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Emotional Intelligence in Educational Leadership: Mustafa Toprak

Carolyn Vasquez
September 27, 2023

What is the relationship between emotional intelligence and educational leadership?

Mustafa Toprak, associate professor of educational administration and policy in the Department of Educational Studies, has studied the link between emotion and cognition, specifically how school administrators with emotional competencies are more likely to generate positive attitudes and behavior. 

“School administrators who are well aware of their emotions and those of others, who can regulate their own and others’ emotions through active and empathetic listening, and who can cultivate positive relationships with others can help teachers reframe their negative emotions in difficult times and build their ability to rebound from adversity," Toprak said.

Emotional intelligence helps educational leaders and teachers improve their positive affectivity and thereby increases their affective well-being. Toprak’s research, which has involved surveying school administrators and teachers about their workplace experience, shows that teachers' emotional intelligence significantly reduces stress, anxiety, burnout, and psychosomatic complaints, including heart disease, back pain, headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances (physical), loss of concentration, and poor decision-making (mental). 

When asked why he would advise school administrators to apply his research in their daily work, Toprak noted, “School administrators feel pressure from various sources inside and outside schools. I recommend that they take care of themselves first. They should know their emotionality well by regularly engaging in a meta-emotion (thinking about emotions) practice, which requires stepping out of the moment and asking: “What is my emotion now?” and “Is this emotion helpful for my interactions with the individuals I work with?”. Donald Schön’s terms reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action are relevant and helpful for school administrators. School administrators who reflect on their emotional state during an interaction (reflection-in-action) and after an interaction (reflection-on-action) are more likely to adjust their negative emotions and transform them into positive ones. As my research shows, this practice improves the well-being of administrators and increases their capacity to create a positive work experience.”   

“Compassion, kindness, and forgiveness are other essential qualities for school administrators who want to develop a positive school climate in which people are innovative and risk-taking," Toprak continued.

The evidence-based practice of emotionality also has implications for teachers. Just like a school administrator’s emotional state and well-being set the emotional tone of the school, a teacher’s emotional state and well-being largely set the emotional tone of a classroom. 

“Students with an emotionally inept teacher may have trouble understanding and regulating their emotions because of the absence of an adult who can model the display of positive emotions under stress,” Toprak explained. “A teacher who has difficulty managing anger, who projects negative emotions, who is not empathetic, and who prefers to talk and dictate than listen is likely to create a classroom environment characterized by negativity and toxicity that is detrimental to students’ motivation to learn.”

Understanding the demands of emotional intelligence, building a knowledge base, and training are a few of Toprak’s recommendations for school administrators and teachers who seek to improve their emotional well-being. 

“Start by reading,” he advised. “Self-motivation is a significant ingredient of emotional intelligence. I recommend reading Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ and Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence.”

Toprak has authored numerous publications on emotions and educational leadership and is already making an impact by providing a model for school leadership. In “Managing Emotions in Schools: Insights from Religion Sources and a Model for School Leadership”, a chapter he co-authored in the book titled Islamic-based Educational Leadership, Administration, and Management: Challenging Expectations through Global Critical Insights, he provides the details of this model and highlights the connection between culture and emotion management, demonstrating how culture influences the way educational leaders and teachers display and suppress their emotions. 

Headshot of Mostafa Toprak
Mustafa Toprak