritising intellect over emotion in the classroom will result in a batch of students who will graduate with high IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and not-so-high EQ (Emotional Quotient).  This approach reinforces the perception of what some employers feel about the graduates of today. That is, the graduates are efficient as independent workers but do not collaborate as well when tasked to work with other members within a team.

Lastly, the abovementioned approach may result in a suppression of emotions. And as many of us are well aware of (and which some of us may well attest to), the release of pent-up frustration can be devastatingly explosive. Emotions (be it positive or negative) is part of human nature and they need to be acknowledged in our daily lives. However, the abovementioned approach almost seems not to attribute much importance to them.

So, if intelligence should not be prioritised over emotions, what – as educators – can we do about it?

Personally, I will propose increasing the level of intellectual activities in the classroom while at the same time, engaging the students emotionally as well. As can be seen in the approach as described at the start of this post, there are some educators who will steer clear of emotions since conflicts often result from emotions rather than from intellectual activities. But this is only half the story.  It’s true that conflicts often results from emotional outbursts but if one were to look carefully at this phenomenon, it can be observed that conflicts result not from all emotions but from negative emotions.  This implies that if – as educators – we are able to engage the students through positive emotions, both team and class cohesiveness can be achieved. Therefore, the solution is not to avoid any emotional engagement in class but to emphasise and highlight the positive aspects of emotions in class.

Think about it. What is the more impactful factor (intellectual brainstorming sessions or emotional engagement) that brings people together? It’s usually the latter. For example, think about the famous speeches by luminaries such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.  Think about our favourite songs. Think about our favourite movie scene(s). Why do we find them to be meaningful and memorable? Is our preferences based on intellectual grounds or does much of it have to do with our emotions? I believe that it’s our emotions. It takes intelligence for a lyricist to pen song lyrics but it’s the evoking of emotions in the listener when the song is played that makes the song beautiful, yes?

So, while educators are busy getting students to engage intellectually with the lesson, emotions cannot be neglected. While it is important to engage students emotionally, it is crucial to note that positive emotions should be evoked, and all efforts should be put in to steer clear from negative emotions such as anger and frustration. In the event that conflicts result in the classroom, educators should do their best to turn such negative emotions into positive ones. This will include getting the different perspectives from the relevant parties involved, clearing misunderstandings and mediating conflicts. As much details and experiences are required when investigating these issues, I will not go into the details since doing so will be digressing from the primary issues being discussed here.

Now, let’s look at the ways that positive emotions can be evoked in class.

Firstly, it will be good to use the “Encourage the Heart” approach, which is more of a nurturing approach and which is also one of my favourite approaches. So, what is meant by “encouraging the heart”? It means giving students the confidence to do well in class. Every student is different, so educators need to identify their strengths and encourage them based on it.  Most educators commit the error of not telling the students that they are doing well since the students are not excelling yet in class. But this is a mistake. Educators should not assess students based on their current performance but rather, on what the students are able to achieve. Enable the students to focus on what they can be, and not on how they are doing now. This is the same as setting our life goals, visualising the outcome and then taking steps to achieve them. If people start to tell us about the challenges and obstacles that lie along the journey even before we see our destination, we will probably fail. However, if others enable us to see the outcome first and then allow us to take the steps to reach our goals with sheer determination and perseverance, we will succeed.

Let’s consider a student John, who is good in writing but is currently not doing well as he hs facing some difficulties in constructing sentences. Most educators will – at this point – inform John about his weaknesses (in this case, his inability to construct proper sentences) and that’s it. Doing this will probably cause John to be demoralised and unhappy, which is a negative outcome and which negative emotions are being expressed. As mentioned above, this should be avoided at all cost.  It is right that educators inform John on areas where he can improve on. But more importantly, they should have told him about the achievements that he can achieve should he improve himself.  Giving students the positive outcome if they are willing to put in the effort to realise their potential is a crucial step that most educators overlook. 

As can be observed, the “Encouraging the Heart” approach engages the students’ emotions positively, usually with great results.

However, the “Encouraging the Heart” approach is effective on an individual level only. That is, this approach is directed towards each student separately, albeit every one of them. Therefore, the primary weakness of this approach is that it lacks the opportunities for educators to create rapport between teams and as a class.

The second approach that can be used alongside the “Encouraging the Heart” approach is what I termed the “Caring” approach. That is, creating the awareness in class that we as educators do indeed care for the students.  And more importantly, through our caring nature, educators should illustrate the fact that we treat all students equally with no biasness. When this is achieved, the students will work closely with one another upon knowing that every one of them is equal in the eyes of their teachers. Conflicts can hence be minimised as well.

There are many ways that we can show students that we care. Reminding them about the dates of upcoming tests is one instance. Guiding them when they are in doubt about the lessons is another. The essence of caring lies in the small acts of kindness that we do for our students. All this really adds up to the positive impressions that our students will have of us. Of course, the most important thing is sincerity. As educators, we help students sincerely, and not to secure positive students’ appraisals. The reason why we are helping students is very, very important. We must have the right mindset from the outset.

The abovementioned two approaches can be used concurrently in class to engage the students’ emotions positively and to instil the confidence in them to do their best.  These two approaches also serve to prove that emotions is equally if not more important than intellect when it comes to engaging students in class.


One thought on “Intelligence and Emotions in the Classroom

  1. This is good. Reminded me of the way I try to control the students only because I can’t handle them when they’re free to express themselves. That usually means LOUD and often inappropriately such as when they disrupt others’ learning.


    I have a new blog and I would be interested in your feedback:
    Super Teacher: Learning Strategies for Smart Teachers


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