Socio-Emotional Intelligence amongst School Leaders in Mexico

Sergio Alberto Nava Lara is currently a candidate for a Ph.D. in Educational Innovation at the Tec de Monterrey, where he has researched the relationship between socio-emotional intelligence and educational leadership. He currently forms part of The Strategic Focus Research Group: Educational Innovation, with a research on Educational Management and Policy. He has more than 15 years of higher education teaching experience in the areas of human development, educational intervention, and teacher training. He holds a Bachelor’s in Social Anthropology and a Master’s in Social Science. 

At the beginning of my professional career, I taught at a teacher-training college. I was committed to teaching my students problem-solving skills and I would assign them to evaluate problematic situations at schools, come up with responses, and implement interventions. Some of my students’ interventions were successful at addressing the issue at hand. Yet others were not, despite being well designed by capable students. When I took a closer look at what was going on in schools, I realized that often the success of interventions depended not on the design, but on the institution’s school leadership. It became clear that some principals were efficient administrators, but they were not the best problem solvers. This experience prompted my curiosity regarding the role of educational leadership in a school’s success and inspired me to make a change in my career path. I decided to leave my job and start a Ph.D. program in Educational Innovation at the Tec de Monterrey to deepen my knowledge of educational leaders and create new proposals for instituting changes in schools.  

Over the past several years, my work has focused on the socioemotional abilities of Mexican public-school principals. In Mexico, like other countries around the world, these principals do not receive training before they assume their posts. In some cases, principals receive training in the months or years after they start their new position, but I met principals who did not receive any training for the first five to six years in the job. Due to this lack of training, principals must rely on others for help in order to carry out their responsibilities. This is impossible without strong socioemotional skills. Principals need to be honest, listen, depend on others; it is necessary to ask for help, and be willing to receive that help. Yet, a school’s success is not only about grades but whether the living conditions of the community are improved. Principals must also be capable of identifying situations of injustice, communicating about the situations, and coming up with solutions to resolve them.  

In general, in my research I have identified three types of social-emotional skills: 1) intrapersonal skills: the ability for an individual to recognize and process his or her own emotions 2) interpersonal skills: the ability to relate with others through empathy, communication, perspective and active listening 3) cognitive skills: decision making, critical thinking, analysis of consequences. The intra and interpersonal skills are not visible but they become clear through an individual’s decision-making abilities and cognitive skills. Someone knows how to make the right decision, and if he or she makes a mistake, that person knows how to manage the consequences. 

There are many models of social-emotional skills for different groups of people, such as business leaders and students, however, no model existed for educational leadership in Mexico. At Tec de Monterrey, we decided to create and test a model that broke down the components of educational leaders’ socioemotional abilities. Based on the diverse existing models on social and emotional intelligence, I created a list of 18 socioemotional skills. Then I carried out 30 case studies with school directors, teachers, and parents, at different types of public schools, such as high performing schools, low-performing schools, and schools in marginalized communities. After that, I analyzed the interviews in collaboration with my advisor Dr. Celina Torres-Arcadia who directs the International Successful School Principalship Project out of the Tecnológico de Monterrey. Based on this evaluation, I was able to combine some of the skills and exclude several others, coming to a final calibrated list of 10 specific skills that make up my Socio-Emotional Intelligence for School leaders’ model. This model was analyzed by a multidisciplinary panel of experts that validated its aptness for educational leaders. I believe that while my model was created for the Mexican cultural context specifically it could also be relevant for public schools in Turkey, South Africa, and other countries with similar public schooling systems. 

I am including a visual of the model that I am currently employing in my research:

Some important highlights that I have learned from my research are that principals and other educational leaders can learn social-emotional abilities, such as active listening, through everyday practice. Also, the best way for them to teach these skills is through leading by example. If a leader wants his or her team to be more empathetic, it’s necessary to show them empathy. There are tests to measure these skills and offer a diagnosis, however, they are expensive and unnecessary. A leader can improve on his or her own through increased awareness and practice; mindfulness techniques and practices can also support these efforts.

Currently, I am carrying out fieldwork in Playa del Carmen, located in Quintana Roo, Mexico with the goal of formulating a conceptual model that expresses the relationship between the socio-emotional intelligence attributed to school leaders and the development of school ethics. This work aims to illustrate the importance of socio-emotional skills, not only in the exercise of school leadership responsibilities but in all aspects, personal and professional, of school leaders’ daily lives. 

We look forward to learning more about Sergio’s important work as it continues to evolve. To keep up with Sergio Alberto Nava Lara please visit:

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