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Supporting At-Risk Students with Emotional Intelligence


There is a growing concern around the stress and anxiety that permeates the educational landscape today and its proliferation foreshadowed in the future. At-risk students endure increased levels of stress, including those that materialize from many life factors including poverty, racism, and challenges within the household. To seriously address the achievement gap that persists between at-risk students and their more privileged counterparts, the emotions of schooling must be addressed. Emotions have been largely avoided in educational organizations that which has led to an overreliance on cognitive factors in standards and curricula. However, as research in this field expands from psychology, to business, and now to education, it can no longer be ignored. Being in school is an emotional experience for both teachers and students and studies show that negative emotions and misunderstandings are magnified in high school math classes. Increasing one’s emotional intelligence can help both parties better navigate their experience at school and their relationships with one another. A review of the literature shows that emotional intelligence is a predictor of academic success and success in life. This study explores the phenomenon of in-school emotional experiences for at-risk students who have failed math class and how emotional intelligence and deeper connections with math teachers can mitigate many factors that would attribute to their predicted trajectory of failure. Through a phenomenological design, this qualitative research uses the student voice to explore what at-risk students who have failed math class want their teachers to know and do for academic success. This study finds that being emotionally intelligent with a culturally intelligent lens will help support a healthier relationship and schooling experience for at-risk students. Interview data from this study purports that student emotional intelligence can help at-risk students become more academically successful by helping them break patterns of failure, developing emotional self-efficacy, and teaching them to perceive, manage and use their emotions more effectively. Furthermore, this study shows that at-risk students want their teachers to foster an emotional connection with them, care about them holistically, and repair their trust and confidence.

Keywords: emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence, at-risk students, failure in math class, math teachers, student-teacher connection, adverse childhood experiences

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