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“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” --W. Shakespeare, Hamlet. Getting savvy about the role of emotions in learning. Mary Lynn Johnson Harris County Department of Education TSSSA—March 2006. Alive Confident Delighted Empowered Enthusiastic Inspired

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“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” --W. Shakespeare, Hamlet

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“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”--W. Shakespeare, Hamlet

Getting savvy about the role of emotions in learning.

Mary Lynn Johnson

Harris County Department of Education

TSSSA—March 2006















Select one word to describe your emotional state right now

Session Content

  • Impact of emotions on learning

  • 4 Emotional states frequently in classrooms

  • Influencing emotional states

  • Emotional Intelligence

Categories of Emotions

  • Fear

  • Joy/pleasure/happiness

  • Surprise

  • Disgust

  • Anger

  • Sadness

    (Rozin, P., 1997)













Emotions…(Eric Jensen, Teaching with the Brain in Mind, 2005)

  • Constitute the passion for learning

  • Help orchestrate our attentional priorities

  • Support either persistence or retreat

  • Are sources of information about the outside world

Emotions, Cont.

  • Evoke necessary empathy, support or fear

  • Associate our learning with either pain or pleasure

  • Help us make meaning out of our learning, work and lives

  • Push the pursuit of rewarded behavior

Emotions, Cont.

  • Improve social problem solving

  • Provide incentives for desired social behavior

  • Allow us to enjoy and even celebrate our learning success

4 Emotional States in Classrooms

  • Fear/threat

  • Joy/pleasure

  • Sadness/disappointment

  • Anticipation/curiosity


Fear arises from threat perception.

3 Possible choices of action:Fight

Try to escape


Common Threat Experiences in School

  • Peer pressure

  • Deadlines with consequences

  • Being forced to stay after school

  • Making reparations

  • Giving public apologies

  • Violence or perception of violence

  • Stress/distress


  • Heightened excitability or arousal

  • Perception of the event as aversive

  • Loss of control

Teachers and Stress

Females tend to increase nurturing behaviors.

Males tend to show withdrawal and sarcasm.


  • Emanates from an area near the brain stem

  • Dopamine—the pleasure chemical—pushes toward the front of the brain.

  • This state is essential for all learning.

Negative/Positive Emotions

Negative emotions during learning create an association that may result in students quitting.

Positive emotions during learning create a great association in the brain.

A positive emotional state…

…leads to improved flexibility in behavior and judgment;

…releases high levels of dopamine leading to greater flexibility in the executive attentional system.


  • Experienced in the lower half of the brain

  • Originates in the temporal lobes

  • Pain and sadness last longer than joy

  • Remembering negative biases cause us not to repeat them


  • Create a positive state of hope and vigilance

  • Increased activity in attentional areas of the brain

  • “Appetitive” states

  • Highly motivating states

Influencing Emotional States

  • They are ubiquitous.

  • They are connected.

  • They are not who we are.

  • They are transient.

  • Stable emotional states can be a problem.

Teacher Influence

  • Compelling questions

  • Role modeling

  • Celebrations

  • Physical activity

  • Engineered controversy

  • Purposeful physical rituals

  • Getting personal

Emotional Intelligence--Defined

The capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.

--Daniel Goleman, 1995

5 Dimensions of EQ

  • Self-awareness

  • Self-control

  • Self-motivation

  • Empathy

  • Relationship skills


To promote, encourage students to:

  • Reflect on their own emotional states

  • Learn about emotions and theories of emotions

  • Determine the causes and effects of their emotions

  • Expand their emotional vocabulary

  • Identify emotions as they experience them


To control their emotions, encourage students to

  • Role-play emotionally-charged scenarios and ways to respond

  • Use inner dialog or “self-talk” to handle intense emotions

  • Sharpen decision-making skills

  • Practice relaxation techniques

  • Count to 10 when angry, to 100 when really angry

  • Delay gratification


To improve self-motivation, encourage students to

  • Set goals for themselves

  • Monitor their effectiveness and modify their approach

  • Persevere with projects and skills

  • Visualize achievement

  • Develop a sense of internal locus of control, optimism, and efficacy


To nurture empathy skills, encourage students to

  • Role-play being others in different scenarios

  • Engage in perspective-taking: seeing the world through the eyes of others

  • Develop cognitive flexibility, examine multiple perspectives

  • Tune into the feelings of others

  • Reflect on the effect of their behaviors on others

Relationship Skills

To enhance relationship skills, encourage students to

  • Engage in cooperative learning and develop social skills in context

  • Improve leadership skills through organization, communication and inspiration

  • Develop peacemaking, conflict-resolution, mediation and negotiation skills

  • Stretch communications skills (speaking/listening)

  • Interpret the facial expressions and body language of others

Relationship Skills

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