It is an oft-repeated phrase that we should keep emotions separate from professions if we are to maintain a conducive and productive work environment.
However, recent studies and surveys have come to fairly logical conclusions on the links between emotion and education. Put simply, educational surroundings are emotional environments. The varied social experiences of students dramatically impact their ability to learn and while there are several anxieties and similar emotional issues that are non-conducive to education, unfortunately, a majority of the research in the field often chooses to either ignore or neutralise emotional responses entirely.
However, there is a myriad of recent studies that are trying to paint things in a more optimistic light and show the necessity for a focus on emotional and learning based research to help children have a more wholesome educational experience.
John Dewey emphasised as early as the late 19th century that the focus of education should be on that of the “whole child” – their emotional, physical and social needs should be considered and nurtured to foster complete human beings (Dewey, 1902). This concept of the whole child is something that both learners and educators need to take into account and work towards achieving in the modern age.
“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.” ~ O. Fred Donaldson
Learning is a never-ending process. We are constantly learning and will continue to do so until the end of our life-spans. Certain emotions are therefore integral to education. To be able to connect with and love something so much that you want to know as much as you can about it; there are few experiences quite as remarkable as that. Out there you may come across children who will devour every palaeontology book they can find and memorise ridiculously long names for dinosaurs: all because at some point they fell in love with the animals after having watched something like Jurassic Park at a young age. They do this because that drive and motivation come from a place of emotional investment.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have impediments such as fears or anxieties that hamper motivation and, therefore, the learning process. A commonly encountered variant of this is the “math phobia” or versions of it, wherein an inability to adequately process mathematical problems leads to anxiety and eventual lack of motivation when it comes to studying the subject. It is important also to note that these anxieties do not affect all students in similar ways, nor do methods directed at targeting those specific anxieties always bear positive results. Although some studies show that despite how we treat math anxieties, there are still high chances that a negative attitude towards any further study of the subject will remain, coupled with the possibility of learners relapsing back to states of anxiety over the subject at a later time (Singh, Granville & Dika, 2010). Therefore, targeting negative emotions alone, rather than feeling as a whole would be counter-productive in understanding and managing them in a conducive learning environment.
Another important factor to note is that the teacher is a learner as well. Educators, to foster imaginative and robust learning environments, must understand the interlinked natures of the physical, social and emotional aspects of their students.
To start with: Emotions exist. There is no how, or why and they are not learned or easily changeable. They cannot, however, be ignored. Educators must be able to recognise this and help students regulate and apply their emotions as and when the situation requires it. Integrating emotional experiences into an educational setting is not impossible if a teacher is dedicated enough or invested enough to take the necessary initiative. A study in 1991 indicated that most students are already quite aware of the complexities of emotions and how they as well as others experience them, despite not being able to adequately articulate what they know (Saarni & Harris, 1991).
Therefore, educators and schools should focus on activities and outlets geared towards acting on these feelings and benefitting both the body and mind in social settings. Games, field trips, interactive puzzles and other non-conventional and non-linear methods are all activities that can be implemented to further this goal.
Emotions will always be integral to learning because they intrinsically shape and govern our actions, our understandings and how we choose to conduct ourselves as human beings. Therefore, learners need to be treated as far more than statistics or bodies, but as whole entities whose feelings and needs must be nurtured to achieve their rightful state as complete human beings capable of creating and sharing new wonders with the world.
Kusum Singh, Monique Granville & Sandra Dika (2010) Mathematics and Science Achievement: Effects of Motivation, Interest, and Academic Engagement, The Journal of Educational Research.
Dewey, John. 1956 . The Child and the Curriculum.Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Saarni, C., and P. Harris, ed. (1991). Children’s Understanding of Emotion. New York: Cambridge University Press.
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