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 Self-Awareness (Part 2)

Would you like to be more effective in the classroom, minimize power struggles with challenging students, and build more positive relationships with your students? As an educator, would you like to feel less stressed out? If so, you’ve come to the right place! Self-awareness is a key component of EI which manages stress and avoids teacher burnout.

What is self-awareness?

Daniel Goleman, in his 1995 book, Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ, described self-awareness as the ability to recognize your emotions and thoughts, how they influence behavior, and how to then make accurate assessments of strengths and limitations.

This increased understanding because of self-awareness is a two-way street; I become keenly aware of I affect student behavior and how their behavior affects me.

In practical terms, having emotional intelligence and self-awareness means understanding that emotions drive behavior and impact people (positively and negatively), and it means learning how to manage those emotions, especially when we are under pressure.  Self-awareness is the key to emotional intelligence, according to Goleman (1995).

Why is self-awareness important for teachers?

As teachers, we have at our disposal a classroom, equipment, instructional materials, curriculum, and a host of other “supplies” to effectively get the job done.  We plan out the lessons and utilized the best strategies, but how often do we forget to bring our own unique selves into the mix?

What happens to us emotionally is a critical factor in determining how effectively we respond to our students and their behaviors.  “Certain students can provoke even the most concerned, reasonable, and dedicated teachers to act in impulsive, acrimonious, and rejecting ways” (Richardson & Shupe, 2003, p. 9). When students experience stress and display challenging behaviors, it triggers unresolved issues within ourselves, which can influence our professional classroom behavior.

For example, as teachers, we feel the need to remain in control of a situation while simultaneously our students with behavioral challenges also want remain in control. That scenario leads to unproductive power struggles.  We owe it to ourselves and our students to be aware of our emotional triggers and learn to minimize the frequency and intensity of counter-productive power struggles (Richardson & Shupe, 2003).

Emotionally unaware teachers find themselves stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, fatigued, and quite possibly burned out. Teacher stress can adversely affect the teachers, their students, and the classroom climate (Richardson & Shupe, 2003).  To survive and thrive in the classroom, teachers must develop effective strategies for self-awareness as a tool for coping with stress and avoiding burnout.

How can we improve our self-awareness?

Richardson and Shupe (2003) recommend that we take periodic “timeouts” during the day, before, during, or after both “positive” and “negative” interactions with students.  They suggest that we ask ourselves questions such as:

  • “What led me to respond this way?”
  • “Is this way of responding helping or hurting this relationship?”
  • “Is it helping me grow as an educator?”
  • “Is it helping the youth make better choices?”
  • “What is my biggest strength in working with students’ behavioral challenges?”
  • “What types of problems or student behaviors do I find most difficult, and how can I grow in this area?”

So how about you?  Are you a teacher who wants to thrive in the classroom?  Consider developing your emotional awareness.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”  James 1:19 (NIV).


“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”  James 1:19 (NIV).


Goleman, D.  (1995).  Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ.  Bantam Books.

Richardson, B. G., & Shupe, M. J.  (2003).  The importance of teacher self-awareness in working with students with emotional and behavioral disorders.  Teaching Exceptional Children, 36(2), 8-13.

Robin LaBarbera

Robin LaBarbera is an experienced educator, researcher, author, and international speaker. Dr. LaBarbera is the Founder and President of LaBarbera Learning Solutions, a consulting firm
focused on empowering leaders and their teams to harness the power of emotional intelligence to maximize personal and professional success. Before devoting her work fulltime to LaBarbera Learning Solutions, Dr. LaBarbera served for over 15 years as a professor of special education, where she earned the esteemed title of Faculty Emerita from Biola University, and she authored the textbook Educating Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Partnering with Families for Positive Outcomes. Robin is a lifelong learner, with two Bachelor’s Degrees, two Master’s Degrees, and two Doctoral Degrees (a PhD and a DSW). She is an enthusiastic cyclist, runner, and Gigi to two grandchildren.

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