Portrait of a Learner 4-8

Systems Change

Factor Connections

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Emotions are complex psychological states stemming from a person's experiences. They affect our minds and bodies and therefore can support or hinder learning. Students from diverse backgrounds and cultures, as well as students with learning disorders or ADHD, may have ways of expressing their Emotions, perceiving Emotions in others, and reacting to Emotions that differ from what we'd expect to see from learners.

Main Ideas

Several aspects of Emotion can affect learners' well-being and academic success:

  • Emotion knowledge is understanding what emotions are and properly recognizing them in others' facial expressions and speech,and typically begins to develop in early childhood. Evidence suggests that Emotion knowledge is vital for Emotion regulation.
  • Emotion regulation is the ability to control emotional arousal in order to learn adaptive functioning (the ability to complete daily tasks, cope with changes in the environment, and function successfully in a classroom). This supports mental health, and is an important aspect of social competence.
  • Mental health is the combination of our emotional and psychological well-being and adjustment. Emotions are dynamic and will always fluctuate over time, so it is normal to experience both positive (e.g., excitement, joy) and negative (e.g., anger, sadness) emotions. However, students who tend to experience more positive than negative emotions overall, and who are able to successfully manage and minimize stress, will have better overall psychological well-being.

It is important to note that educators may misinterpret students' emotional states due to biases such as being more likely to perceive Black students as angry or hostile, which can contribute to discriminatory and inequitable disciplinary outcomes. As a result of different social norms and experiences around Emotion, students may benefit from linguistically and culturally-responsive approaches to addressing emotions.

Students with ADHD are also at risk of having their emotional states being misinterpreted, resulting in reduced emotional closeness and more conflict with educators than experienced by their peers who do not have ADHD. Students who have learning disabilities or ADHD may also have difficulties with emotional well-being due to frustration or anxiety surrounding schoolwork, peer exclusion, fear of failure, and/or feelings of stigmatization, to name a few. High-quality professional development around understanding and supporting students with ADHD is an important factor in educator's ability to support student co-regulation and self-regulate their own Emotion.

Students who feel happy at school and are able to regulate their Emotions in the face of challenges are more likely to stay engaged and flourish academically. On the other hand, experiencing anxiety (either generally, or about a specific subject matter) can interfere with learning. It is important to support students' emotional well-being early on by listening to and addressing their needs and building on their strengths. Strong Social Supports can help buffer learners from negative experiences like bullying, peer exclusion, or discrimination, and teachers can play a critical role in providing these supports. In addition, making school a joyous place and reframing school work as play can increase learners' emotional well-being even in middle childhood, which could increase school engagement down the line.

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