9 games to develop emotionally intelligent leadership for grown-ups and kids

This summer at #NAESP16, psychologist Daniel Goleman gave a keynote called, “Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence.” He reminded us that leading with strong emotional intelligence is the key to a positive school culture.

Having fun with each other, setting clear goals, and giving immediate feedback were just a few of his recommendations. Here at Playworks, we think that sounds a lot like recess!

As it turns out, playing games together is not just an incredibly powerful way for students to develop social and emotional skills. Games are also a great opportunity for teachers and other adults to practice leading with emotional intelligence. Here are a few of our favorite games for working on core social and emotional competencies like social awareness, self-management, and responsible decision-making.

Social Awareness:

Any game that encourages students to take the perspective of others, to walk a few steps in someone else’s shoes, or to collaborate as a team can help build social awareness. Strategy games, where students with different abilities can each contribute something to a shared goal, also strengthen students’ social awareness. Games where someone has a key piece of information or can offer critical help, also begin to build an understanding that sometimes resources exist that we must seek out and that it is okay to do so. Try:

Self Management:

Games that have multiple steps so students have to strategize interim goals and games where there are high levels of full-group physical activity are great opportunities to build self-management. Games that pose a reasonable challenge (e.g. that require silence or the need to self-report) give students the opportunity to work on self-management without structures that mimic self-management. Try:

Relationship Skills:

This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed. Ro-sham-bo is our favorite example since it is both a game and a tool for kids to quickly resolve their own conflicts. Games that encourage cooperation also help students practice relationship skills, as do clear rules and expectations for any games kids play. Try:


. . . And More! Find 156 fun games in our newest Game Guide.

Includes everything from games you can play in a small space with no materials, to games you can play in a big group during recess. Search for games by age level, time/space/materials available, and by the life skills used (like problem solving or teamwork).

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Want more help using games for social and emotional learning?

Our professional development workshops help teachers and recess staff use games, attention getters, and other hands-on tools to model emotional intelligence and help kids build social and emotional skills through play.

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