The art of connecting: Emotionally intelligent teaching

by: Xiangyou Shen, Visiting Assistant Professor
College of Forestry, Department of Forest Ecosystems & Society

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

The lasting and powerful impact of emotions, as illustrated in the quote by Maya Angelou, is the first message that Dr. Shauna Tominey stressed in her illuminating teaching talk on emotionally intelligent teaching. She drew us into this fascinating topic by drawing parallels between college and early childhood classrooms, a setting she conducts much of her work. This comparison brought a number of insights to our attention. Just as in preschools, college students thrive when they have positive and supportive relationships; the brains of young adults are not fully developed yet they are expected to “make good choices and demonstrate self-control” (Aamodt, & Wong, 2011); it takes creativity and diverse, purposefully designed learning activities to keep students focused and engaged; and engaging college students on a personal level is challenging because of low instructor-student ratios commonly seen on campus and the lack of incentive for teachers to invest in developing differentiating instruction.

Diving into the topic, Dr. Tominey presented a variety of instructional practices designed to enhance emotional awareness among students and the instructor and create a supportive classroom environment. These techniques include mood meters, using students’ names in large classes, setting class expectations, and strategically reaching out to students. Throughout her presentation, Dr. Tominey skillfully demonstrated how to create emotionally supportive learning environment through engaging, interactive lecture as well as intentional group activities. The latter guided the audience to reflect on a number of critical issues, such as the role of different emotions in driving learning, the challenge in reading emotions, particularly of learners from diverse backgrounds, and the importance of assessing and addressing students’ emotional needs.

Many of the techniques introduced in this talk can be used as effective tools in face-to-face instruction. With my first teaching assignment, an online course, in mind, I paid special attention to several practices that can be used to support the teaching of Ecampus students. In particular, I found Day 1 course survey to be instrumental for both online and offline instruction. To help myself get to know my students whom I may only have the chance to meet virtually, I plan to incorporate a brief “tell me a little about yourself” survey in my welcoming email to the class at the beginning of the term. Qualtrics or Google form can be good platform choices because they allow the results to be exported as an Excel sheet that is easy to manage and edit. For example, after downloading the sheet, I can add a column called “note to myself” to record individualized information, a useful tip from my Reflective Teaching Mentor (RTM) Kathrine McAlvage, Assistant Director, Course Development and Training at Oregon State University Ecampus (RTM is a component of New2OSU program offered by OSU’s Center for Teaching and Learning). I can continue to add information to this working document throughout the term and use it as a cheat-sheet to facilitate my future interactions with the students.

Connections should be a two-way street. I will also endeavor to help my students feel connected with me by sharing about myself through either the welcoming email or a welcome video (OSU’s Faculty Media Center can be a great resource in creating multi-media content) to be posted on the course website.

A key take-home message from Dr. Tominey’s presentation centers on the importance of creating a safe, caring, and supportive classroom community. This notion is consistent with an increased body of research linking social-emotional learning to a number of positive students’ outcomes (Konishi, & Wong, 2018). Online learning can be isolating absent face-to-face interactions available in traditional on-campus classroom settings. To help foster a supportive online class community for my students, I plan to include in my course design a) an “introduce yourself to the class” exercise in Week One to help students get acquainted among themselves (information shared here can be different than what students shared with me), b) weekly group discussions wherein students are assigned to a different group each week to maximize their contact with different classmates throughout the term, c) establishing ground rules for positive, respectful, and productive online communication, and (d) being responsive to students’ feedback and modeling how to give and receive feedback throughout my communication with the students.

While I am yet to find out how well these measures are going to work in my Winter 2020 class, I feel inspired and encouraged by what I learned from Dr. Tominey’s talk. Learning can not be reduced to a mere cognitive task. It is a process intrinsically tied to feelings and emotions. By practicing emotionally intelligent teaching, we help students leverage the power of emotions to propel their learning for better academic achievement, responsible decisions, positive relationships, and improved emotional well-being.


Aamodt, S., & Wang, S. (2011). Welcome to your child’s brain: How the mind grows from conception to college. Bloomsbury Publishing: New York, N.Y., USA

Konishi, C., & Wong, T. K. Y. (2018). Relationships and School Success: From a Social-Emotional Learning Perspective. Health and Academic Achievement.

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