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The Q&A: Fredrick Nafukho

In this week's Q&A, we interview Fredrick Nafukho, an education professor at Texas A&M University.

Frederick Nafukho

With each issue, Trib+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to public education. Here is this week's subject:

Fredrick Nafukho is a professor and the department head of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development at Texas A&M University. Nafukho studies emotional intelligence in various settings, including leadership and education. He also does research on adult and organized learning as well as recruitment and retention of students at institutions of higher education. Through his research, Nafukho has analyzed the impact of emotional intelligence on students' ability to learn and teachers' ability to teach.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Trib+Edu: Could you first of all explain the concept of emotional intelligence? How does it work?  

Fredrick Nafukho: We have IQ tests, intelligence question tests which measure people's level of intelligence. Over time, since the 1920s, a psychologist (Edward) Thorndike came up with the idea of social intelligence. His argument was that, besides the cognitive, brain-based intelligence, we also have what you call cognitive intelligence – he called it social intelligence.

I don't know if you're aware of (Howard) Gardner. He is a leading professor at Harvard. He has done research and he calls it multiple intelligence. His argument is that we don't just have one intelligence. You can be mathematically intelligent. You can be musically intelligent.

The idea of emotional intelligence has to do with the idea that we have cognitive skills, competencies, that we develop over time through learning. This can enable us to learn to manage our own emotions and the emotions of others that we interact with. Based on this understanding of our own emotions and emotions of others, in this case the students if you're a professor, then we are able to take the correct action of behavior, based on that understanding. 

Trib+Edu: How does emotional intelligence relate to IQ?

NafukhoEQ (emotional intelligence) does not replace IQ – you need both. IQ has to do with thinking, thoughts. EQ has to do with feelings. We all feel and think at the same time. When you suppress the two, then there's a problem. In education, before you go teach, you have what you call lesson plans or learning objectives.

The learning objectives normally have three domains. The first one is called cognitive domain, which is knowledge based. So by the end of the lesson, the learner should have learned this and this – that's cognitive. The second domain is called affective domain. That has to do with the heart or the feeling, how you feel a connection between cognition and affection. If you love mathematics, you will understand it when you do it or when you learn it. That's how the two are connected. 

Trib+Edu: In everyday life, does one play a larger role in your response to your surroundings than the other?  

NafukhoIn general life, this is close to what we call interpersonal skills – how I relate with you and how you relate with me. Then it goes to intrapersonal skills, those skills you acquired when you were a small kid from your friends, your parents, your teachers. That's called intrapersonal, within you. You can't survive in the world by just learning how to think and feel within you, you are able to learn and think with others. 

Trib+Edu: Is there a way to improve your emotional intelligence? 

NafukhoThe good news is, unlike IQ which you inherit from your parents, EQ you can learn and develop over time. That is the best and good news about EQ. And so, by the time you talk to your granddad, they'll say "Oh, I have known this all along." This is what we call passive knowledge that you acquire over time. Think of the Tribune. I'm sure there are people you have worked with who are so experienced in interviewing people. This is a skill that is called passive knowledge that they have acquired over time. So yes, EQ can improve and develop over time. 

Trib+Edu: Are there specific exercises or activities people can do to actively enhance their emotional intelligence? 

NafukhoThere are so many resources now. If you go to Google and type in EQ, there are so many tests you can take. There are so many resources. There is a whole website that has been set up and every piece of research that is published on EQ is published on this website. It is really growing. In education, this looks very new. In business, they have known this a long time. The business world, they looked at EQ as a competitive advantage. 

At first it looks like this is common sense, but it's a common sense that we need to learn. We need to learn how to interact or relate with people. That's a skill you acquire, a personal skill. You need to learn how to manage kids like that. That's why most teachers quit, by the way. They can't manage kids. The reason a number of people quit teaching is that they say, "I can't understand those kids."

In education, we have something called classroom management. It's a trait you learn, a skill you acquire. You learn it cognitively, that is the IQ, but you also learn it through affection, love for kids, where EQ comes in. So it's the feeling, the heart and the brain. The brain is the IQ, the heart is the EQ. 

Trib+Edu: Are there programs in place for teachers to learn how to use emotional intelligence to their advantage? 

NafukhoI trained first to be a teacher. The education system I went through, you had to do a program called child development, we had to do a course on gender psychology, we had to do a course on learning motivation – all of this taps into EQ.

To prepare teachers to be effective in the school system, some states call it social learning, you need to learn how kids socialize. The U.S. System is very good. When kids go to school at early ages, (teachers) expose them to knowledge, they expose them to resources. The focus then is not cognition. The focus then is affection. You want them to love knowledge before they can comprehend and understand knowledge. We have been doing EQ, it's only that we didn't call it emotional intelligence – we called it classroom management. 

Trib+Edu: Is there enough emphasis placed on it?   

NafukhoWe need more research. There are already a lot of resources, we just need awareness. Now there is thinking that all law enforcement officers should take a course on emotional intelligence. Sometimes they find themselves in situations where they need to talk, pause the moment and think, "If I take this action, where are the consequences?"

Replace them with a teacher. When you're teaching and all of a sudden a student decides to do something that is the least expected – they're not participating in what you're saying or they exhibit behavior that requires more reflection – this is something we all need to learn from and improve our EQ.

People, as they grow in their professions, they grow in their EQ. If you watch very experienced people, they handle issues differently. Think of two firefighters. One has just qualified to start and one has been doing it for 30 years. The house is on fire and they know there are kids upstairs. An experienced firefighter will handle this situation very different than a beginning firefighter. That’s EQ, because they have learned over time how to adapt to situations and then how to take action.

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